I just taped an interview with Mitt Romney which will air at 7:06 EST. I will post the audio and transcript here as soon as we can process it.
My first question is about these rather stunning numbers from Rasmussen, which show Romney leading Obama by 6 points among likely voters –45%-39%– with former Speaker Gingrich and former Senator Santorum 10 points behind the president, 37%-47%. That is quite an electability gap and I open the interview by asking the former Massachusetts governor what he attributes that to. We also cover the president’s credibility gap, the slide of Egypt towards islamist extremism, his expectations in Iowa and the Keystone XL pipeline.
HH: I begin this hour with former Massachusetts Governor, current presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Governor Romney, welcome back, and a early Happy New Year to you.
MR: Well, thank you, and Happy New Year to you as well, Hugh.
HH: I want to start with the Rasmussen poll today, Governor. You are ahead of President Obama by six points among likely voters, a thousand of them. The next closest Republicans, Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum, are ten points behind President Obama. That’s a sixteen point advantage in electability. To what do you attribute those numbers? [# More #]
MR: Well, I don’t know that I can put a lot of stock into polls. Sometimes, they’re good, sometimes, they’re not so good. I think the American people are recognizing that this president is a nice guy, but that he’s over his head, and want to have someone who has not spent his life in politics, but who knows how to get America working again, and knows how to balance budgets. And coming from the private sector and from the business world, I know how to get that job done.
HH: Does that account for sixteen points, though? That’s an enormous gap between you and the field of Republican would-be’s.
MR: You know, I haven’t seen those numbers myself. I can tell you that I’m encouraged by the response I’m getting here in Iowa. And as you recognize, these races are going to tighten up towards the end, but that’s the best news of a poll I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you (laughing).
HH: All right, so you are out there on the trail, and you’re making some promises, as did President Obama. He made a lot of them, including that unemployment would never go above 8%. So here’s the problem. If you’re the GOP nominee, how are you going to persuade a voting public, Mitt Romney, that you can be trusted to do what you promised when the incumbent president has effectively immunized an entire population against believing in presidential promises?
MR: Well, in my case, people can look at my record when I was the governor of Massachusetts. I said I wouldn’t raise taxes and I did not. I said I’d balance the budget and I did every one our four years. I helped drive our schools to be number one in the nation. I was pleased with the fact that we got our state police to enforce our immigration laws. So the things that I promised I would do, I either did or I tried to do. There are some things, of course, that are out of control. But the ones that are in your control, is how you work with the people across the aisle and the other branches of government. And I showed respect to them even when we disagreed, and we were able to work on a collaborative basis from time to time. That’s what you have to have in Washington. We’ve got a president who seems to be on the attack every single day.
HH: Governor, Scott Walker has been with me today, and he’s under attack fiercely in his own state for trying to restrain spending and cut the obligations of the state. Is that what this year is going to be like? Is it going to be a series of Wisconsins, Governor Romney? And how important is it that Walker prevail in this recall effort up there?
MR: Well, in my opinion, his race and his effort is extraordinarily important, and I think there’s going to be a growing recognition across the country that we can’t keep spending money we don’t have, that the idea of borrowing from other nations, and passing these obligations onto our kids is not only bad economics, it is immoral. And I hope that Scott Walker is successful in his effort of educating the people of Wisconsin. But this battle is not over. I hope he wins it. I’ll going to…to him, but I also believe we can’t keep going on the path we’re on, or we’ll end up like Greece and Italy. And there’s no one big enough to bail out the U.S.A.
HH: A lot of smart pundits out there, folks like Larry Sabato and Michael Barone, Governor, Romney, say it’s an 8-10 state election in the fall, but the GOP needs to pick up Senate seats in places like Montana and Nebraska and North Dakota, which are pretty red. If you’re the nominee, are you going to be focused on winning a majority in the Senate as well as just winning the White House?
MR: Well, I think the best thing I could do to help Republicans win in the Senate is to be a superb candidate myself, and to have someone at the top of the ticket who people identify with as working for the middle class in America, and doing what it takes to get our government to cut back on its spending. I will surely be in those key swing states, as well as some other states where I think you’re right, where Republicans have a chance of important pickups. But my interest is to get…
HH: Lost you there for a second, Governor, but got you back now. Yesterday, I had Rick Santorum on. Are you surprised by the surge that Senator Santorum is enjoying in Iowa?
