Mitt Romney a day after winning the GOP presidential debate.
HH: The day after the debate, and what a better guest to begin with on this, the 4th day of May, 2007, than the winner of last night’s debate, at least in most people’s minds, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
MR: Thank you, Hugh, good to be with you again.
HH: Congratulations. What are the reactions around Team Romney today?
MR: Well, we’re obviously very, very pleased. It was an opportunity for us to have, if you will, a conversation with Republican candidates, and I enjoyed the chance to exchange some views with some of my colleagues, and actually, I know some people have been critical of Chris Matthews. I think he did a pretty good job, and enjoyed the chance to be with him and with the other folks.
HH: Well, I’ll come back to Chris Matthews in a moment, Governor. It’s a marathon, this presidential race. And if the first three miles have been the talent primary and the money primary, and the first debate, you’ve had three very good miles. But of course, how do you stop overconfidence from getting into the system here?
MR: Well, I think from my standpoint, I’m benefiting from the fact that there is no overconfidence in the Romney team. Obviously, people don’t know me yet. I’m a relatively unknown candidate, and as time goes on, a guy like me who has been a governor of a very liberal state, people wonder well, who the heck is this guy? And I have to point out I’m the conservative that’s been in the middle of the battleground fighting for conservative principles, and slowly but surely, I build a stronger base. So for me, you know, I’m not looking at it from the top of the mountain down, I’m still down climbing my way up.
HH: Have you seen traffic at www.mittromney.com spike today?
MR: You know, I have not been back in the office today. I am in Fresno, California, right now, headed to Virginia, and I haven’t heard what’s happening there, but I know that after the Jay Leno show, we got a lot of traffic after that, and people called in and went onto our website, and sent $10 dollar contributions, $50 dollar contributions. It makes a difference, because I want as many people as I can to be part of this effort.
HH: Now Governor, last night, you did at one point, when the discussion about the tamper-proof card, began to talk about the Salt Lake City Games, and it reminded that when you arrived in Salt Lake to take over the Olympics, it was a very long haul ahead of you to 2002. Does it feel that way right now, because this is such a long campaign.
MR: You know, it is extraordinarily long, and we’ve been organizing this for well over a year. So it’s been a while already for me and for the key members of my team. And that just means you’ve got to have the stamina to make it. I remember one president who said that being president was not as physically grueling as running for president, and that may well be true, because you go all over the country. But for me, I get the energy from the people I meet. You get a lot of enthusiasm, and that keeps you pumped up.
HH: When I think that it is fifteen months down the road until the party’s nominee eventually lines up against Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, how many debates between now and then do you think you’ll have to go through?
MR: Well, probably the more the merrier, if it’s up to me. You know, I love the chance to get a chance to be on-air, and to talk with the American people, and to talk with fellow candidates. I hope at some point we can narrow down the number of people on the stage, so that there’s a little more time than just 60 seconds to talk about how we’re going to beat the radical jihad and so forth. But you know, that being said, I’ll take the chance to be on air anytime I can get it.
HH: Now that brings me to my next question. You mentioned the radical jihad. On my list of things I wanted to have you revise and extend, you gave a speech as Yeshiva University in New York a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I heard an echo of it last night in your global view of jihad, although the question was posed the difference of Sunni and Shia, you went out of your way to say while they might be different, it’s all one jihad. Can you expand on that?
MR: Yeah, the people in the Muslim world, of course, come from different branches of their faith, just like there’s the Protestant and the Catholic branch of Christianity. But in their faith, there is a mission towards jihad, a violent, if you will, takeover of all Islamic lands, and replacing them with a religious caliphate instead of the elected governments they have, or other governments that they may have. And this is, you know, it’s seen differently by different people. Most Muslims don’t see it as a violent jihad of that nature. But there are some, like Osama bin Laden, who certainly do. And we’re going to have to help the moderate Muslims be strengthened with better schools and health care and agricultural and economic policies so they have the foundations of modernity, so they can reject this kind of violent extreme.
HH: Are you surprised at the political reaction in Israel, Governor Romney, I know you’ve been there recently as well, to the handling of the Hezbollah war this past summer? Ehud Olmert, I don’t know, I think he’s still prime minister today, but that might not last until the weekend.
MR: You know, in a system which is a parliamentary system, it’s so much easier for them in some respects to decide to remove a prime minister, and put in somebody who has more confidence. I think in a nation of five million people, Israel’s quite small, a nation of five million people surrounded by over a billion people who from time to time think about wiping you out, you probably do want to have somebody who really understands how to defend the nation, and I understand that this commission that looked at the war was not pleased, and thought that he had not done an effective job, and that obviously is going to figure into the public support and confidence that he has.
