Audio of today’s interview (which can be used with attribution):
HH: I’m so pleased to begin today’s show with the star of the Netflix documentary that you may have watched Friday, Saturday or Sunday as I did, Mitt. Pleased to welcome back former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome, it’s great to talk to you again.
MR: Thank you, Hugh. It’s great to be on your show again.
HH: That is a remarkable film, and I want to just begin with your decision process to allow the filmmaker that far into your life. How did that happen?
MR: Well, he kind of ambushed me, to tell you the truth, because he met my son, my oldest son, Tagg, and said he wanted to do a documentary filming our campaign. And my son said great idea, and he came to me, and I said no way. And then he talked to my wife, and my wife said yes, let’s do it, and again, I said no way. But on Christmas Eve of 2007, I think it was, maybe it was 2006, I guess, he showed up at the door with his camera and said gee, you know, your wife said I could come. So what was I to do? I let him in.
HH: Well, I’ve got a lot of things I want to talk to you about. People need to watch the movie. It’s only 90 minutes, and we only have two segments. I’m going to move fast. But I’m going to go to the most poignant moment to me of many poignant moments, is you’re on the phone, and your son narrates that you’re getting a phone call. He doesn’t say that it’s from Governor Crist. It’s 2008. I don’t know who it’s from, but you’re getting the news that Charlie Crist has stabbed you in the back, in essence. And you don’t say anything, but the look on your face is very revealing. Can you recall what you were thinking when you got that news?
MR: Well, you know, I did not get the news from Charlie Crist himself. I got it from a member of my staff, and I was not pleased with the news, and I was not pleased that he didn’t have the courtesy to call me directly. As you know, at that stage, Rudy Giuliani and myself and John McCain were battling it out in Florida. And as I understand it, he had promised Rudy Giuliani he was going to endorse him. And our team understood, and I understood, he was going to endorse no one. And then out of the blue, he endorsed John McCain. So he had his impact, and it was obviously very disappointing, particularly coming so close to the election.
HH: Is the lack of honor among electeds, is Charlie Crist the rule, or is he the exception in such a situation, did you learn after two presidential campaigns?
MR: You know, I think in the world of politics, that trust is the currency of the realm. And you can disagree with people, and I worked in a state where the legislators were overwhelmingly Democrat. My Senators were John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. So we disagree a lot, but we could trust each other, and we spoke in private. Those things were kept in private, and we kept our word. There are some people that you can’t trust, and I’m afraid that Charlie Crist was unable to maintain the trust that we have relied upon, and that Rudy Giuliani had apparently relied upon.
HH: Now I also want to talk about the debates. After the first debate, you were greeted like the conquering hero. And then after the Hofstra debate, the room was different. So you knew right away that the second debate hadn’t gone as well after Candy Crowley’s intervention on Benghazi. And it’s odd that we’re talking today, and Benghazi’s on the front page again. This is what Secretary of State Clinton was asked and answered earlier today, Governor Romney.
Moderator: Any do-overs that you would, relatively to Secretary of State?
HRC: Oh, sure. I mean, you know, you make these choices based on imperfect information, and you make them, as we say, the best of your ability. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be unforeseen consequences, unpredictable twists and turns. You know, my biggest, you know, regret is what happened in Benghazi. It was a terrible tragedy losing four Americans, two diplomats, and now it’s public, so I can say two CIA operatives, losing an ambassador like Chris Stevens who was one of our very best, and had served in Libya and across the Middle East and spoke Arabic…
HH: And so Governor Romney, that’s where it cuts off, so I don’t know what else she said after that. But here we are a year and a half later, and we still don’t know what she did that night. And the debate is front and center in the Mitt documentary. Isn’t that odd?
MR: Well, it’s interesting that the American public has not seized on the issue as I think the issue deserves. And there are many elements of it that probably need careful examination. One was why the decisions were made as they were prior to the attack on the embassy there. Secondly, or on the consul, rather, secondly was what was done after the attack was underway. And then third, what was the communication effort of the White House to apparently make this look like it was just a spontaneous demonstration as opposed to what it was, which was an organized effort by an affiliate of al Qaeda.
