HH: This segment, I am joined by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Senator DeMint, good to talk to you. Happy New Year.
JD: Happy New Year to you, Hugh. It’s great to be back with you.
HH: You were probably rooting for the Gators last night, weren’t you?
JD: Well, they are SCC, and I went to Tennessee, and of course, South Carolina, and so I was leaning that way, yes.
HH: Yeah, but the SCC is the twinkle conference. They got lucky. I mean, I’ll hand it to them. They really played their heart out last night, but nevertheless, we’ll skip past that. Senator DeMint, Mitt Romney had a huge day yesterday. The final total was he raised $7 million dollars in one day, a staggering amount of money for a presidential campaign. On top of that, this morning, you release a letter to your friends and colleagues around the South Carolina state and the country, endorsing Mitt Romney, and saying get on board, contribute to him at Mittromney.com. Why this early? Why’d you go with Romney?
JD: Well, Hugh, I think the next ten years in the United States is going to be probably the toughest ten years we’ve ever had. If you look at the war on terror, if you look at baby boomers retiring, the cost of entitlements, and our fiscal situation, that the need to reform so many programs in government, I mean, we need a great leader as president, one who can rise above politics, who has some vision, and I’ve frankly been looking outside of Washington for that person. And over the last several months, and I have looked at a lot of different candidates, I’ve met with Mitt Romney, I believe he’s the leader we need, and mostly because he’s spent most of his life succeeding in the private sector. And we need a president who understands that the strength of our country comes from the private sector, not from government. It comes from a free economy, it comes from Church and tradition, and individuals excelling in organizations, volunteerism, that’s where the strength is. And as I talk to Mitt Romney, he understands it, he’s lived it, and I have not been in a room that any speaker has lit up as much as the ones I’ve been in with Mitt Romney in a long, long time, probably since Reagan. So I think he’ll be a great leader, and I’m not picking him because he’s the front runner right now. I’m picking him because I think he’ll be the best president.
HH: Well, he’s not the front runner right now. In fact, you’ve got a couple of colleagues running for this in the Senate, Senator McCain and Senator Brownback. It’s a little bit unusual to see Senators going over to a governor this early, at least, in the process. Have you been getting dirty looks across the floor today?
JD: (laughing) Well, you know, Senator McCain’s a good friend, and actually, Sam Brownback’s probably one of my best friends. And just from…on an issue by issue basis, Brownback and I, you know, pair up real well. But to win a race, you would have needed to start it a couple of years ago. And as you said before you talked about my endorsement, Mitt Romney has set up an organization where he can be a viable candidate, he can raise the money, he’s got the ideas, he understands policy. So he’s put together a package that I don’t think any other candidate has been able to put together right now.
HH: Now Senator DeMint, I know the answer to this, because I’ve been writing a book on Romney, and it will come out in March. But I’d like to hear your estimate of this. He was a governor, he ran the Olympics, all the big business. What’s he know about the war on terror?
JD: Well, I think he knows that America has to be very thoughtful about how we engage the world in the future. Everything from the fact that the total economy of the world is changing, and we’ve got to be more globally competitive, he also knows that our foreign policy needs to reflect the fact that we cannot be the police force in the world, we can’t be involved in nation building around the world, and that we need to think through things. I think the key word for Romney is competence. He knows how to plan and strategize and get things done. And that’s what I’m looking for in a president, not someone who’s been in the legislature their whole life, and I’m not directing that at anyone, but someone who’s been a CEO, who’s been a governor, who’s done something like he did with the Olympics, where he came in, it was in a mess, he fixed it and made our country proud. I think that’s what America wants a president to do. They want to make us winners, and they want to make sure we do things the right way. And Romney has got that capability.
HH: Now the reason your endorsement is something of a political earthquake, and caught a lot of people unawares, is because the South Carolina primary is number three in the big three contest, Iowa, New Hampshire and then South Carolina. And John McCain has the able assistance of your colleague, Lindsey Graham down there. Can Romney do well in South Carolina?
