Mark Halperin interviews Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on December 21, 2011, on Romney’s campaign bus traveling in New Hampshire from Hanover to Ashland.
Halperin: David Axelrod, who, as you know, works for the President, says that presidential elections are MRIs of the soul. That over time, in the course, particularly of the general election, the country gets to know the candidates through everything that, the back-and-forth of the campaign. Do you agree with that? That over time the country will know the Republican nominee? Will know the President? Their soul? What they really are all about?
Romney: Well, I think they’ll know something about the people in some depth, although I think there’s a lot about the President we’re still learning. So I’m not sure we fully understood who Barack Obama was before he became the President of the United States. I think we’re still learning that. I also think that a campaign is about an MRI of the economy and the record of the incumbent. I know the President will try and do everything that he can to try and kill our nominee; to brutalize them, to distort their life and their record. But what he can’t hide, no matter all the, despite all the money that he’ll amass, he can’t hide his record and the fact that he’s been president at a time when Americans have suffered and he hasn’t turned this economy around.
Halperin: At the last stop you got a question about Bain Capital and you get asked about it all the time and, as you’ve said over the last three weeks, if you’re the nominee, there’s no doubt that the White House will come after you, the Obama campaign, harder than Speaker Gingrich did when he raised the same type of issue. I’ve read a lot about what you’ve said over the years about Bain, and I don’t want to have the debate with you or discussion with you about capitalism and the fact that, of course, in capitalism sometimes jobs are going to be lost and companies that can’t survive and thrive are going to go out of business. But I want to talk about how you feel about what happened on your watch. In one interview, this has come up in your campaigns before, came up when you ran against Sen. Kennedy, came up when you ran for governor, and, in those races the campaigns of the Democrats brought forward people who’d lost their jobs. And you’d been asked about that over the years. First of all, what would you say to those workers now, just personally, not about your role but about how you feel. Responsible? Not responsible about their losing their jobs, in part based on the actions, sometimes of you, but of your company?
Romney: I don’t think anyone could ever be anything other than terribly sad when an individual loses a job. In any case where I was involved in an investment and a company that was not successful, one would have to feel terrible about someone losing their job. My role, in the three, excuse me, the four enterprises I ran, is that we were able to add employment and grow those enterprises. We also invested in well over 100 different businesses and some of those jobs were lost. I feel terrible when that happens. You want an enterprise to be successful and in every case where I invested, our intent and our hope was to try and make the business better, and grow, and ultimately see more employment.
Halperin: Your critics say that even that answer is a relatively clinical answer, that it’s more about your theories of capitalism rather than a true feeling about the people who lost their jobs. That, again, that’s a little too clinical. In 2007, you said, “The experience of the last eight years running the Olympics made you feel you might have done things differently, might have handled things differently.” What did you mean by that? How would you have done things differently at Bain, in hindsight, in order to more effectively be concerned about or concerned with people who lost their jobs?
Romney: I think it’s a factor and a truth that I was always concerned and would be concerned about any time a business is failing, is gonna fail or someone is gonna lose a job. Look, I have experienced first hand the change in people’s lives as they lose employment. I described those circumstances. It’s, I understand that in the way, I think, a lot of people in my circumstances, do not understand it because I’ve served as a pastor in my church and worked with people who are out of work. I know the huge human cost that’s associated with an enterprise going out of business. Without question that’s an awful and terrible human cost and you do everything in your power to maintain the growth and success of enterprises. But sometimes that’s simply not possible. And, in every circumstance I can recall, where we invested we tried to make the business more successful and add jobs. And I know the President is going to go after me on that. You know, they went after me on that when I ran for governor and people said, when I ran for governor, “You know what? We want someone who understands the economy, who understands business and who will do his very best to bring good jobs to our state.
Halperin: So when you said, again in this quote, that you’d be even more sensitive, you’d take an even more sensitive look at the impact of business decisions on the lives of employees and others who are involved, what did you mean? How would you have been more sensitive to it?
Romney: Well, I think, one of the areas that, perhaps by the benefit of hindsight, you look at is making sure that we, as an investor group, receive rewards as to make sure that we don’t do anything that would put in jeopardy the future of the company. One of the benefits you get by hindsight is seeing an enterprise where it was originally successful and then became less successful, and we had profited early and then later the business wasn’t successful, that’s something you would hope would never happen.
Halperin: When, in both races in Massachusetts when this was brought up as an issue, in the case of your Senate race, some workers came to Boston to try to meet with you and you declined to meet with them. There were workers who were brought forward. They’ll be workers, if you’re the nominee, interviewed this time. How do you feel about those people being interviewed, becoming part of the Democrats’ campaign against you?
Romney: Of course that’s the process. Look, I understand that the nature of the Obama administration’s effort will be to try and demonize people who work in the private sector. If you invest, as we did, in over 100 different businesses, there’s no one in America that will have had a record where all of them were successful, where none of them shrank or where none went out of business. And so they’ll bring forward those stories and people in America are smart enough to look through that, just as the people in Massachusetts did when they elected me governor. They tried the same ads. They brought the same people forward. They tried the same thing and people said, “You know what? We’ve learned better. We understand the nature of Mitt Romney’s experience .” And, by the way, having worked at the Olympics, having gone out there and helped put those Olympic games on the world stage I think communicated to people my concern and care for others as well as my service as governor of Massachusetts. I know that the Democrats will try and make this a campaign about Bain Capital. In my view, it ought to be a campaign about America and about the record of this President with regards to our economy and the people in this country. 25 million people are out of work because of Barack Obama. And so I’ll compare my experience in the private sector where, net-net, we created over 100,000 jobs. We created over 100,000 jobs. I’ll compare that record with his record where he has not created any new jobs. This President has seen a reduction in jobs, 25 million people out of work or stop looking for work or in part-time jobs needing full-time employed. So, we’ll have that debate. We’ll look at his record. We’ll compare my record.
Haperin: Want to ask you one more about this and then move on. At the time, when these decision were being made — again, not always your direct decisions — when people were being laid off, when jobs were being eliminated, did you feel bad at the time? Can you describe how you felt and how that went into the calculations you made about what to do with investments?
Romney: Well, in the great majority of businesses we were invested in the management of the company was the group that was making decisions about the growth of the business and decisions of that nature. We were investors and often very active in the investment process but there’s no question; any time I heard about an individual that was going to be laid off or a business that was going to be in trouble, that’s a very troubling and difficult time.