HH: Now in the film, Mitt, the conversation comes up, that sequence in the debate and Candy Crowley’s intervention in it. But the only negative word, Mrs. Romney at one point says Candy Crowley and sort of mutters under her breath. Did you feel she was unfair at that moment in the debate?
MR: Well, I don’t think it’s the role of the moderator in a debate to insert themselves into the debate and to declare a winner or a loser on a particular point. And I must admit that at that stage, I was getting a little upset at Candy, because in a prior setting where I was to have had the last word, she decided that Barack Obama was to get the last word despite the rules that we had. So she obviously thought it was her job to play a more active role in the debate than was agreed upon by the two candidates, and I thought her jumping into the interaction I was having with the President was also a mistake on her part, and one I would have preferred to carry out between the two of us, because I was prepared to go after him for misrepresenting to the American people that the nature of the attack.
HH: Do you think that even today the nature of that attack is being misrepresented by the former Secretary of State and the President?
MR: You know, I think they have now come to the conclusion that in fact, it was organized in part by an affiliate of al Qaeda, which was very different than what they told the American people in the two weeks following the attack. And as to what happened on the night of the attack and what actions were taken, that’s just something we just don’t know the full story on, and I think people still wonder what happened there. I don’t know that there’s a cover-up effort going on, but I do know that it’s something which I think deserves to be fully examined.
HH: Now back to Mitt, the Netflix film which is available for anyone to watch, there are two sequences in the movie where you and your family are on your knees praying. At one point, Ann is praying Thanksgiving and protection for the children. At another part, you were giving a prayer of Thanksgiving and you name Ann. And these are intensely intimate moments. Are you comfortable with them out there the way that they are, because they will be jarring to secular America.
MR: You know, I had not expected Greg to actually film the prayers, nor to use them in the film, but you know, he followed us for about six years. Not every day, but most days in the cars, in the house, everywhere I was, he was there with a camera, and you just, ultimately, you stop even noticing him. He seems invisible. And you know, I’m not embarrassed about the fact that I pray, and that Ann prays, and that our family prays. We do that regularly. It’s a major part of our life. And you know, I know that there’s a wonderful painting by Arnold Friburg of George Washington on his knees next to his horse. We didn’t have video cameras back then, but my guess is that not only George Washington, but almost every president since has gone to his knees when he felt he needed the help of providence.
HH: There is also a remarkable exchange between you and your boys, and interestingly, all of your daughters-in-law. These are free-flowing family debates and arguments. Was that like the nightly dinner table for six years at Romney House?
MR: (laughing) Well, we actually have a tradition when we’re all together, and we try and do that in the summer, and every other Christmas. All the daughters-in-law and the sons are together, and we talk about the important things going on in each family’s life and get each other’s advice. It’s about career, education, problems with kids, just, we just find that we’re kind of family discussion, almost like a board of directors. And so no one has authority over one another, but we just go for advice from one another, and I have found it to be some of the most helpful and insightful perspectives that I possibly could weigh in personal decisions.
HH: I must say, I was extraordinarily impressed by how free-flowing it was, and I actually wrote a biography of you, and I knew how close you were to your sons. But they, I mean, you and Tagg debating the Delta gates at LaGuardia is an interesting and funny moment. But that is something I don’t think many families in America have. It’s a wonderful portrait of a family, actually, Mitt is.
MR: Well you know, we grew up around the dining room table with a lot of arguments and a lot of debates. And I had that in my own home growing up. And you know, it was part of my family with my own boys. Ann used to complain that there was way too much that talked about bodily functions, but beyond that, it was a great chance for us to really talk about the issues of the day, but also to talk about our own personal issues, and debate them and talk about them. We talked about faith, we talked about politics, we talked about what was happening in the marketplaces around the world. It’s, sharing with your family is perhaps one of the most enjoyable things I can imagine.
