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.
The Page Romney Interview Transcript
Halperin: Governor, you said the other day, when asked if this is white knuckle season for you, that it’s not at all white knuckle season. You’ve got a family, you’ve got a life. If people don’t want me that’s fine. On the other hand, you talk about how hard it will be to beat the President if you’re the nominee. How do you reconcile those things? Do Republicans, can Republicans trust that you’re going to fight with everything you have to win this.
Romney: Oh, I think the people of this country know that I’m a real competitor, that I do whatever it takes to bring the best game I can to the table. I think they also understand that I love this country enormously and I’m in this race because I want to make America right. I really believe that I have the skills and the capabilities to get America on the right track again and I will do everything in my power to get America right, to win the nomination and to beat Barack Obama.
Halperin: But you’ll be fine if you lose?
Romney: Well, this for me is not a personal matter of my ego. This is a matter of what’s right for the country. And, we’re a democracy. If people make a different choice that’s their right.
Halperin: Ron Paul’s done pretty well with young people. Lots of young people in his crowds, more than I see in your crowds. Why do you think he’s got appeal to young people and what part of your platform and your message that you think would also appeal to young people, both in the nomination fight and in the general election?
Romney: Well, as I’ve been to a number of colleges, particularly when I was back selling my book, I found a very different set of concerns on the part of young people than I found four years earlier. And the concerns were about jobs and the economy. They wondered who can get them jobs when they come out of college, when they come out of high school. And a message of an opportunity nation that can create jobs, I think, will connect extraordinarily well with young people. And, you know, Ron Paul has got a different approach and, you know, I salute him on the way he’s run his campaign but I think, in the final analysis, that young people in this country want someone who knows something about creating good jobs.
Halperin: Do you have a sense of what, about his message is appealing to young people so much?
Romney: I’m not going to try and characterize his message. I happen to think that my approach is better.
Halperin: As I was riding to your event today, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and he was, as he sometimes does, going after you. He was saying he was disappointed that you refused, in an interview the night before, to call the President a socialist. Do you think Rush Limbaugh has too much influence on Republican politics? Do you think his role in the party is excessive? That he’s excessive at times?
Romney: You know, Rush Limbaugh has an audience that speaks a very important voice [sic]. I don’t begrudge him the great success he’s had and the influence he has. Sometimes he’s agreed with me; sometimes disagreed with me. And, so I can only look with him, at him and say, “Congratulations, well done. You’ve built quite a following.”
Halperin: So you don’t agree with some people like Sen. McCain, who’d said people like Rush Limbaugh, some of the talk show radio hosts have too much influence in the party?
Romney: You know, I let people choose their own course. If they want to listen to certain voices and find them to be compelling, that’s their right to do so. It doesn’t mean that I agree with those voices but I’m certainly not going to suggest to the American that they turn off their radio and not listen to someone who I may or may not agree with. By in large, Rush Limbaugh speaks a number of conservative principles that a lot of us agree with.
Halperin: I want to talk to a fair amount of time that came up in the last town meeting and I think is going to be one of the biggest issues in the general election if you’re the nominee. 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.
Halperin: I want to talk to you about an interaction you had with a voter in New Hampshire a few weeks ago, a veteran named Bob Garon. You sat down and talked to him about gay rights and he revealed himself during the conversation as a married gay veteran who didn’t agree with your view of that. There were two issues to me in that discussion. First, you were dealing with someone, who you realized, was about your age, who served in the military and you made a different choice. And also someone who was gay and disagrees with you about gay rights. Was that an uncomfortable experience for you in any way?
Romney: Of course not. People have differing views. I get, encounter people with different backgrounds and different views all the time. I expressed my view and he expressed his and we parted, respecting each other. I respected him for his views. I think he respected me and, if not, that’s just the way it goes. I’m comfortable dealing with conflict. I, after all, have five sons.
Halperin: That leads to a broader discussion about inclusiveness and you’ve been talking lately quite a bit about how you would bring the country together more than the President has been able to do. We’ve had three straight presidents run, saying that they would unite the country. All three, by most measures, have been unsuccessful. They succeeded in other things, perhaps, but they’ve seen more and more partisanship and division. Just talking first about gay rights groups, would you meet with leading gay rights groups if you were president? Would you look for common ground with them or you don’t see any common ground to be found?
