2012 GOP nominee Governor Mitt Romney opened the show with me today. We had an extensive discussion about whether or not he would ever be a candidate for the presidency. Judge for yourself whether he opened the door a bit or slammed it shut:
HH: Yesterday, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, Paul Ryan, was my guest. Today, I’m so pleased to welcome back Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012. Governor Romney, welcome back, it’s good to have you.
MR: Thank you, Hugh, it’s good to be with you today.
HH: Now I know, Governor, that you have told everyone who’s asked that it’s very unlikely you would make a third run for the presidency. But if those unusual circumstances were to come about where you did, what would you do differently this time around?
MR: (laughing) Well, I’m not going to be running, but I can give a lot of advice to the many folks that are going to be running. And you know, there are a number of things I’d tell them. First, I think we have to work very early on, on Hispanic media, to make sure that our message is heard loud and clear by Hispanic voters. I think we underinvested in Spanish media, and I don’t think we monitored what the Obama people were saying and countered it. There were a lot of things they said which were, you know, in the nature of politics, things I wouldn’t think were fair. But you know, that’s how politics works, but we should have answered those things, shut them down, told people what we believed, and I think we would have done better with Hispanic voters. I think we have to do that particularly in states like Texas and Florida as well as Nevada and Arizona where Hispanic voters make up a large share of the voting population.
HH: Now Chairman Priebus has also introduced a bunch of reforms. So he’s going to limit the debates between eight and twelve. There’s a February schedule, not a January schedule, Iowa, New Hampshire, et cetera. There’s going to be a July convention at the latest, maybe June, but probably July 18th. These all make it a lot more rational, don’t they?
MR: Yeah, they do. And actually, after the campaign was over, Reince Priebus, I think, had the wisdom to pull together a group of advisors and say go out and do some thinking, talk to some people, see what kind of reforms we can do to have a better nominating process. And I spoke to those guys, and frankly, the things I suggested they do, are the things they’re doing. I don’t take credit for that. I’m just saying that we see eye to eye on this. You know, ten or twelve debates are plenty. Twenty, twenty-two debates, you start getting silly questions being asked, and commentators trying to make a name for themselves, and that doesn’t work. And if you have a huge gap between your convention and the general election, you know, that’s a lot better than if you have a huge gap between becoming the nominee and your convention, because if that happens, you don’t have money to spend on your general election. So it’s a good series of reforms. I think it’ll help the process, and ultimately, though, it comes down to the candidate.
HH: Now Governor Romney, because you were the governor of the Commonwealth, you know your revolutionary history. And so I want to throw a little Thomas Paine at you from December 23rd of 1776. They call it the darkest hour of the Revolution. It’s before Trenton and the Delaware crossing, after six months of misery and defeats. And Thomas Paine writes the famous opening lines of the crisis. These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. So here’s the question. If you personally believed, I mean, really, genuinely believed that you were the only candidate who could beat Hillary, and that belief was confirmed by your family and your friends and respected political advisors, would you not then feel obliged to run?
MR: (laughing) Well, Hugh, the reason I came to the conclusion I did, which is this is not the right time for me to run, is because of my belief that someone else stands a better chance of winning than I do. Had that not been the case, had I believed I would actually be best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, then I would be running. But I actually believe that someone new that is not defined, yet, someone who perhaps is from the next generation, will be able to catch fire, potentially, build a movement, and be able to beat Hillary Clinton. If I thought that weren’t the case, well, I would have been running. But I think we’ve got a number of very good people looking at this race. I’m expecting someone to be able to catch fire and get the job done.
HH: Now I’m pressing, and I’m pressing an advantage of long acquaintance, and so forgive me for this, but that’s subject to change, right? People’s candidacies implode, circumstances change. People who organized campaigns approach you. And so I’m not asking you to, I wouldn’t presume to ask you to say yeah, I’m in the race. But circumstances change. And if you thought that in fact it were not that way, that you thought you were the only one who could do this, you’d change your mind, wouldn’t you?
MR: (laughing) I’m not going there, Hugh. I know you’re going to press, but you know, this is something we gave a lot of thought to when early on I decided we’re not going to be running this time. And again, we said look, I had the chance of running. I didn’t win. Someone else has a better chance than I do. And that’s what we believe, and that’s why I’m not running. And you know, circumstances can change, but I’m just not going to let my head go there. I remember that great line from Dumb and Dumber, where the…
HH: So you’re telling me I have a chance?
MR: There you go, you remember. You’re telling me I have a chance? That’s one of a million.
HH: Hey, all, the takeaway is already circumstances can change. I know how we’re going to play this. But I hope it’s not the Harold Stassen nonsense, which overlooks the far more unlikely comebacks like Reagan’s and Nixon’s, and Dewey’s and Stevenson and William Jennings Bryant. In fact, not even Stassen became a joke until his ’64 run. His previous four runs were all very serious affairs. Here’s what you running mate said yesterday on this show.