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HH: I’m playing a theme from O Brother, Where Art Thou because of the references to it in the new movie, Mitt, available at Netflix. Evidently, this is your favorite movie, Governor.
MR: Yeah, yeah, I must admit, I absolutely love the movie. It’s got George Clooney in it in a way you’ve never seen him before, where he’s the buffoon, and who is a self-important buffoon, and it’s just delightful. And there are some great political insights as well. And, well, if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s one to watch. It’s a great one.
HH: Now there are some other aspects which I’ll run though, and again, people have to watch Mitt for themselves. But one of the themes of your campaign, which is featured in the film, comes from [Friday] Night Lights, clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. You had clear eyes, you had full heart, you did lose. What’s the message there for other people who think that the good or the better is always going to win?
MR: Well, as we all know, in the affairs of humankind, whether it’s our investments or elections or promotions we want, we don’t always win. There’s a great deal of chance involved, and sometimes, there’s the decisions of other people that are involved. But the good news is that among the people we care about most, which would be our Creator and our Savior, our family, our friends, if we have clear eyes and full hearts, speak the truth, why, we can’t lose. We’ll always win among the people we care very deeply about. So you know, I came away from this campaign not kicking the dirt and mad and upset, but instead saying you know, we gave it everything we could. We still have each other. We love each other deeply. It was a great experience. We’d do it again if the clock were turned back. But you know, we feel we didn’t lose in the way that’s most important.
HH: Now late in the film, Paul Ryan makes an appearance on your campaign plane. And about Paul Ryan, I think there is unanimity you made a find choice. And he emerged from it absolutely stronger and much more admired. Any second thoughts on your part? Or are you confident you’d make the same choice again?
MR: Oh, absolutely. Paul is not only an extraordinary leader and a very capable political figure, and someone who’s well-versed in some of the major issues of the day, including budgets and deficits and debt and so forth, but for someone like myself who was running as a governor, to have someone who was so intimately familiar with the mechanics and the people of Washington as my vice president would be a huge, huge positive. And I remember talking with Mike Leavitt, who was former HHS secretary, former governor Utah, and I was thinking about the vice presidential process, and I said to him, you got any advice, Mike? And he said yeah, he said make sure you choose someone who you think would be a great vice president, because you know what? You’re going to probably win this, and if you do, you want someone who can really get the job done. And that’s precisely what Paul Ryan can do.
HH: Are you hoping he runs for the nomination this time around?
MR: Oh, I’d love to see Paul Ryan in another national role. And whether it’s this time or another time down the road, you know he’s a guy who speaks his mind honestly, and has developed a capability of working with people in Washington, Republican and Democrat. I mean, people trust him, they respect him. He’s a very rare creature in the world of Washington.
HH: Now the Republican National Committee last week changed the calendar. Iowa’s going to be on February 2nd. New Hampshire’s going to be on February 9. South Carolina on the 16th, Nevada will follow. No one can go before March 1 other than those four. And they’re going to rationalize the debates, Governor. Reince Priebus is doing a fine job as chairman. Are you saying to yourself now they do this?
MR: (laughing) Well, I think we all learned through my process, and we saw the twenty-some odd debates, and said you know, that’s really not terribly productive. And likewise the primary calendar did not work well with the convention being so late and the primaries being so early. It meant that we had, I don’t know, two or three months there where we didn’t have money, because we couldn’t use our general election money, yet. We’d spent all of our primary money. So we learned a number of things through my experience, and I’m glad that we all as a party took the time to review the process I went through and said look, how can we make this better. And I, by the way, have been working over the past several months with Reince and with other leaders in the Republican Party to help make these changes, to make sure that whoever comes along next doesn’t have the, if you will, procedural or logistical disadvantages that all of us in that last race encountered.