HH: I know in your briefings, you’ve talked to a lot of experts, I know you’ve read The Looming Tower and America Alone, and all these different things, which branch of Islam, the Sunni or the Shia, do you think is more of an immediate threat to American interests?
MR: Well, you know, that’s a pretty difficult call to make, because in the case of the Sunni, you have al Qaeda, for instance, which is most frightening in that it carried out the attack on the World Trade Center, and it continues to look for weapons to use to attack us, and maybe planning an attack even as we speak. So from an immediate standpoint, they certainly come to mind. Then you think, look at the Shia Muslims, and the extreme among the Shia, and that includes Hezbollah, it also includes someone like Ahmadinejad, who is seeking nuclear weaponry. And in terms of the long-term implications of a world that has a nuclear bomb in the hand of a terrorist-sponsoring state, that’s also very frightening. So it’s…both are very painful, awful circumstances to consider.
HH: In the Democratic debate that preceded yours, Senator Obama was asked what his reaction would be in the even of strikes against two American cities. And I want to paraphrase here, but it was you know, we have to work on our first responders. What did you make of that reaction, Governor Romney?
MR: Well, it’s obviously a very disappointing and inadequate response. The first thing that comes to mind if we’ve been attacked is one, to defend ourselves, to make sure we’re not going to get attacked anywhere else immediately, to if you will, get our systems us and our arms up to protect us. Number two is to plan a swift and severe retaliatory strike. And then third, of course, is to care for the wounded and others who need help. But my thought is get your arms up to keep the next attack from occurring, and then prepare a swift and severe counterattack.
HH: Now I want to go back to politics and media, Governor Romney. Chris Matthews, you might be the only guy who liked his performance last night. The Catholic bishops question was just off the wall, and the Karl Rove reference to Jim Gilmore, are the Republican candidates going to insist on you know, a little more mainstream journalism down the road?
MR: Well, you know, it takes a lot of people to come together to make the calls on that, and there are some rules that I’d like to put in place for the upcoming debates, but I’m just one out of ten guys, and will probably have no more sway than anybody else. It really comes down to the networks, and what they think is best. I do admit, I thought some of the questions were really unusual, particularly the ones that came from Politico, the one question that said what do you do about single moms, I think, was a question, that are in jail and they have children at home. It’s like gosh, you know, for guys that want to be able to talk about the jihad and getting our economy going and fixing our schools, that’s kind of a narrow question.
HH: Fred Thompson was not there. I will actually we watching him give a speech in a couple of hours in Orange County, California. Do you look forward to his formal announcement one way or the other, Governor?
MR: You know, I think you have to say come on in, the water’s fine. You know, he’s a bright and capable guy. If I were going to get asked about him last night, I would have said something like well, I think we all know that there’s no way that an actor can become president of the United States.
HH: At the Reagan Library. Two more questions, Governor. You got asked last night again about abortion, and your evolution of your position to pro-life, and about your Mormon faith. How many times are you going to have to ask and answer these questions? I know you did so at length for me in the book, but not many people have read the book yet, relative to the number of people watching. But how long does that remain a legitimate question for national debates to have posed?
MR: You know, my guess is it’s going to continue to get asked for some time until finally, there’s no interest in it anymore, and I can’t predict exactly when that will be. I must admit, I don’t mind getting asked about it. My answer’s pretty straightforward, and as long as it’s clear and straightforward, why, then you can move onto the other topics that are new. There were some folks who were asked questions last night that they had to know were coming, and they didn’t have straight answers yet, and that was a bit of a surprise.
HH: Now we’re wrapping up, Governor. If someone has asked me my favorite novel, I would have said Lord of the Rings, and Eisenhower was a Zane Grey westerns addict. But I’ve got to tell you, science fiction?
MR: (laughing) Well, you know, that’s really not my favorite novel. Probably my favorite is Huckleberry Finn and I’ve read all of Louis L’Amour’s books, I think. I may have missed one of two, but all of his westerns. You know, I have a guilty pleasure in some science fiction. A couple of my other favorite science fiction, Ann McCaffrey’s Dragon Flight, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. There’s some great science fiction out there.
HH: I hope your favorite movie isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey.
MR: (laughing) I’ll stay away from that.
HH: And have you ever been to a Star Trek convention, Governor?
MR: No, I’ve stayed away from that, too. I must admit, but I do enjoy Star Trek.
HH: Thank you very much, Mitt Romney. Congratulations, look forward to talking to you again soon, Governor.
End of interview.