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Guy Benson interviews Mitt Romney

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GB: I am delighted to be joined now by the former Governor of Massachusetts, and the next president of the United States, Mitt Romney. Governor, it’s great to talk to you again.

MR: Thanks, Guy, I’m happy to join you today.

GB: Well, as I’m sure you know by this point, the campaign controversy du jour is the report that’s out this morning that a conservative superPAC is planning to run ads criticizing President Obama’s longstanding relationship with his controversial former pastor, Reverend Wright. I recognize, of course, that you can’t dictate to any independent group on what they can and cannot way, what they can and cannot do. What I’m wondering is do you think, and does your campaign believe that Reverend Wright is fair game in the 2012 election?

MR: Well, I can tell you, I did just read the report in the New York Times. I repudiate the efforts by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described. I would like to see this campaign focused on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes, and a growing prosperity, particularly for those in the middle class of America. And I think what we’ve seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination. And I hope that is not the course of this campaign. I want us to focus on the ideas that will get America stronger with a better future. So with regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they’re thinking about.

GB: Okay, Governor, last night, something extraordinary happened in the United States Senate. President Obama’s budget for the second consecutive year was defeated unanimously. This time around, it was 99-0. I’m curious what you think the implications of that vote are, and whether you see it as an indictment of this president’s leadership?

MR: There’s no question in my view, Guy, but this is a underscoring of the president’s failure to lead. This is, after all, a body which is held by Democrats. If he wanted to see a budget passed, he should have worked with them. If they wanted to make adjustments, to make it more palatable, he should have found ways to make those adjustments. We’ve now gone on for three years without a federal budget? This is absolutely extraordinary. There’s not a business in this country that could operate the way the federal government is operating. And the fact that we have a president who is so inexperienced as a leader that he doesn’t know how to lead his own party, let alone reach across the aisle and work with Republicans, is a very unfortunate and potentially damaging element to our nation and to our economy. It’s something which I really think may well be unprecedented to have the president’s budget defeated in both the House and the Senate by unanimous votes. It’s very amazing.

GB: Right, right. It was 513-0 this year in those two bodies combined. You mentioned this failure over the last three years to have a federal budget, and this in an era of $16 trillion dollars of the national debt and growing. I know your campaign’s been spending a lot of time focusing on deficits and debt. So I really have to know, as you watch Europe, because the Euro Zone again is experiencing significant tremors this week. Greece appears to be teetering on the brink. I know the easy conservative talking point is to frame all of that, and the implosion of the European welfare state, as a cautionary tale for us here. But setting that aside, if you were president today, what would you be doing, what would you be watching over there, and how is it possible, if at all, for a president to help shield the U.S. economy from a potential damaging series of shock waves coming across the Atlantic Ocean?

MR: Well, when there is turbulence in industrial and financial markets, the best thing you can do is make America the place that people want to come both with their capital, with their innovations, with their business expansions. And so this is an opportunity for America to show that we have taken action that Europe did not take, that we have reformed our entitlements to make them solvent long term, that we are dealing with our budget crises, that we’re taking action to make America an attractive place for businesses and for job creators. This means that people will be looking to make investments elsewhere, and we want them to look towards us, not looking towards Asia, as in some cases they will be concerned about Europe. So the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to make America a more attractive place for enterprise. And unfortunately, what the president has done is make us less attractive as a place for enterprise, and he’s also failed to be willing to even address seriously either our entitlement crisis or our budget crisis. And so we will, if Europe goes through pains here, we’re going to suffer pains as well, in part because of the failure of this president to improve the attractiveness of America as a place for growth and investment and job creators.

GB: I’d like to revisit the point you just made on entitlements, because I’m not sure if you saw this report, Governor, a few days ago in the Washington Post. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma, says that President Obama has appealed to him, and promised that in his second term, he would be prepared to really make serious progress on entitlement reform. Do you attach any credibility to that hypothetical?

MR: Well, it is interesting that the president has a lot of things to say to people behind the screen, that he’s not willing to say out in the open. And whether that’s President Medvedev of Russia, or whether it’s at his fundraisers, where apparently they take away cell phones from people who attend them so that there’s no recording of what he’s actually saying, or even to Senators. Look, I think it’s very hard to tell exactly what the president would do, other than by looking at his record in his first three and a half or four years. And we can see where he took the nation in these years. It’s a massive expansion of federal spending, an expansion of the reach of the federal government, and there’s no question in my mind but that his Supreme Court nominees and his policies would be designed toward expanding the role of government in our lives. And frankly, America’s economy runs on freedom. And he has been attacking economic freedom from the first day he came into office.