HH: There was a segment of Mitt where you’re talking in 2008 about being branded as the ‘flippin’ Mormon.’ And you say I won’t fix the Mormon part. You’re proud of your faith. And I can’t fix the flip-flopper thing. They’ve got to stop buying, I think this is a direct quote, the dog food that’s been shipped to you by McCain. That is a problem of all American media. I mean, Governor Christie right now is getting branded, and I don’t know what he does about it. What’s your advice to Governor Christie to avoid getting branded as you did in ’08 and ’12?
MR: Well, you’re right, Hugh, and I look back at someone like, and I said on the film as well, I was talking about Dan Quayle, and said you know, they branded him as someone who wasn’t bright. And actually, he’s a very bright person, a very capable investor and manager of a large investment firm. They used to joke about Jerry Ford, you know, a stumblebum, uncoordinated. Actually, he’s the only American president who’s an All-American. I mean, they completely can get these things wrong, but they brand people. The opposition party obviously wants to do that, and sometimes, the media wants to play along with it, I’m afraid. And when that happens, you’ve got to say okay, what can we do to try and correct that? And it’s hard to do. In Chris Christie’s case, I’ll just note that if they want to brand him as someone who is a bully or pushes people around, you know, I come back and say you know, wouldn’t it be nice in Washington to have a strong leader who takes responsibility for things that don’t go well, who stands up and talks to the American people for two hours about what went wrong, who fires people who don’t do their job? I mean, I think if they’re going to brand Chris Christie as a tough guy, I’m not so sure that’s going to hurt him.
HH: Now one thing I also thought in parallel between you and people who will be back in the arena is the toll this takes on your family. Now Mrs. Romney, despite her battling MS, did very well. And in this film, it comes across. Your children did very well. But you think about Mary Pat Christie and what’s being done, they’ve got children who are younger than yours. Or you think about Marco Rubio’s young family, or Paul Ryan’s young family, or Ted Cruz’ young family. Is it better to have children who are out of the age of being easily influenced by charges on television when you do this thing?
MR: You know, there may well be some truth to that, Hugh. My dad used to say to me, he said Mitt, don’t get involved in politics if you’ve got young kids in the home and if you have to win elections to pay your mortgage. And he said the young kids can have their heads turned by all that goes on. And if you have to win the election to pay your mortgage, why, you might be tempted to say or do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. And I thought that was fair advice for me. That may not be good advice for others. But you know, there’s no question but that young kids are going to probably have a tougher time than did my five boys. My five boys knew what was coming, but you did see at the end of the film, when my son, Josh, says flatly, flatly..
MR: I can’t take the stress.
MR: Well, the election night film when you’re doing your concession speech is very, very poignant. And you’re not angry. You look resigned, and I don’t know if you’re worried about the country or what, but you look resigned. They’re not angry, either. There isn’t an angry Romney around. And I’m just wondering when you talk to Greg Whitely, who did this film, did they just edit out when you guys explode in anger? Or did it just never happen?
MR: You know, I know that people find it hard to believe, but it just didn’t happen. I mean, this, for us, was about putting ourselves forward to try and help the country at a time we think that is a critical time, and where the background and skills I have, we think, were a good match for what the country needed. And if the country decides to go a different direction, that’s the way our republic works. And so I mean, we weren’t mad, and you know, cussing. I mean, I didn’t hear a swear word from my sons or from anybody. This was working our hearts out to try and win, but not with a sense of anger and maliciousness that some, as people assume, is part of the political process. It’s just not part of our family process. So you know, Greg had full access to us, and was free to use whatever he wanted to use in the film, and had there been some moment that would have been really controversial, you can bet he’d have used it.
HH: Last couple of questions, Governor. You talked about your dad just now. In the movie, you talk about your dad as being the real deal, born in Mexico, head of a car company. I have to go back to Secretary of State Clinton who was talking to car dealers today. Here’s what she said.
HRC: But I’ve always enjoyed stories about cars and adventures, and I have to confess that one of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can’t drive anymore. My husband thinks that’s a blessing, but he’s the one who should talk. Last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996, and I remember it very well.
