Governor Mitt Romney spends debate prep with us
HH: Joined now by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, good to have you, thanks for joining us.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.
HH: I want to talk about the debate tonight, but first, I want to get your reaction. Senator Clinton came out today and called for a five year freeze on interest rates on sub-prime mortgages, as well as the 90 day moratorium on foreclosures. But you know, a five year freeze on interest rates is radical, Governor. What do you think of that?
MR: Well, you know, I think she doesn’t understand what happens if you begin to tinker with the way the markets work. Markets rely upon predictability, and people honoring their contracts and their agreements. And you can’t change the rules after the fact without having a devastating effect on long term decisions. If you do that to people who’ve made investments in homes now, then what’s going to happen in the future when people are thinking about buying homes? Who’s going to want to give a mortgage if they think Hillary Clinton can take away the rights they think they have? It’s, it would be devastating long term to the housing market. And while it might help some people short term, it would be very bad for the economy, very bad for America, and it’s something which shows her total lack of understanding of how the free enterprise system works.
HH: Governor, some of the speculation about the turmoil in the markets has been fear of bond failure, bond insurance failure. I’m not sure many people understand that. Is that a real risk? And how significant is that risk?
MR: You know, there are risks. There’s no question but that the excesses of the last several years in the housing market have led to a number of areas where there could be various forms of failure. You’re going to see a lot of folks going out, trying to get other investors to come in and bail things out. And the market is going to shake its way through this. There’s really not a different way to approach this other than to help at a very critical time to strengthen our overall economy, and that’s why the Fed has taken the very bold action its taken. It’s why I think a stimulus plan is in order for the nation. But the idea of abrogating contracts, and abrogating the way the market works, that Hillary Clinton has proposed, is simply a step which frankly, a government controlled economy might consider, but a free enterprise system would not.
HH: Governor, let’s turn to Florida. What are you trying to accomplish tonight in the debate? Give us a little insight into the strategy tonight.
MR: Well, I think actually, the other folks are all going to be doing their best to take a hunk out of me, and that’s sort of the nature of these last few debates. But I’m ready to respond. And you know, I think this is going to be a chance for people to get to know us on a more broad-based basis than they have to date, because people here in Florida probably haven’t been watching all the debates yet. It’s getting down to the final moments. They’re going to get to spend a little time with us. I’m a little concerned that it’s so late. It starts at 9:00 East Coast time, and that’s kind of late for a lot of folks, but we’ll get a chance to have people get to know us.
HH: Governor, the New York Times today has a story saying that the other candidates don’t like you. I mean, they get along well with everyone except you. Did you read it? And what do you think about it?
MR: (laughing) I didn’t read it, but sticks and stones will break my bones. And it’s kind of high school, I must admit. I must also say that I’m really proud of the friends that I’ve known throughout high school, college, graduate school, the business world. They’ve come to my aid in this effort, unlike anything else. That’s where the overwhelming majority of my supporters have come from. So you know, I’m happy with the friends I’ve got, and if somebody in this race wants to say they don’t like somebody else, why that’s too bad. It’s a competitive race, but hopefully, personal feelings are still positive.
HH: Governor, Morton Blackwell endorsed you today. He’d been a Fred Thompson supporter, as did a whole bunch of legal scholars, academics and practitioners from the Reagan years and since from Fred Thompson. What’s that tell you about where the Thompson people are going? And is that generalized beyond the elites of his campaign?
MR: You know, I sure hope it does. Fred Thompson was trying to appeal to the members of the former Reagan coalition, if you will, social conservatives, economic and foreign policy conservatives. And of course, I’ve been doing the same thing, so we were going after the same audience. And so as he withdraws from the race, I’m hoping those folks will come join me. Some will, some will go other places, of course. And I know Fred Thompson was in the Senate, he’s close to John McCain. Some will go to John McCain. But I think overall, you’re going to see me be the net beneficiary of Fred’s decision to step aside.
HH: Now Governor, you and Senator McCain are adjudged to be the two frontrunners. Of course Rudy’s got the Florida strategy, you’ve got to worry about that a little bit. But what is the principal difference between you and John McCain?
MR: Well, there’ve been issues where we’re very different. His immigration bill is an amnesty bill, as it’s been described by many. He voted against the Bush tax cuts, and continues to say he would have voted against the Bush tax cuts. So on key issues, we are very, very different. But I think the greatest difference is he’s spent 25 years in Washington, is a product of Washington. I’ve spent 25 years in the private sector. I know how the economy works. And if you think that knowing how Washington works is the most important, then give him your vote. If you think knowing how America works is the most important at a time like this, then you’ll give me your vote. So you know, it’s our background and our life experience that I think is most distinct and different. And at a time like this, I think you need to have somebody who knows how the economy works.
HH: Now he says he’s the sheriff when it comes to spending, though. Can you match his credentials on that?
MR: Well, I certain can, because as Governor of Massachusetts, I vetoed over 800 spending items, and am very proud of that. I also did something which I don’t think he’s ever done, which is I actually managed a state budget, managed the budget, and in my case, I actually reduced the spending in the first year from the prior year. I don’t mean slowed down the growth rate, I reduced spending, and I cut state employees. There are fewer state employees in Massachusetts at the end of my term than when I took office. And so I’ve got my credentials there. And frankly, at the federal government level, talking about a million dollar project here and a million dollar project there, all sounds great. It makes great rhetoric. But the real question is why has Washington become so broken? Why have they not been able to rein in spending? And is it possible for somebody who’s been there 25 years, is a lifelong insider, is it possible for that person to somehow change his spots and become an outsider? I just don’t think it can happen. I don’t think you can change Washington from the inside out.
HH: Last question, Governor, we’ve got about a minute. Rudy’s for the national catastrophe fund. John McCain’s against it. What’s Mitt Romney’s position?
MR: Well, we have to have the ability of homeowners to have catastrophic coverage, so I am for some form of catastrophic coverage. But I want to see if we could do that at a private basis, or at worst a public/private basis with insurance companies. I certainly don’t anticipate that you’re going to have states that do not have risk subsidizing states that do. But there may well be a way to pull together a number of states, and to provide that catastrophic coverage.
HH: Governor Mitt Romney, we’ll be watching tonight. Thanks for spending some time with your debate prep with us. I appreciate it, Governor.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.
End of interview.