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Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

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HH: Pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome back, good to have you.

MR: Thank you, good to be with you, Hugh.

HH: We’ve watched a lot of these free swim debates, including last night’s, Governor. When do we get a Rudy-Mitt-Fred debate that people will actually want to watch, as opposed to…we like the other people, don’t get me wrong, but it’s very disjointed, and the top tier guys would be a great presentation.

MR: You know, I’m beginning to pine away for that myself. Of course, first, we’ve got to have Fred there. But once we get Fred there, then we can narrow it down, perhaps. But you know, the other guys want to be heard, and I think one of the reasons that a lot of guys get into this race is for the chance to be heard, and to have their message impact the body politick in the country. So you know, it’s going to be a long time, I’m afraid, before we actually have that kind of an exchange to and fro. It’s one of the frustrations, of course, in the debates, is that someone says something you disagree with, and you’re onto the next topic before you’re able to comment on it.

HH: Last night, for example, Senator McCain went after you for using the word apparently. Your reaction to that?

MR: Well, obviously, he made a big point out of using the word apparently. That’s very simple for me, which is that before I’m going to make a final analysis or a final statement on the extent of the success on the surge, I’m going to wait for the report from Petraeus and Crocker. I’ve said all along that I wouldn’t prejudge this, but that we’d hear from them, and we’re going to hear that in a matter of weeks. All the signs are that the surge is working. There are some areas, obviously, of disappointment. But the surge is, at this stage, on a track of success, and I hope we’re able to, as a result of that success, at some point, begin to pull down our troop strength, not before we’ve accomplished the effort that we’ve undertaken.

HH: I’ll come back to the surge in a moment. In fact, I’d like to play you something Senator Schumer said on the floor yesterday. But I want to stay with the debate last night. Senator Thompson declared last night on Leno, and of course you and Mayor Giuliani are neck and neck in most of these big polls. And you are the big three, if we go by any set of data. What distinguishes or differentiates you from Senator Thompson and Mayor Giuliani?

MR: Well, you know, we each have differing views, I’m sure, on different issues, but we haven’t heard all of Senator Thompson’s views yet, so it’s a little difficult to differentiate there. I think probably the biggest difference between myself and Mayor Giuliani relates to immigration, which we talked about last night. He presided over a sanctuary city. I think we should end sanctuary cities. I’ve indicated that the federal government should reduce payments to cities that are not willing to enforce the federal immigration law. He disagrees with that. He also favors letting those people who’ve come here illegally all stay. As long as they’re not criminals, he’d let them all stay. That kind of amnesty is something I also oppose. So we’ve got some differences on issues. Probably the greatest difference between the three of us is our very different backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector. I’ve had the experience of leading and guiding and managing an enterprise whether a business or an Olympics or a state. And my record of being successful doing that is what’s allowed me to find myself in this presidential race. And if there’s ever been a time we needed a strong leader in our country that knew how to make good decisions and to get us on track, with Republicans and Democrats working together, that time is now.

HH: Let’s look across the aisle at some of the Democrats…well actually, just Mrs. Clinton. Two Clinton questions, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has refused to release the names of donors whose campaign contributions were bundled by Norman Hsu, now a fugitive, skipped out on a $2 million dollar bail yesterday. Governor Romney, should she be releasing the names of those contributors who were delivered to her by this fugitive?

MR: You know, we need to find out more about who he is and what the story is there. I think the concern would be that these people might have an interest other than a normal American political interest, that they may have some very special interest which could be in conflict with the purpose of a presidency. And if that’s the case, we certainly would want her to divulge their names, or to take corrective action, returning their contributions, or something of that nature. So the more untoward he looks, the more important I think it would be to discourage or to disclose.

HH: A second Hillary question comes out of a decision by district court today striking down part of the reform of the Patriot Act, a reform that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama voted against this summer. It comes one day, the decision does, after terrorists in Germany, two days after terrorist arrests in Denmark. Are they clueless, Governor Romney, as to the threat that we face when they take these extreme positions on FISA [Patriot Act] reform?