JD: Well, I think he will do well. I think all around the country, including South Carolina, people are looking outside of Washington for their next leader. I really believe that. And I think as they find out more about Romney, and I know this because every time I’ve had him someplace in South Carolina, in Charleston to Greenville to Columbia, when he speaks to a group, they come away feeling inspired, feeling good about being American, and hopeful about the future. And we need that in our country today. We don’t need someone who can polarize, who talks about partisan politics all the time who has been a part of it. Romney has been a conservative Republican in Massachusetts, for Heaven’s sakes. Not only did he get elected, but he was able to get some important things done that would set a model for the nation, such as get everybody insured for health care, but don’t do it with the government. Use private policies to do it. And that’s the kind of thinking we need at the national level now, is let’s don’t use government solutions, let’s recognize problems, and see how the private sector can solve them.
HH: I’m talking with Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina, Republican elected in 2004, one of the bright lights in the United States Senate. Senator DeMint, a couple of key questions. You’re from upstate South Carolina, you’re a Presbyterian. I think you’re an elder in your Church…
HH: And you’re right there in the middle of the Bible Belt. Mitt Romney’s a Mormon, and a lot of people don’t think a lot of Evangelicals, particularly of the Southern variety, will vote for a Mormon. What do you say to that?
JD: I think Romney will change that, because I know he’s changed it with me. And what I don’t want is someone running for president who wants to take some particular religious doctrine to president. I want someone from the faith community, though, who can translate from faith the values, the morality, the character that we not need in a president, but we need as an example for our country. I believe Romney can unite the faith community around some traditional value principles that work for every American. And so whether he’s Presbyterian or Mormon or whatever, I believe he has the tools to unite America around a common set of values.
HH: Let me read a paragraph from your letter today, Senator DeMint. “Governor Romney is strongly pro-life. He will be a great asset to the cause of life, because he has done something that we must convince many other Americans to do, he has changed his mind. After reviewing new scientific data, he is absolutely convinced that human life begins at conception. He will work to protect the lives of mothers and babies. He will also support promising adult stem cell research, while maintaining the ban on federal funding of research that involves the killing of human embryos.” What you view as a strong positive, that he evolved to strong pro-life, others call flip-flopping. How do you respond?
JD: (laughing) Well, I think, as I said in the letter, we’re not going to win this battle for life in this country unless we convince a lot of people to change their mind. And I think the very deliberate and thoughtful process that Mitt Romney went through, looking at science, considering when life really did begin, it changed his mind. And I think he has the ability to, I think, take that argument to the public debate in a way that people can relate to. But again, if someone changes their mind on something, and they’ve thought it through, that suggests they do have a mind, and they’re willing to use it. And so just like Mitt has said, you know, Reagan was not always a Reagan Republican. His ideas evolved over time, as he looked at how government worked, and how the private sector worked, and he came upon principles later in life that helped him be a great president. I think Mitt Romney has had the experience that has helped shape a very clear vision of where America needs to go. This is not a political philosophy. I mean, it comes straight from his experience, his thought processes, and he can talk strategy and policy about America in ways that I haven’t heard other politicians talk about, really, well, in a long time.
HH: Well now, the $64,000 question for the Al Davis Republicans, the ‘Just Win, Baby’ Republicans, is across the aisle from you in that upper chamber is Senators Clinton and Barack Obama, the one and two candidates. Could he beat either or both of them?
JD: Well, I’m convinced that he could, because I think he won’t be seen as much of a partisan, he won’t be seen as someone who’s coming from Washington, and he’ll be seen as someone who’s competent. I think we’ve got some talented people, and Barack Obama is becoming one of my best friends. But if you look at the experience level, you don’t see what you see in Mitt Romney. A president has to manage and lead one of the largest organizations in the world. And if you look at Mitt Romney’s ability to manage things, whether it be venture capital for global companies, the Olympics, the governors, you see competence on everything, the ability to set goals and reach them. A lot of times in the legislature, you don’t learn that. I mean, I came from the business world, and I see the difference here, is there are not many CEO’s in Congress, because the buck never stops where we sit. Romney’s different, and I think America will recognize that as he speaks, as he shares his vision, as they look at his record. They’re going to see that this is a guy that can make America a winner.
HH: Senator Jim DeMint, always a pleasure. Senator, thanks for spending time with us on the day you’re making news out there. Look forward to talking with you again about this campaign as it unfolds.
End of interview.