HH: Joined now by Massachusetts former Governor, Mitt Romney, Governor Romney, the first time I’ve talked to you since my book came out. I’m glad to see you are indeed still talking to me.
MR: Thank you, it’s good to be with you, Hugh, and I know you’ve been out talking about your book. It’s hopefully a good read, and I’ve enjoyed it myself, hope other people will agree.
HH: Now let’s start with the headline of the week. You were in Miami talking Cuban-American politics. I think you intended to pull Castro’s beard a bit, but the Miami Herald at least reported that it got you into some hot water. What’s that all about?
MR: Well, you’re exactly right. The…Castro and Chavez are using a phrase, which is ‘Victory or Death To the Conquerors,’ but it’s spoken in Spanish. And then I pointed out that really doesn’t belong to them, that belongs to the free people of Cuba. And I think…my idea was, of course, to point out that Cuba is not free, and those guys shouldn’t use that phrase. Some people misunderstood what I was saying. I think it just goes to show that when gringos like Mitt Romney speak in Spanish, we probably ought to have English as the official language.
HH: Now tell me about the reception in Florida, though. You’ve picked up the owner of the Panthers down there, and the owner of the Dolphins, so you’ve got the professional sports franchises locked up.
MR: Oh, I’ve got an extraordinary group of supporters in Miami, and across Florida. And Al Cardenas, who was the former chairman of the party there, and is himself a Cuban-American descendent, is a key member of my team as my co-chairman in Florida. So I’ve got an extraordinary group. I’ve got three former speakers of the House, the former Lt. Governor, Tony Jennings, Jeb Bush’s chief of staff, former chief of staff, and his former head of fundraising, Dr. Zachariah, and a whole list of folks. My organization in Florida probably is as strong as it is anywhere in the country.
HH: Do you expect that Florida will join California and Michigan in voting on February 5th, Governor Romney?
MR: I think there’s actually a chance, Hugh, that Florida will jump a couple or three days ahead of the rest of the country, and that Florida will tie itself to the New Hampshire primary, and as a result, will be a few days before California and New York, New Jersey, and the rest of the early primary states.
HH: Oh, that’s fast. I had not read that. Well, that would change the dynamic tremendously.
MR: Yeah, one of the reasons it’s so important to me is that we think it could be a super early primary.
HH: Okay, yesterday, you met with some friends of mine in Philadelphia. They were at a fundraiser you gave there. I know you’ve been fundraising all over the country. How goes the fundraising effort?
MR: You know, it’s going very well for me. We’ve had a target of $15 million dollars in the first quarter. We’re off to a very good start. We expect to get there by the end of the quarter. I think you’re going to find other campaigns are able to get close to that number. I think the other two leaders on the Republican side will get to that number, and probably well above it, but you know, I think we’re all going to have the money we need to run this thing all the way to the end.
HH: How about small donor support? It’s always a telling indication of whether or not someone’s got roots beyond the heavy wallets into the grass roots, if they’re getting $15, $20, $50 contributions online.
MR: Well, the big surprise to us is just how much money we’re getting online. I’ve got a website, we have received twice as much money as Howard Dean did during his campaign at this stage over the web. And of course people wrote all sorts of stories about how Howard Dean was using the internet, and getting a lot of money that way. We’re doing twice as well as he did, so the internet is a huge source of funds for us.
HH: Now yesterday, Politico ran a story, Politico.com on lawyers for Romney, a gathering at D.C.’s Hogan and Hartson. And I saw on the host committee the name Jay Sekulow, one of the great Evangelical attorneys in America. Has Jay signed on with you?
MR: Jay has signed on with me. He is a great advisor. As you know, he is very close to Pat Robertson and Mark DeMoss, and his support, on a whole series of legal issues, and making sure people understand the truth on my positions, has been a great support to me. He’s gathered a number of Evangelical leaders to sit down with me, with my wife Ann, actually with my son, who also visited Liberty University. So Jay is a great supporter.
HH: Now does that mean along with…you mentioned the DeMoss endorsement, Mark DeMoss, a big figure in Evangelical circles, that the Mormon problem that we discussed at length for the book is in fact shrinking?
MR: Yeah, I think so. Among the leaders of the Evangelical Christian movement, I have heard time and again that of course Mormon theology is going to be different than that of Evangelical Christians. But they say look, we’re not electing a pastor-in-chief, we’re electing somebody to help run the country. And as long as that person’s values are our values, and that person’s position on issues are our positions on issues, then we’re going to support him. So you know, I read that in some cases, Jim Dobson for instance, he’s saying he would not vote for Mayor Giuliani or Senator McCain, and he’s keeping an open mind with regards to me, at least at this point. That’s encouraging to me. I think these folks are going to look beyond a particular brand of religion, and look instead at the values of the person. And I think as people look at me and my wife, the fact that we’ve been married 38 years today, that we have five kids, ten grandkids, and look at their lives as well, you’ll see that our values are as American as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
HH: Now some social conservatives, Governor Romney, took your statement about General Pace to be an acceptance of sex outside of marriage, when I thought you were simply saying that uniformed members of the military ought not to be commenting on social policy. Which one was it?
MR: No, it was the latter. I was just saying that Americans are free to have their own views, personal views on religious matters and so forth, but that when that falls into the public sphere in your public position, that can be confusing and disconcerting to a lot of people. And I certainly welcome the right of any American to have their own views on what’s moral and immoral, but I don’t know that that’s something for the public discourse.
HH: Let me talk to you a little bit about the thing I ran into on the book tour. Every single mainstream media interview, every single television interview, they brought up flip-flopping, abortion and guns. And it became annoying to me, it must be very annoying to you, because it’s been asked and answered. How long until that dissipates, or is it already dissipating?