MR: Yes, they are. There are reports that some terrorists actually route their calls through the United States, so someone from Pakistan routes a call through the U.S. to someone in Afghanistan, and by virtue of it going through the U.S., they know that we can’t listen in. This is absurd, and that’s why Democrats as well as Republicans came together to amend our laws so that we are able to listen into these kinds of calls. And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said no. There’s no question but that if America is going to be kept safe, it’s going to be done through intelligence. And we saw that in Great Britain with the recent attempt on airlines coming here. We saw it in Germany. In both cases, what stopped the attacks was effective intelligence. We’re not going to be able to stop every attack by having the guys at the airport looking in your bags. These guys are pretty smart guys, and intelligence is the key. And you’ve got to give our intelligence community and our law enforcement community the tools they need to listen in to the bad guys, to interrogate the bad guys. People have to recognize we’re talking about lives, and we’re talking about the lives of many of our citizens, and the livelihoods of many, many more.

HH: Now I want to play for you another Democrat, Chuck Schumer on the floor of the Senate yesterday, part of his speech against crediting the surge with success in Iraq. Here’s Senator Schumer:

CS: The violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge. The inability of American soldiers to protect these tribes from al Qaeda said to these tribes we have to fight al Qaeda ourselves.

HH: Now Governor Romney, the good news is he admits that al Qaeda is in Iraq. The bad news is he says the American troops have failed, and have nothing to do with the success in Anbar. Your reaction?

MR: Well, you know, there’s a bit of a degree of bombast that comes out of the Senate, which is everybody seems to have perfect knowledge about everything going on without of course having listened yet to the commander or the reports from the field. And wouldn’t it make a little more sense, before you call something a failure, which is of course what Harry Reid did from the very outset, and now what Chuck Schumer is saying even now, to actually listen to the people responsible for what’s going on. It’s amazing to me how definitive some people can be on a topic that has a great deal of uncertainty associated with it, and where we should at least open up the degree of possibility that we might be wrong. And I think Schumer was off base with his comments. Certainly, the preponderance of evidence is that the surge and our support is having an impact in al Anbar, and we’re going to get the response on that ultimately from the guy that’s in charge of this effort.

HH: Last week, I interviewed at length General Simmons, deputy commander of the Coalition forces there in charge of support. He stated that while the men are the most adaptable the American military have ever fielded, they’re have great affect, but that when they come home, they need more time at home, and that their equipment needs more time to be rehabbed, and I think he said more equipment as well. What’s your position vis-a-vis the funding and expansion of the military, Governor Romney?

MR: Yeah, I agree with him on both fronts. In my view, we have to add at least 100,000 full time active duty personnel to our military. And in addition, we’re going to have to increase our budget, I hate to have to spend more, but it’s one area we’re going to have to spend more, which is to purchase new equipment and modern equipment for our soldiers. They need better equipment in the battlefield. And also, they need better care when they get home. We’re going to have to take care of our veterans, our promises made to veterans, our promises of honor, and we’re going to have to fill those promises. So it is going to take some additional funding on the military front, because we’ve got a war going on.

HH: What is…do you have a target for GDP expenditure on defense matters?

MR: For me, the target is we’re going to reach about 4%, and I think you’re going to see us hit the 4% level. I think we need to hit that level. I don’t think we have to sustain that level forever, but we’ve dropped below that. It used to be as high as 6% during the time when Ronald Reagan was president. Of course, Bill Clinton pulled back the scale of the military, pulled back the spending on our equipment. We have been underinvesting in equipment and maintenance now for a long, long time, and we’re going to have to rebuild our capacity.

HH: When you were at Bain Capital, the company that you founded, you had to finance a lot of acquisitions, and that meant the credit markets. The credit markets are in an upheaval right now on a macro scale, on a micro scale, people are losing their houses because they’ve got bad loans. What, if anything, should the government be doing about the credit market upheaval?