PR: I would welcome it. I’ve told him that, I was with him last Thursday. I think he should run. I think people are getting to know who he really is. I think there’s buyer’s remorse, and I think he’d make an outstanding president. He says emphatically, though, that he won’t do it. You know, I just wish he would. I think he’d be a unifier. But I just, I’ll take Mitt at his word, and he’s pretty clear he’s not going to do it.
HH: See, he’s not as abrasive as I am. And so you have been very clear you’re not doing it now. I just keep looking for that, I get asked everywhere I go because I wrote the book about you, have you heard if there’s any door open. And I said no, I haven’t. He always says no, no, no, but I’ve always also said that I thought if you thought you were the only guy who could win, you’d do it.
MR: Well, you know, let’s say all the guys that were running all came together and said hey, we’ve decided we can’t do it, you must do it. That’s the one of the million we’re thinking about.
HH: All right, okay, well that’s…now usually, prophets get honored. Now you called the Putin play. You called the Iraq fiasco. You didn’t say the Islamic State would rise, but you predicted Islamist radicalism would surge. You warned about the PRC, which is now aggressive. Why wouldn’t you want to deploy that credibility earned, or perhaps you will in the service of the country in the future?
MR: Well, there’s no question, Hugh. I will continue to speak out on issues of significance as I see them, and hopefully be able to convince the people who are running from our party to adopt policies that encompass foreign policy and keeping America safe. And I’ll offer my view, and hopefully, we’ll get a Republican president. And if we do, again, I’ll offer my support and help any way I can to help the country. I know this is hard for a lot of people to recognize, but frankly, I’d love to run for president. I loved running for president. It was a great experience. The people you meet, the friendships, it’s unlike anything I’d ever imagined. We loved it. But I also love the country, and I love the country enough to know that I’m not as good a candidate this time around as I think the other guys would be, because they’re new and not defined. I want the country to win. I do not want to see Hillary Clinton as our next president. So I stepped aside so someone who has a better shot will be able to step forward.
HH: Now you know, that’s a great argument, and I don’t deny that that’s a good argument. But there’s also an argument out there that things have changed so dramatically in the world in which we live, given its interconnectedness, and given the impact of things like the documentary, Mitt, and the way money is raised, and the fact that Hillary will in effect be running her fourth national campaign, I mean, that’s the case, isn’t it? It will be her fourth national campaign.
MR: Well, she does have experience. There’s no doubt about that.
HH: And so there might be an argument here that there’s so much experience built up on Team Clinton that only Team Romney could match them on the tactical. You know, this is the Malcolm Gladwell theory, which I’m sure you’ve read his books, that it takes 10,000 repetitions, in this case, 10,000 days of campaigning to actually get good at it.
MR: Well, yeah, 10,000 campaigns perhaps, then I’ll finally have it nailed down (laughing).
HH: But you get my point, though, don’t you? People make mistakes, that you would be a better candidate, don’t you think?
MR: Oh, I hope I would be a better candidate than I was last time. I mean, you hope you learn from your mistakes. But at the same time, there are people who are not yet known by the American public who have extraordinary records, great capability, Paul Ryan being one of them, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio. Of course, people are getting to know Chris Christie. Jeb Bush, they don’t know Jeb Bush as the governor of Florida, and the kind of record he has and had there. These are people who I think have the potential to really ignite interest in our party and potentially win the general.
HH: Last question on this subject. If whoever got the nominee, if it turned out you didn’t run again and they came to you and said we think you’d make the perfect vice presidential candidate, because you’d have heft, credibility, all those prophecies fulfilled, all that management experience, would you do it?
MR: You know, I would always be happy to serve my country in any way that I was called upon to do. But that’s not a job I would seek. I was seeking the presidency, not the vice presidency.
HH: All right, now I’d like to talk a little bit about Paul Ryan, with whom I spent an hour yesterday.
MR: Oh, great, yeah.
HH: And I asked him would he step up and run for Speaker, and he declined to do so because of his kids and his family. And I’m curious, do you think he would be a good or a great Speaker?
MR: Oh, look, I have the greatest admiration for Paul. He’s a brilliant guy, and at the same time, very much down to earth. I mean, he understands America from its grassroots, and he understands how Congress works. He is one of the rare people who knows how to work across the aisle. He’s also one of the rare people who works on our side of the aisle effectively. Look, we’ve got, you know, a lot of people that are pushing and elbowing, looking for more power for their point of view. And Paul is able to work with them. And you know, he comes out with plans like the Roadmap For America’s Future, and not everybody agrees with it, but everybody nods and says you know, Paul, that’s pretty impressive. And he gets it passed by Congress four times. I think Paul has the kinds of qualities you’d like to see either in a president or in the highest levels of leadership in other parts of Washington, namely the House.
