HH: We begin today with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. And Governor, thank you, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
MR: Thank you, Hugh, it’s good to be with you today.
HH: I want to start with the big news from yesterday, that President Obama has reopened the door, opened the door to the prosecution of former Bush administration officials in connection to the interrogation memos. What’s your reaction to that, Governor?
MR: Well, it’s a bad decision on a number of fronts. First of all, it violates his most consistent campaign pledge that he was going to work on a bipartisan basis in Washington. There’s nothing that could be more hostile than saying we’re going to go after the prior administration and see if we can make them all get lawyers and pay millions of dollars in legal fees, and drag them in for hearings, and see if we can really demonize the prior administration. That’s the lowest form of partisanship, and it’s something which I think the American people will recognize was very different than what they heard during the campaign. And secondly, these matters that are related to protecting our country from terrorism, you know, I think the Democrats are making a mistake by calling this into question. President Bush informed members of Congress as to the policies that were being pursued. There was a national emergency, America was kept safe during the Bush years. I think Barack Obama’s leading with his chin on this, because you know what? He’s got to keep this country safe.
HH: Governor Romney, I also want to talk about just the idea of changing your mind in mid-stream. Up until Tuesday, he had been adamant that this was not going to be his policy, then he switches everything on Tuesday. You’ve run a lot of organizations. If you had changed your mind day to day at the Olympics, or as Governor of Massachusetts, or at Baine, what’s the message that sends up and down the organization?
MR: Well, in this case, there’s no particular reason for the change. It’s not that there’s an external event that makes a new calculation possible. It’s not that there was a piece of analysis that said that he was wrong in the past. No, this is entirely motivated by politics. And I’m sure he heard from his Democratic colleagues on the Hill that they want to go after Republicans. And he may have calculated that this is good politics, and he’s going to go along with it. And so he flipped mid-stream. And given the fact that there’s no particular logic for the change, it makes it even more clear that this is politically motivated.
HH: Governor, you’ve been out on the road a lot trying to help Republicans get elected in 2010, and probably the specials. I don’t know if you’ve been to Virginia or New Jersey yet for the governors there, but in terms of national security as an issue, does it remain resonant with the American people?
MR: Well, there’s no question right now everybody is talking about the economy, and we’re all concerned about the economy, want to see it get back on track. But national security will emerge from time to time as the leading issue in our nation. And so I believe that despite the fact that it’s not on the front burner right now, it will be. And frankly, the failure of the Obama administration to do anything, to suggest concern about Iran announcing that they have mastered all steps necessary to enrich uranium, and the North Koreans launching a long range missile, these absence of actions on the part of the Obama administration are very troubling to people who are concerned about our foreign policy.
HH: Let’s take them in order. Obviously North Korea launches a missile on the day that the President’s talking about nuclear non-proliferation. It’s kind of a sharp stick in the eye. What was wanting in the Obama administration’s policy there?
MR: Well, the immediate course should have been to indicate that we’re going to sue for very aggressive action. For instance, hold off on providing banking availability to the North Koreans, we’re going to consider blockading again as we have in the past, we’re going to take actions that severely depress the ability of North Korea to change goods around the world and to participate in the financial system. We’ve done it before, we can do it again. But instead, we go to the United Nations and ask for another vote of some kind of resolution, which of course North Korea flaunts as they have in the past. We in the past have been tough on North Korea. It’s time to do it again.
HH: Let’s turn to Iran and the declaration of Ahmadinejad that they are close to the number of centrifuges, they are past it, actually, and everyone believes they’re on the brink of going critical, as the phrase is. What ought our policy to be to Iran right now?
MR: Well again, it’s a multiple part strategy, but first and foremost is getting our European friends, and also putting some pressure on China that obviously relies on access to our market for its viability economically, getting these folks to come together and putting in place tough economic sanctions that will tighten further and further and further unless Iran is willing to take a more reasonable course and abandon its nuclear ambition. And unless we put these kinds of sanctions in place, there is virtually no penalty that anyone in the world can see for violating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And that will mean more and more nations become nuclear, and places like Iran will have the capacity to bring devastation to Europe, to the U.S., and of course they can catastrophically impact Israel.
