Mitt Romney on the campaign trail.
HH: Joined now by Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts. Governor, welcome back, always a pleasure.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.
HH: Mike Huckabee’s the flavor of the month. He surged up in Iowa. What are the differences between you and Governor Huckabee?
MR: Well, you know, we have the views that are similar or the same with regards to abortion and same sex marriage, but we feel very differently about subjects like taxes and immigration. Governor Huckabee was in favor of, and is in favor of, a program that allows the children of illegal immigrants to get a special deal for college tuition. They get the in-state tuition rate. I think it’s wrong to give illegal alien kids a better deal than the kids of U.S. citizens. And secondly, with regards to taxes, he has been very much in favor of raising taxes. He did so as the governor of Arkansas time and again. And I have a very different view. I fought to keep taxes down and to lower taxes. So we’ve got some different views. I think government should cut back on spending and taxing rather than raising it.
HH: You spent a lot of time in Iowa. Does that movement in his numbers concern you much?
MR: No, no. You know, I’m very pleased that my support has been strong in Iowa, continues to be strong. I think…I’d expected that Mayor Giuliani or perhaps Fred Thompson would be the number two competitor there, but you know, that hasn’t happened, and instead, the number two competitor is going to be, it looks like, Mike Huckabee, and he’s a good guy, and I look forward to the battle. I’ve always felt this is going to be a close race, and that’s what I think you’re seeing.
HH: Rudy Giuliani today was attacking the health plan you helped put into place in Massachusetts, saying that you have abandoned the idea of doing mandates, and I’m quoting now, “I think he realized he made a mistake,” and he was referring to you. What’s your assessment of his assessment of your plan, Governor?
MR: Well, you know, he really needs to ask us before he comes out with those kinds of things. I like our plan, I’m happy with the plan we put in place. We’re going to see how well it works in Massachusetts. And my view is that I would provide the flexibility to every state in America to create their own plan to help get their people insured. That’s what we did. And if they want to copy our plan, that’s terrific. But the last thing I’m going to do is tell every state that they have to do it exactly the way we did it. I’m not one of these one size fits all, Hillary Clinton types. I want private insurance, free market insurance for our citizens. That’s what we accomplished, and I like what we did. And by the way, we’re getting everybody insured. No other state in America has done that. Neither Mayor Giuliani nor anybody else has a plan to get everybody insured on the Republican side but me. So shoot away, but first, you’ve got to get your own plan before you’re going to have a stable footing.
HH: Moving to the war, Defense Secretary Gates today said that unless Congress passes funding for the Iraq war within just a few days, he’s going to direct the Army and the Marine Corps to begin developing plans to lay off employees, terminate contracts early next year. In other words, compromise our defense. Governor Romney, what do you think the Democrats should do about this supplemental funding bill?
MR: Well, they’re going to have to provide the funding for our troops. The key thing here that I hope we can communicate to the American people is that the surge has been working, that the Sunnis are rejecting al Qaeda. It would be unthinkable for a safe haven for al Qaeda or Hezbollah or the like to be established in Iraq. It would make Afghanistan under the Taliban seem like child’s play. They could launch attacks from there, they could fund, train and recruit from there. This cannot happen. It would be unthinkable for that course.
HH: Gates has had a very interesting profile as secretary of defense, very different from Secretary Rumsfeld and previous secretaries. What kind of skill set would you look for if you’re successful in becoming the president, for the leader of the Pentagon?
MR: Well, you want to have a person who can rally the troops and make sure that we have a very clear understanding of the mission of our American military. I want to add at least 100,000 troops to our military. I know that we’re going to have to bring in new equipment and armament. I want that to be modern and matched with the needs of our military. And I’ve called for the establishment of something I call a special partnership force, which is an intelligence and Army Special Forces team which is able to go into countries that request the help, to help get rid of the most violent and the most extreme and the radical jihadists, not necessarily militarily, but instead by helping insure that there are good public schools that are not Wahabi schools, that there’s the rule of law, and so forth.