MR: Well, it’s sort of dissipated, but of course, you know, there are my opponents who work it very hard, and particularly the DNC, as well as some of my Republican friends, are pushing it very, very hard. And the truth of the matter is, anybody who’s been in political life a good deal of time is going to learn that some of the things they thought ten or fifteen years ago were wrong, and they’re going to learn that from their experience. Ronald Reagan changed his mind on abortion, so did George Herbert Walker Bush. And I’ve changed my mind as well. My view is instead of a nationwide, one size fits all answer, that states ought to be able to enact if they would like to, pro-life legislation. So I am pro-life, and not embarrassed to say that I made that change, and that I think I’ve done the right thing. But on some of these other things like guns, they try to make it sound like there’s a difference. Look, I’ve always supported the 2nd Amendment, and I’ve always said that I would support a narrowly drafted assault weapon ban. I’m in the same position George Bush is on that. My position hasn’t changed at all. But I do support 2nd Amendment rights, and I recognize that there are a lot of people out there who are trying to take away the right of our citizens to bear arms, and that is something I will fight vehemently.
HH: When I was back East, you were out West in California, and you had good receptions in Orange County, San Francisco, other places. I know illegal immigration always comes up on a West Coast swing. What is the Romney plan on illegal immigration?
MR: Well, two parts. First, secure the border, and secondly, put in place an employment verification system, so that everybody who is not a citizen with a valid social security number must have a card indicating their work status. And this card can be verified by computer. If someone sits down, an employer sits down at the computer, checks in their card and their number to see if they’re legally able to hire the person, and if they’re not holding a valid card, then you simply can’t hire them. And if you do, you’re subject to the same fines people get, or same penalties people get for not paying their taxes. And that’s basically going to shut off the flow of illegal aliens, because people won’t want to come here if they can’t get work here. We welcome legal immigration. It’s been a great source of cultural enhancement and technology enhancement for our country, but we do not welcome illegal immigration. And my plan is that two-fold program.
HH: When you were running the Olympics, was Rocky Anderson the Mayor of Salt Lake City?
MR: He was, actually, yes.
HH: Well, here is a quote from Rocky Anderson at an Answer Coalition organization even three days ago.
RA: We are here today to say to a mostly complacent, complicit, incredibly irresponsible Congress, impeach these men who have betrayed and harmed us all. We are here to say no more.
HH: So was Rocky Anderson interesting to work with on the Olympics?
MR: (laughing) Well, fortunately, the Olympics is not terribly political, and we were able to all come together and put aside our philosophical differences. He’s also in favor of legalizing marijuana, and some other features that make him a little out of the mainstream.
HH: He may be ahead of that one, yeah.
MR: But we were able to work together, we worked together well, I respect his intellect and his willingness to try and do the right thing for the Olympics in his city, but we obviously have some differing views on some very important political issues.
HH: Well, let me take you to a different subject, Governor. We’ve got about four minutes left here. Today, Indonesia and China announced five new power investment deals, valued at almost $3 billion dollars. I know you think a lot about the energy needs of the globe, and the competitive situation vis-a-vis China. They are steeling a march on us on these things across the Pacific rim.
MR: Yeah, it makes no sense at all for us to continue to be totally beholden to foreign oil sources for our energy. It is time for this country to invest in technology, to invest in new facilities that will provide coal technology, liquefied coal technology. This is something that we have been far too delayed in doing. We need nuclear power, we need more drilling for oil in our own country. America can be energy independent. We can get there. That will have a very positive impact on our own economy, we can sell products around the world. At the same time, we will also have to depend less on people like Ahmadinejad and Putin and Chavez. It is time for us to actually put in place a course which will lead us to complete energy independence.
HH: All right, three political questions to end. The President is now in a showdown with Congress over executive privilege. Anyone who wants to be president has to be concerned with the powers of the presidency. Do you approve of President Bush’s declaration that he will simply refuse these subpoenas that have sent to Ms. Miers and Karl Rove?
MR: Yeah, he’s got a responsibility to protect executive privilege. That’s his part of preserving the powers of the presidency. He should do what he thinks is the right thing with regards to members of his team, but preserve executive privilege.
HH: This weekend, the Washington Post had an article about speech writers, mentioned yours, Goodwin. How are you doing issue prep, though, when it’s a 24/7 news cycle? It’s very different from campaigns of the past.
MR: Yeah, no question about that, and I’m looking able to being able to have somebody who can write speeches for me. So far, I’ve found the speeches I write, I write myself, and I get some help from some other folks on some ideas, but I have to write them myself. And on issues and dealing with the major issues of the day, that’s something I’ve got a whole team working with me on.
HH: And a last question. A lot of people reading my book discover for the first time that Mrs. Romney has MS, multiple sclerosis, and they wonder how that will affect her in the course of this campaign, because it can be a very tiring disease. What is the strategy for managing the disease, and at the same time, having Mrs. Romney, a great asset to your campaign, out in front of the public?
MR: Well, she is the best asset of the campaign, there’s no question about that, and that includes me. And people want to see her, and she travels, and makes speeches, and is on TV a good deal. I don’t push her too hard. I make sure that we manage her schedule, so that she isn’t overtaxed and overwhelmed. But she does a great job. She has no physical impairment from the disease now. She did back in 1998. But she has a form of the disease known as relapsing and remitting. And she is in a quiet period, has been for some years. We keep our fingers crossed on that front, but she is committed to this effort, and believes that it’s important for me to become the president. And we’re doing this together.
HH: Governor Romney, always a pleasure. We’ll check in with you after those fundraising numbers are released at the end of the month. People can check into that at www.mittromney.com. Thank you, Governor.
MR: Thanks, Hugh.
End of interview.