Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in Iowa
HH: Joined now by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk with you.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you this evening.
HH: Thank you. Early today, John McCain said you are in a tailspin. Your reaction, Governor?
MR: (laughing) Well, you know, I’m pleased as punch that I started off this year in single digits, and I’ve now climbed to a point where I’m in the finals, if you will, the finals between two people in Iowa, and by the way, he doesn’t seem to be playing very well here in Iowa, but also finals in New Hampshire. He’s playing well there. We’re in a tight battle there. And I think you’re going to see us battling across the nation. So I’m pretty pleased with the fact that a guy who wasn’t terribly well known a year ago has now climbed to a point where I’m in that finalist position.
HH: You are in a two-front war, though, Governor, with Huckabee hitting you in Iowa, and McCain hitting you in New Hampshire. Who’s going to be hitting you in Michigan and Wyoming and beyond?
MR: Well, that depends on who does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, of course. You are right. I’m the only candidate who’s really battling in both of those states. And the reason I have to be in both Iowa and New Hampshire, I believe, is that to win the White House, we’re going to have to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. These purple states have to come out way. And if somebody writes off New Hampshire, or writes off Iowa, doesn’t run ads here and isn’t serious about the state, why, they’re pretty much throwing in the towel for the general election as well. So I’m battling to make sure that if I get the nomination, I can win in November.
HH: Mike Huckabee’s had a pretty rough couple of days, Governor, with his flubs on the apology, and the number of Pakistanis entering the United States, and claiming John Bolton is an advisor, and getting the boundaries of Afghanistan wrong. But does that possibly hurt you as well by making all governors look a little suspect when it comes ot foreign crises?
MR: Well, I think each of us is quite different. I think as well, that people look at a governor like Ronald Reagan, and they say here’s a man who had leadership skill, had to run things effectively, and Ronald Reagan stepped in and confronted the greatest challenge of the last half of the last century, and overcame the Evil Empire. And that kind of leadership is what people are looking for, and not all governors are created the same. We have different perspectives and different skills, and of course, my life experience is very different than his.
HH: The second time I sat down with you when I was writing the book, A Mormon In The White House?, you and I discussed a book, The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, which discussed in details the rise of the jihadist Takfiris who struck again in Pakistan yesterday. Are you surprised, Governor Romney, six years and a few months after 9/11, that Americans are still surprised that such people are out there with the capacity to do such things?
MR: You know, I think it’s really disappointing that from the White House through Congress through our media, there has not been as effective an effort as there should have been to educate our citizenry on the threat of global violent jihad. And it’s very frustrating. I think a big part of it is that the Democrats won control of both Houses, and they’ve kept on trying to get political points out of saying get out of Iraq, get out of Iraq. And Republicans have responded, look, it’s bigger than Iraq, you need to understand, this is a global effort. And I think slowly but surely, people are recognizing that. We can’t withdraw from the world like Ron Paul would have us believe, or like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would have us believe. We have got to be successful in rooting out and stamping out, and killing the movements of al Qaeda and Hezbollah and the like.
HH: I know you’re committed to the vigorous prosecution of the war, but what would that look like in a Romney administration that is different from the Bush administration?
MR: Well, one is that I would bring together a summit of the leading nations of the world, including some of the moderate Islamic nations like Jordan and Indonesia, and develop a nation by nation strategy to help support moderate voices in Islamic nations, particularly those that are threatened by al Qaeda or groups like al Qaeda. I would also establish special partnership forces between intelligence and Army Special Forces personnel, teams, if you will, that could be invited into countries to help them root out the very worst of the worst. And that’s something we did in the Philippines, to a certain degree, with a high degree of success. It’s something that the Algerian government has done in their own nation to reduce the threat there. So we can do this, but we’ve got to be serious about it, and do it on a global strategic basis.
HH: Governor Romney, one of the first tasks for a conservative in the White House will be to get control of the Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency, that keep turning out these NIE’s and leaking things. Do you have the capacity to do that?
MR: You know, there’s nothing more political than corporate America. And you have to be able to rein in those individuals that are, if you will, doing things that harm our national interests. And I’ve watched with some concern over the past weeks, and years, frankly, it’s going to be very difficult to turn around our State Department, and get it to respond to the position that the President would take. John Bolton’s recent book, Surrender Is Not An Option, is a good inside look at how disruptive and counterproductive our efforts in the U.N., or our efforts at the State Department can be. But that is something which I’m up to, and I’m looking forward to.
HH: Last question on foreign affairs, Pakistan specific, Governor. We’re running out of options there. Ought we to back up Musharraf at this point? Or cut him off?
MR: No, we don’t cut Musharraf off. We continue to fund the effort of his military. The military there is the entity that has the power in the country. They secure the nuclear weapons. They’re also working with us, by and large effectively, or partially effectively, in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban there. General Kyani is a person in whom we have a good deal of confidence today, and so we’re not going to walk away from Musharraf. We are, however, going to try and encourage a number of things. One is securing the nuclear weapons, two is expanding a global effort to stamp out al Qaeda, three is to get our allies to do the same, four is to work with Musharraf to move towards a process of democratization, so that a legitimate government can have control in that country.
HH: And now, Governor, a couple of political questions. Rasmussen reports that immigration is the number one issue among the most Republicans who are voting in the primaries over the next six weeks. We know you’re very different from Governor Huckabee on this, but John McCain is attacking you for attacking his record on McCain-Kennedy. Is it legitimate? Did he, in fact, endorse social security benefits for illegal immigrations, years worked in the United States?
MR: You know, John McCain’s record is an open book. And the bill that I’m referring to, with regards to keeping every illegal in this country forever, it was not McCain-Kennedy, it was the final bill that came out of the Senate. And the Z visas, as you know, let every illegal stay in this country forever. It was simply his position, and it’s wrong. And he also voted earlier to provide social security benefits to illegals who had contributed to social security while they were here, and that is also wrong. It happens to be his position. I know he’s going to do his best to run from it, but he hasn’t apologized for it, and until he does, I’m going to keep on telling people that’s where he was.
HH: Now the number one issue for many religious conservatives, or values voters, is marriage. You are for, you testified for the Federal Marriage Amendment. John McCain voted against it on a couple of occasions. Has that come up on the campaign trail much?
MR: You know, it’s a big issue in Iowa, but John McCain really isn’t making much of an effort here. He’s not running any ads that I know of in Iowa, has no organization in Iowa, didn’t participate in the straw poll. So it isn’t something that’s become the big issue here. And in New Hampshire, the marriage issue is significant, but not to the degree that it is in some other states.
HH: Last question, Governor, 30 seconds. Have you got the money to go deep into the February and March contests?
MR: Hey, we’re not going to be out of money, and being able to run our effort going forward. This is an effort I’m going to keep on fighting for to make sure that as long as the people of America are open to my candidacy, I’m out there and giving them that chance to nominate me.
HH: Mitt Romney, always a pleasure, thank you, Governor.
End of interview.