HH: One of the things about being president, you’ve got to prepare for what looks to be a likelihood, in this instance, it looks like Israel is going to take matters into its own hands if deterrence does not work soon. If Israel is obliged, in its own opinion, to strike Iran, what ought the President to do in the aftermath of such action?
MR: Well, we’re going to stand with Israel. The right course for America is to recognize the right of Israel to protect itself. But the heart of the matter is that we should be taking action now, not just talk, but action which puts enough pressure on Iran to get them to abandon their nuclear folly so that Israel doesn’t have to take a military course. Israel is hoping that we’ll finally take action, that we and Europe will come together and get tough on Iran. And I’m not talking necessarily about military options, although those are always available to us and should be on the table. But I’m talking about other actions that will put pressure on the Iranian business community such that people there are very concerned about a nuclear course.
HH: Governor Romney, in your National Review piece yesterday, which is linked at Hughhewitt.com, you began by pointing out that when President Obama sort of apologized for our policy vis-à-vis Cuba for the last 40 years, he was selling down the river the memory of a lot of Americans whose blood was spilled in the effort launched by Jack Kennedy to free that island nation.
MR: Yeah, I must admit, when I saw that Daniel Ortega took Barack Obama to task and attacked America in part for trying to free Cuba from Fidel Castro, to have Barack Obama unresponsive to that, and try and say well don’t blame me, I was just a little kid at the time, I found that to be, frankly, an enormous disappointment. President Obama should have stood at the end of that diatribe, and he should have said there’s no nation in the history of the world that’s done more to promote freedom than the United States of America. The people of Cuba have been oppressed by Fidel Castro. They don’t have the right to vote, they don’t have the right of a free press. They don’t even have economic rights that the top government officials have in their country. And we stand for freedom, we stand for democracy, we will fight for it anywhere in the world, and we’ll fight for it in Cuba as we have in the past. And instead, he just tried to pass it off as something he wasn’t responsible for. It was an embarrassing response.
HH: These series of pratfalls, we’ve been through four of them, there are others as well, do you put them down to ideology, inexperience, or both?
MR: You know, I think it’s a combination of naïveté and just getting started. He’s trying to find his sea legs here. But ideology’s a big part of it. I mean, during his campaign, he said he wanted to meet with Kim Jung Il and Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez. And you know, there he is with Hugo Chavez, giving him that big grip, not even a handshake, it’s more of a pal grip, you know, and holding onto his arm. I mean, it’s one thing to establish communications with other nations, and we’ve had communications all during the past decades. But it’s another thing to have the president palling around with people who are so blatantly anti-American, and opposed to democracy and our ideals.
HH: Now Governor, I want to close by talking a little bit about politics. You’re now a resident of my state part of the year out here in California. And over the weekend, you were with Meg Whitman at the California Republican Party gathering, I gather, and you endorsed her candidacy for governor. Why Meg Whitman? Why are you recommending her to the voters of California?
MR: Well you know, I’ve seen Meg Whitman over the decades. She and I worked together in the consulting world, and then I watched her run some companies. And ultimately, she became CEO of E-Bay. She is an extraordinarily intelligent person, and she is getting in the race for governor for a very simple reason. She wants to help California. She’s not in it for the money. She’s not in it for the fame or glory. She’s already had plenty of that. She’s married to a brain surgeon, so she has a good choice in people she links up with. She knows how to field the right team. I’m convinced that she will do what is desperately needed in California, which is stop this madness of increasing spending and increasing taxes to a tipping point where California finds itself not viable as an economic entity.
HH: I mean, you look now at this, having been a governor of a state, you inherited a pretty big deficit in Massachusetts. But your deficit in Massachusetts, what was it, about a fifteenth of the deficit that’s facing California now?
MR: Oh, California, of course, is a much bigger budget and bigger economy. And we faced a big deficit. Democrats and Republicans came together and we cut costs. We cut dramatically. We cut out a lot of things we liked but that we knew weren’t necessary. And you know, you just, you can’t keep on saying in California we’re just going to keep adding spending, year after year after year, more and more programs, more and more spending, and keep raising taxes on folks, or ultimately, they’re going to start to leave. Those that pay the taxes are going to go elsewhere. And when that happens, when that tipping point is reached, why, it’ll be very difficult for California to get back on its financial footing.
HH: Governor Mitt Romney, always a pleasure, look forward to talking to you again soon.
End of interview.