HH: But it’s the least manageable department, though, the Pentagon’s so vast. And we’ve have different types. We’ve had Harold Brown, he’s a technocrat, we’ve had all sorts of different secretaries of defense. Do they need to be veterans, combat veterans, in your view, Governor Romney, to run that place?
MR: Well, I think it would always be an advantage to have somebody who has military experience running the Department of Defense. I think it’d also be helpful to have somebody who has experience in running a large enterprise of some kind. In the case of the current secretary, he’s done so. He’s also been running a large university. And so he’s got the skill in leading and building a team, and listening to various viewpoints, and setting a vision in motivating people to accomplish that vision. There are skills to leadership and running things which you need to have in a person who’s the secretary of defense.
HH: In Treasury, there’s always alternating between corporate titans and Wall Street types. What’s your preference to have at the top economic job?
MR: Well, you certainly have to have somebody who thoroughly understands how the money supply works, how the monetary policy affects the value of the dollar, how policies in other nations such as the currency manipulation which China does, are unfair to our jobs here. You’ve got to have somebody who understands how the economy works. And there can be some industry titans who have that experience, but in many cases, they lack that sort of financial capability. And if it’s just a Wall Street type, they may miss as well the understanding of how our economy actually works at the employer level, right down at the ground level. So you’re looking for people that have some skills from both arenas.
HH: Robert Redford attacked you and Mormons generally this week, saying that they, Mormons, are very adept at not being fazed, and speaking fluently and gracefully. Why? Because every single male who’s a Mormon goes on a mission for two years when they’re 19 or 20, they learn how to deflect blows and stay on message. No wonder Utah’s the place that all these Republican Senators go. It’s perfect. So when you see Mitt Romney, he’s already been practicing how to deflect blows and stay on message, but it’s plastic. Your reaction, Governor Romney?
MR: (laughing) Well, I’m not going to worry too much about Robert Redford. You know, I must admit that I learned a great deal as I had the chance to serve my Church, and that was how many years ago? 40 years ago?
MR: I’ve lived a lot of life since then, I’ve had a lot of experiences, and frankly, my experience of 25 years in the private sector, and then helping run the Olympics there, and then being the governor of Massachusetts, those are probably the skills that are most relevant to the job I’m seeking now.
HH: I had Senator Tom Coburn on yesterday. He and Jim DeMint, and DeMint’s your co-chair in South Carolina, hell on spending back there. He talked about the $9 trillion dollar national debt. Well, you had a $300 million dollar hole to fill in Salt Lake, and a $3 billion dollar hole in Massachusetts. But how do you fill a $9 trillion dollar hole, Mitt Romney?
MR: Well, first of all, you do it over time. And the only way you can fill not only that hole, which is our national debt hole, but also the promises that have been made, our entitlement obligations, which are over $60 trillion dollars, is by finally reining in, slowly but surely, excessive spending, giving the president the line item veto, I wish Rudy Giuliani wouldn’t have fought that all the way to the Supreme Court, working together with Democrats on a bipartisan basis to rein in the excesses in our entitlement programs, and to bring them balance again. We can do that, but we’re going to have to have people that are willing to get the job done, rather than just settling scores and taking advantage of partisan opportunities. And so I support the effort that Judd Gregg, the Senator from New Hampshire, put forward, putting Republicans and Democrats in a room together, come up with a compromise, vote it up or down.
HH: A quick final question, Governor. Chicago wants the Olympics. Do you think they’ve got a shot this cycle?
MR: I do think they have a very good shot, and actually, given my history with the Olympics, if I’m lucky enough to get the presidency, I’m going to go to work to make sure that we do everything in our power to get the Olympics here. It’s a great experience for everybody.
HH: Mitt Romney, always a pleasure. Thank you, Governor, we’ll check in with you again as we get closer to Iowa.
End of interview.