HH: Now Governor, is it good for the American people that our candidates get so bubbled up that they haven’t driven a car in 17 years?
MR: That’s quite an admission on her part. Oh, I think, well, obviously, I mean, she was part of the first family and has been secretary of State. And you know, you don’t want someone like that going out and getting in an accident, or not being able to protect themselves, so she has Secret Service and other protection, and that’s as it should be.
HH: But what I’m really referring to is not…
MR: But I do admit that the distance from the American people is something which obviously can be harmful to anybody running for office.
HH: That’s what I mean. It seems to me like the Beltway is bubbled up, that they really, some of the stories in Mitt about the owner of Papa Johns, and the other people that you talk about, and at one point, you bemoan the fact they really don’t know what they’re doing to small businesses out there. They’re lawyers. You say that, and I flinched a little bit, because you’re a lawyer, and I’m a lawyer, but I know what you mean, that I don’t know if there’s any fixing that, is there?
MR: You know, it’s really frustrating, Hugh, and I don’t know how to do this, but when the founders put this country together, I think they envision a nation where people like themselves came from ordinary walks of life, served in Washington for a term, and then ultimately went home and other people came in, people who had lived in and among the people. That’s harder to do, particularly for those that are in a security bubble. But even for those that make Washington their entire life, and there are a lot of people who do that, I think they just lose touch with what’s really going on out here.
HH: And a last couple of questions, in Dan Balz’ Collision 2012, Governor, have you read that, yet?
MR: I have not. I have avoided reading any of the books on the campaign.
HH: Well, that’s probably the best, and Jonathan Alter’s book is pretty good as well. But Dan says that Stuart Stevens walked out after Clint Eastwood gave a speech and threw up. What did you make of the Eastwood episode?
MR: You know, I have kind of a sense of humor about these things, and I think Clint is an amazing guy. I was a little concerned about how long he went on. But frankly, having Clint Eastwood get up and endorse me, I thought, was worth the entire experience of him being there and being at the convention. So you know, I didn’t have any problem with it. It didn’t bother me as much as it apparently did Stuart.
HH: In Jonathan Alter’s book, he has the amazing statistic that on Spanish language television, there were twelve times as many Obama-Biden ads as there were Romney-Ryan ads. Your son, I think it’s Josh at one point. Is it Josh who’s fluent in Spanish?
MR: My son, Craig, my youngest, yes.
HH: Craig is speaking at a crowd in Florida in just flawless Spanish. And I wonder in retrospect, did the campaign not understand the importance of the Hispanic vote or manage that element well enough?
MR: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think we underestimated the importance of the Spanish vote, and underestimated the effectiveness of the President’s campaign. We were short on cash relative to his campaign. Obviously, he had no primary. So he had a lot of money to spend, and they did spend heavily in Hispanic media, and overwhelmingly in the Spanish Media, and they made a couple of points. They were one, pushing Obamacare very heavily, which was, I think, popular in the Spanish community, Spanish-speaking community, and secondly, they mischaracterized my views on immigration, I believe. And those things, I think, were very effective for them. We didn’t do a good job countering that.
HH: And finally, the very last question, knowing everything you know after two presidential runs and a run for governor, and the Olympics experience, do you want any of your sons to run for office?
MR: You know, only if they are in a critical position to make a difference for the country. I happen to believe, Hugh, that the country is on a downward slide that, and that the leaders in Washington are not taking the action that has to be taken to get America, keep America strong so that our children and their children can have a free and prosperous future. And so if my sons are in a position to make a contribution that’s unique, why, jump in. But frankly, I know that if they do it, it’s a very perilous course. But they’ve now experienced it. They know that. And they know that win or lose, getting in and fighting for America is a good thing.
HH: Governor Mitt Romney, it is always a great pleasure. I look forward to chatting with you again down the road. They say third time’s a charm. I didn’t ask you, because I didn’t want you to have to say anything on that one, but I look forward to talking to you again.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, great to be with you.
End of interview.