HH: Well yeah, there’s no doubt that if he said he’d do it, and this has been widely reported, it’s not news, the Speaker said he would quit, that he doesn’t think there’s anyone else who can do it. And Paul Ryan doesn’t want to do it. And I, this is not about Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney. It’s really more about a generational deal, having just finished David McCullough’s 1776 again, and made all my law students read it. Shouldn’t people step up when they can lead and are in a position to do it well? Isn’t there a duty?
MR: Well, I think, I mean Paul rises to the sense of duty. There’s no question about that. And I just don’t think it’s necessarily a, if you will, the right thing for him to say when there’s already a Speaker of the House, that he would like to run as Speaker of the House. I mean, he supports Chairman Boehner, excuse me, Speaker Boehner, and they get along well. I don’t think Paul feels that there’s a need for a change. But you know, would Paul, I mean, I’ve never asked Paul this question about would he become Speaker, but would he become Speaker if that were necessary? I think there’s no question the answer would be yes. Would he run for president if he felt that was necessary to foster an administration that could lead the country? I think he’d do that as well. We’ll see, but you know, my asking to be VP, that was not exactly the cup of tea he was looking for, but he didn’t hesitate. I mean, he felt that, you know, Mitt, if this is what you think you need, then I’m going to put aside my plans and do it. I mean, that’s the kind of guy he is.
HH: Now Governor, I want to go to a great man, a good man – Eric Cantor. And I bemoaned his loss publicly. I think we lost a superstar. And I’m sure you agree with that. Why do you think he lost?
MR: Well, you know, I’m too far from Virginia and from his district. I haven’t done any polling or looked at exit polls, so I’m probably not in the position to judge that well. I did speak with the fellow who beat him, and I looked at some of the things he said, and his policies. It didn’t look to me like he was someone that represented a radical shift in policy or principle. It looked instead like he’s the guy who wore out the shoe leather, and worked real hard to get the support of the district, and that Eric was more focused on his leadership responsibilities in Washington, and just didn’t do as much in the district as he needed to do. But that’s the perspective of someone from outside. I mean, I read as well that you know, the new candidate, he’s in a position where he was asked about his policies on immigration and other areas, and he really hadn’t formed them, yet. So the idea that somehow his policies were preferable to those of Eric Cantor may not be the real reason for the change.
HH: Well, you’ve been out on the road a lot campaigning for a lot of candidates, most of whom have been successful. It’s why a lot of people think you’d be far more successful in another run than you were before. And so you know from the grassroots. Is there a civil war brewing out there between, I’ll call them, because I don’t want to be pejorative, the non-interventionists, and those who believe in the judicious but effective use of American military power?
MR: Well, I do think there is within our part a libertarian strain which is, which was represented, of course, by Ron Paul, which from my reading, at least during our debates, was non-interventionist to the extreme. And there are some who feel that way very strongly. I represent, and I think many in our party, represent a different point of view, which is that we should use our economic, diplomatic and other sources of power to prevent the circumstances from occurring in the world that ultimately could draw us into war, or could damage and hurt the lives of our citizens. And so, I mean, and I happen to believe, I’m a strong believer in that maxim that the best general is the one that never has to fire a shot. I want a military that’s so strong and so able and so much more capable than anyone else in the world, that no one wants to test it. So I don’t believe in shrinking our military or pulling back from our interests around the world. I believe in using our power to keep bad things from happening. It was Harry Truman, after all, who said look, our experience in these world wars is that if we’re not involved in the world, bad things, very bad things happen that draw us in and make us very much involved. So look, I don’t want to be fighting wars. You know, you look back at Iraq and you shake your head. Boy, the lessons we learned there. And even in Afghanistan, but you know, I don’t want another Iraq. I don’t want another Afghanistan. But at the same time, I don’t want to be in the setting where we have the kinds of things that led Harry Truman to his conclusion.
HH: Last question, Governor Romney, President Obama announced he was deeply upset by the beheading of James Foley. Then he went and played golf. How did you react to that on a personal level? Was that consistent with how you would have conducted the presidency?
MR: You know, I’m not president, I’m not in his shoes. But I have to tell you that the amount of golf and the number of vacations has been puzzling to me. The President’s record has been deeply disappointing, internationally and domestically. And I just, and maybe I’m wrong, and I’m projecting on the President something that is just not possible. But I would think that for four to eight years, if you’re elected president of the greatest nation in the history of the Earth, that you’re going to spend every waking moment thinking about our fighting men and women, thinking about people that are out of work, thinking about the poor, trying to find ways to make things better in every dimension, and there are some things that of course are symbolic. And at the terrible tragedy of that beheading, the right symbolism was for the White House itself or its representatives to be at the funeral and the memorial service, and for there to be flags at half-mast, and for the President just to, well, if he’s going to do something personal and fun, he should do it in private.
HH: On that somber note, Governor Mitt Romney, I just want to confirm you’re telling me that we’ve got a chance there?
MR: (laughing) The Dumb and Dumber, one of a million.
HH: Good to talk to you. Say hello to all the various Romneys, and thank you for joining me, Governor.
MR: Thanks so much, Hugh. Bye bye.
End of interview.