GB: I’m speaking with Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States. And Governor, the Democrats have started firing some of their opening salvos at your business record in the last week or so. There is, of course, that misleading two minute ad which I think your team really responded to quite effectively. Then, they’ve sent the vice president to Ohio. Let me read you a quote that Joe Biden said yesterday about you and your philosophy at Bain Capital. “Laying on debt, laying off workers, doing what is good for those at the top while everyone else fends for themselves. We can’t afford that in the nation.” What do you make of that from Joe Biden, especially considering the fact that he’s spent the last 39 years in Washington as a career politician?

MR: You know, it’s pretty clear that the Obama campaign, and in this case, through the spokesman of the vice president, intends to run a campaign of character assassination. And they’re not willing to talk about their record. They’re not willing to talk about their vision for the future of the country. And if this continues to be a campaign of character assassination, I think you’re going to continue to find their campaign treading water. They’ve not been able to find ground that builds support for the president’s reelection. And I think it’s in part because people are tired of these kinds of campaigns that are based on distortions and distractions, rather than based on the issues people care about. They want to know how we’re going to make America’s economy stronger, creating better jobs, improving the lot of middle class Americans. They don’t want to hear misguided attacks whether by the president, the vice president, or by their friends in the media, or by their advertisements. This is just another example of the vice president being an attack dog as opposed to being an idea generator.

GB: Okay, but what he’s saying is, and you’re calling it a distraction and a distortion and misleading, but he’s trying to paint the impression in Ohio voters’ minds that what you were all about at Bain Capital was piling up debt on these companies, then laying off workers and reaping all sorts of profits. Can you sort of educate this audience and the vice president about what you actually did at Bain Capital, and explain why that’s a distortion?

MR: Yeah, first of all, I note that in the first I was with, we invested in businesses which ultimately created well over a hundred thousand jobs. So the idea that we reduced employment is simply wrong. We added employment. Secondly, it was our intent in every investment we made to make the business more successful, to grow it. The idea that somehow you can be successfully financially by shrinking businesses or taking them apart is simply wrong. To be successful in enterprise, you want it to grow. And that’s the nature of our free economic system. And by the way, there are circumstances where a business is in trouble, and you have to perform surgery to try and save it. I think the most obvious example of that is the president’s management of General Motors and Chrysler, where as you know, under his stewardship, they closed factories, they closed dealerships, well over 150,000 people lost their jobs as a result of that. I don’t think the president wants to run on that record. So we’ll be looking forward to having this debate if he wants to, but frankly, let’s be talking about what our plans are for the future and for the economy, as opposed to these kind of personal attacks.

GB: Quick tactical question on this front, because I was watching an interview with one of President Obama’s spokesmen the other day on CNN, and he said that they are eagerly awaiting to unload similar attacks about other companies as the campaign progresses. I noted that you guys really put together a terrific response to the steel plant attack with an ad up within hours, a tumbler online that had all sorts of facts and information and data points for people to learn the truth. Did you guy have all that in the pipeline? Or did you anticipate that specific attack? And do you have other areas where you expect the Obama campaign to hit where you’ve got a counterpunch ready to go?

MR: We’ll be prepared to respond to their distortions. I can tell you that I think the American people will tire of a campaign of personal attack. But it does suggest that that’s where this campaign is headed.

GB: Yes.

MR: And it’s interesting, we’re talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president. I hope people also are looking at what he’s doing, and saying why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn’t he talking about his record? Why isn’t he talking about his vision for the future? I mean, we’ll be coming out with an ad in a couple of days, our first ad. It will be a positive ad, and it’s very different than what this president is doing with his approach. I think frankly that people of America are tired of this kind of campaign. And if he runs it, I predict he’ll lose.

GB: Governor, last question, I guess it’s a series of questions, but everyone is, especially in the chattering class, and guilty as charged, the buzz is about your eventual running mate. And I know you’re asked about this incessantly, and it probably annoys you. I’m interested in a window into your philosophy on this process. I know you’ve delegated this and the vetting to a team led by Beth Myers. Is this something that you are actively involved in? How are you approaching this decision? And have you settled on any sort of timeline about making that decision and when you might roll it out?

MR: Well Guy, I’m going to give you very little on this front for obvious reasons, but I can tell you that I’m very involved in this process, and that I meet with Beth and we speak regularly. I receive a number of written materials on the process, and on its, on the various people we’re considering. But I can’t give you anything on the timeline, or the people, or precisely what we’re looking at, other than to say that I know the American people would want me to pick someone who has without question the capability of becoming president if that were necessary. So that’s probably the key criteria.

GB: And you said you can’t give me anything on the people. I’m just wondering if you happened to see several of the op-ed pieces yesterday talking about Bobby Jindal as a strong leader and someone who might be worth taking a look at. Can you at least tell us if he’s being vetted? Or is that out of bounds, too?

MR: Sorry. Won’t give you any help.

GB: Fair enough, Governor. Thank you very much for your time, best of luck, and we look forward to catching up as the campaign progresses.

MR: Thanks, Guy, all the best to you.

End of interview.

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