MR: No, Rick has been working hard in Iowa, and he’s someone who understands the political process. He’s been in government and in politics all of his life. I think in the final analysis, people are going to want someone who’s had a career outside of government, but you know, Rick’s an able competitor and a good campaigner, and I’m not surprised to see him doing well.
HH: Well, what we spoke about the most was Egypt, and I want to ask you the same question, because it looks like things are going very bad, very quickly in Egypt with radical Islamists getting at least a majority, and maybe a supermajority. If you’re the president of the United States, how do you get Egypt back into the mainstream of the American network of friends and allies around the world?
MR: Well, I have to admit that I’ve been disappointed in the fact that the president has not been able to use our extensive associations and friendships in the military to lead the military to pursue a process that allows secular institutions and other parties to be formed other than the Muslim Brotherhood. And his failure, I think, has led to the resurgence of the Islamist party. We’re going to have to reach out to the people in those countries to encourage economic vitality. It is a growth of the economy that is going to be essential in Egypt, and our economic liaisons and connections will hopefully allow us to help pull that nation towards modernity, and cause them to step away from the radical Islamism that is infected so much of the Middle East.
HH: How big of a threat do you think losing Egypt is right now? I use that term what was once identified, you know, who lost China, who lost Iran…are we “losing” Egypt, Governor Romney?
MR: Well, I don’t think there has to be a guarantee here that we lose Egypt. It’s difficult to tell what the agenda will be of those that are taking positions of power in the Egyptian parliament now. But I don’t think we can afford to lose Egypt, Hugh. This is too critical a nation. It’s the neighbor of Israel. It’s been on a collaborative relationship with Israel over the past many years now, and we simply cannot allow the largest nation, the largest Arabic nation to take a course of radicalism. I simply can’t imagine that happening, and expect that if I’m president of the United States, I will make an enormous effort to keep Egypt in the collection of responsible nations.
HH: Now you’ve said, you’ve promised your first trip abroad will be to Israel, and that got a lot of applause from people. But it also carries a complication. Do you think that will make it harder for you as President Romney, if you win, to reach out and reconnect with Lebanon, with perhaps a free Syria, with a revitalized Egypt?
MR: Well, the places that I intend to visit are places where we have friends. This president went to other places. If you recall, he pledged in his first year he would meet with Ahmadinejad and Kim Jung Il, and Castro, and I mean, it was a list of the world’s horribles. I intend to meet with our friends. I also intend to meet with the leaders of nations that we want to influence and encourage to join the community of responsible nations. And I will endeavor to do that, but I can tell you, in my own view, the best way to make friends is to show that you’re a person of respect and strength. A strong America creates good allies. When people see a weak America, it invites adventurism. And that’s what you’re seeing, for instance, from Iran right now. The weakness they perceive from America is without question leading to the kind of adventurism that’s coming from Ahmadinejad and the mullahs.
HH: Now former Speaker Gingrich got a lot of applause when he said he would make John Bolton his secretary of state. There is some criticism of whether or not it’s right for people to name their cabinet. But what do you make of sort of John Bolton’s critique of the State Department, that it needs a top to bottom transfiguration?
MR: Well, I do agree with that. I had the interesting experience of reading his book, Surrender Is Not An Option, and in it, he described in some depth the mentality of people who spend their entire life in government. And that is in many cases, they’re more inclined towards getting an agreement than actually getting a result. And as someone from the private sector, I’m a results-oriented guy. And John Bolton’s insistence on good results for America is something I respect. I think he’s a fine man with great capacity. I’m not planning right now on naming my cabinet early, but you never say never in this business, but I think John Bolton is right that we need to have a dramatic shakeup in the approach that’s taken by our State Department.
HH: And then, let’s finish on domestic policy, Governor Romney. If you’re the president, will the Keystone XL pipeline get built?
MR: Yeah, it’ll get built in a hurry. It makes no sense in the world for us to tell Canada to take their oil to China. We should bring that oil into the United States, we should open up the lands in this country to drilling for oil in gas. We are an energy-rich nation, and we’re acting like an energy-poor nation. That will end if I’m president.
HH: And last question, any predictions on Iowa, Governor?
MR: No predictions, no expectations to provide for you. I think Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and myself are all very close. I expect that we’ll be very, very tightly bunched in the final analysis, and we’ll probably go onto the next few states.
HH: Mitt Romney, Happy New Year to you, thanks for joining us, Governor. Talk to you in 2012.
End of interview.