Romney: Well, I’m happy to meet with groups that want to get together and talk about issues that are of concern to them and there may be issues that they feel are important and that we need to discuss and we could find common ground. I don’t know what the issues are they might want to discuss. But, with regards to same-sex marriage, I’ve made it very clear that I favor traditional marriage, that I do not support same-sex marriage. But if there are other issues that relate to the gay community that they want to discuss with me, or even if they want to have that discussion again, I’m happy to listen and hear what they have to say.
Halperin: So, again, as president, you’d commit to meeting with, like, the Human Rights Campaign fund?
Romney: I’m not going to give you specific groups that I’m going to meet with but I’m, as president, I would be open to discussions with a wide range of people in our country including those who disagree with me on important issues.
Halperin: Can you think of a group like that, that you would be willing to meet with?
Romney: That I what?
Halperin: That you would be willing to meet with as president?
Romney: Well, a lot of groups I’d be willing to meet with but I don’t want to lay out for you my list of appointments if I’m lucky enough to be president.
Halperin: I’m not looking for all of your appointments, just some.
Romney: I’m not going to have you fill my appointment calendar. That’s something I’ll do down the road if I’m lucky enough to become president.
Halperin: How about the NAACP?
Romney: I’m happy to meet with a wide array of groups but I’m not going to single out groups that say, “Yes, I’ll meet with this group and that group and this group.” But, I expect to meet with groups that represent minorities, groups that represent different minorities, groups that represent different lifestyles. I would expect, over a four year term, to meet with individuals of groups that represent the broadest array of America’s heritage.
Halperin: Okay. I want to talk to you a little bit more about what you’d do as president different than this President and you’ve talked somewhat about that. Generally you’ve said you’d get people in the room. You’d talk in a way to try to, as you did in Massachusetts with the other party. Would you, as the President has rarely done, be inclined or committed to meeting with, say, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Democratic leaders, on a regular basis? Just you and them rather than with the Republicans?
Romney: You know what I did in Massachusetts is we met together. We had the Republican leadership and the Democratic leadership meet together. There were a couple of times, more than a couple, there were a few times when I met only with the Democratic leaders. But, by in large, we did it together. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to organize that if I’m president. Obviously, I’m going to interact with them and see what their thinking is. But I do believe that it would be essential to have one-on-one time with Democratic leaders and perhaps time where a couple of Democratic leaders come together and I meet with them and then times when you’d have Republican and Democrat leaders. But, look, I would intend to work very much across the aisle and to have a lot of exchange and try and build a relationship of respect and rapport with people on the other side of the aisle. And it’s possible that some people are so partisan that they couldn’t be productive in a setting like that and I’d have to find a way to work around them and find someone else to work with who I thought would be more productive.
Romney: But my intent, very clearly, would be to try and work with leading Democrats, who, like me, feel this is a critical time. I saw, for instance, that Sen. Wyden has apparently been meeting with Paul Ryan. I didn’t know about those meetings but the fact that there’s someone like Sen. Wyden who recognizes a need and is willing to, if you will, step aside from his party orthodoxy, is very encouraging to me.
Halperin: How would you rate the relative strengths of the two parties right now in appealing to Hispanic voters?
Romney: I don’t think either party has done a particularly superb job in being able to take its message to Hispanic voters. The President ran on a platform saying he was going to put in place immigration reform of some kind, got a lot support from the Hispanic community and had the house and the Senate and did nothing. Despite the fact that he had both Houses in his own party, he did nothing. I think he broke a promise to the Hispanic community. The Republican message to the Hispanic community is we’re the party of opportunity. We want America to be the best place in the world for you to achieve your dreams. I don’t think we communicate that as well as we could and should. I intend to do that. I intend to take a campaign, if I’m the nominee, in a very aggressive way to the Hispanic community, pointing out my insistence that America remain the land of opportunity that they or their ancestors came to live in.
Halperin: Would you aspire to — just one quick follow-up — would you aspire to do better with Hispanic voters than Sen. McCain did, than President Bush did?
Romney: Oh, I think everybody hopes to do as well as you possibly can. President Bush was a pretty high mark for us. I think most people would think that’s a, that number would be a nice number to hit or to get close to. But I’d want to do as well as I possibly could.
Halperin: Governor, thank you.