MR: Well, the President has taken action that should calm a good portion of the market, which is he said look, these people who borrowed money from the sub-prime world with these reset provisions, where the payments go up in later months, and they were told by their mortgage banker in many cases don’t worry about that, we’ll refinance it when that time comes, well, now the mortgage banker’s gone, they can’t refinance it. And so he’s saying, the President’s saying let’s have the FHA refinance these mortgages. It’s not a bailout, but it is a setting which gives people stability, and will calm the markets to a certain degree. And then the Federal Reserve is also taking action to calm the markets to make sure that the crisis in the sub-prime mortgage market does not spread more broadly to the economy at large. And it’s already begun to spread, as you know, and that’s why the Fed is taking the action that they are.

HH: What kind of danger does this pose to Wall Street and Main Street?

MR: Well, Wall Street is always at risk for making bad investments, and that’s the way it ought to be. No one ought to bailout the big investors who put money in these sub-prime mortgage instruments, and thought they were going to make a killing. You know, they took a risk and now they’ve lost. And so you’re going to see some investors lose some money, and they’re going to be a little nervous, and they’re going to pull back a bit. And that’s what you’d expect. You wouldn’t expect, however, that this should effect the better credit markets, or people who were able to put their down payment down for a home. It shouldn’t effect those kinds of borrowers. And if it does, then the pullback has gone too far, and that’s why I think that the Fed is acting to increase the liquidity that’s available to lenders so they can get that money out to borrowers.

HH: Let’s close with a couple of political questions, Governor Romney. Michigan just leapfrogged over Florida. I don’t know if you welcome that as a native of Michigan, or if it’s just more chaos in your planning, because you had a schedule, and now it’s all broken up. What is your reaction to the Michigan move?

MR: Well, you know, I’ve learned not to react too much to things I can’t control, and so that the dates of primary states are one of those things. Michigan is a very good state for me, because my Dad was governor there three terms, I was born there, and I love the automobile world, and I love the auto industry, and I’m going to work hard to try and preserve that industry in this country. It’s also good to me in the polls right now. The most recent poll has me with a very strong leader over number two in Michigan, so I’ve got a good lead in Iowa, a good lead in New Hampshire, a good lead in Michigan. If I could maintain those leads, why, that’d be a pretty darn good start.

HH: Any idea when Iowa’s going to caucus yet?

MR: You know, I don’t think they’ve set their date yet. It could be as early as the first week in January.

HH: Last question takes me back to Michigan, Governor, and take as much time as you want, because it’s important. The head of Toyota North America went to save Chrysler today. It’s a big move. And as you said, Michigan depends on the automobile industry, as does a lot of the United States. What ought the government to be doing to help Michigan and the automobile industry generally, because that state’s hurting?

MR: Well, you know, there are a number of other states that have been able to attract jobs and manufacturing from around the world. And they’ve done so by putting in place tax incentives and other enticements for people to come to their state, and by having progressive labor policies that make it attractive for companies to move there. That’s of course up to Michigan. Those steps suggest that you’ve got a Michigan problem, not an American problem. And the federal government isn’t going to solve a Michigan problem. That’ll be done by the governor there or the legislature. But what the federal government can do for the auto industry is to make sure that we are investing in new technology, and that we’re at the cutting edge with fuel economy, material science, automotive technology, the kind of research that the government can do in conjunction with, if you will, a public-private partnership, which can be licensed to our companies, and can fuel their growth, and their competitiveness long term. Of course, we’re also going to have to see that unions and the companies themselves work to be more effective in pulling back on some of the burdens they’ve placed on enterprises. You know, I’m disappointed when I see executives making money that roils the rest of the employee base of an enterprise, and I’m concerned when I see excessive benefits that put in jeopardy the future of an enterprise as well. So it’s going to take everybody coming together to make sure that we maintain the vitality and strength of the American automobile industry, and in my view, that’s an important job that needs to be done, and I’ll be happy to lead that as president.

HH: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, always a pleasure. Thank you, Governor, look forward to talking to you again soon.

MR: Thanks, Hugh.

End of interview.


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