HH: Joined now by United States Senator John Thune. Welcome back, Senator Thune, always a pleasure to talk to you, Happy New Year.
JT: Happy New Year to you, Hugh.
HH: You were there last night. I guess you’re used to nail biters, but an 8 vote one, that’s kind of unprecedented.
JT: Yeah, that was really interesting, you know, and we were sort of watching the results coming in, and you knew it was going to be, the way that it was trickling in, and how tight it was, that it could potentially be one of those that was just decided by a few votes. But it does reinforce and re-emphasize, Hugh, the importance of every vote.
HH: Now you are a former colleague of Rick Santorum’s. You knew Rick, and worked beside him in the United States Senate.
HH: Obviously, a friendly guy as well…what do you think of the race that’s shaping up between the guy you’ve endorsed, Mitt Romney, and your friend, Rick Santorum?
JT: Well, I think it’s, you know, Rick had a good finish coming out of Iowa. He invested a tremendous amount of time there. I mean, he basically moved in there for a year, and that’s paid dividends to him. And so you’ve got to congratulate him for doing that. It’s going to be harder in the next races now as the calendar tightens a little bit to have the same level of involvement in these individual states. But I think it does, you know, we knew that it was going to be a close race, probably, coming out of there, and I was happy with how Romney performed. I think he had a strong finished, and he is well-positioned as they head into New Hampshire. But Rick certainly, you know, acquitted himself well there, and has at least put himself in a position now as the race moves on to make the argument in these next upcoming states. But I still think at the end of the day, Hugh, that the issue for a lot of voters, a lot of Republican voters anyway, and I had heard this in Iowa, is it narrows. As some of these candidates drop out, and the field winnows, it really does come down to who can beat Obama. I mean, I just keep thinking that Republicans, that’s going to be really weighing heavily on them when they make that decision, and I think it’s pretty clear that that’s where Romney really is the clear choice.
HH: Now Senator Thune, you’ve spent a lot of time on foreign policy. Two huge stories – an Iranian general threatened the United States with retaliation if an aircraft carrier goes back to the Persian Gulf, and apparently we’re negotiating with the Taliban, and considering releasing people from Gitmo. Ought these issues to play a major role in the GOP debate going forward? And are you comfortable with where Mitt Romney is on these things?
JT: Yeah, I am, and I think that they ought to play a part. I mean, America’s place in the world, we live in a dangerous world, and how we’re going to position ourselves and protect Americans both here at home and abroad, is going to be a very prominent, I think, aspect of the debate in this presidential year. And I think you need to have a president who is going to be strong, who understands that you achieve peace through strength, and the way that you avoid conflict is to project strength. And I think that’s what we’re missing in the current administration on so many issues is the presidential leadership issue. But I feel really good about where Governor Romney is. I think he’s got a very good grasp of the national security issues and foreign policy matters. He’s getting great advice, a former colleague of mine that you know, Jim Talent, is heavily involved on some of those issues for Governor Romney. And he’s just a great, not only a great mind, but someone who I think gets it when it comes to national security matters. So I think he’s in a good place. I hope that we, that those issues do play an important role, because I think they’re going to be very important for the country in the next few years.
HH: You know, I remember walking into a pizza joint on Capitol Hill and seeing you, Sam Brownback, Jim Talent, and I think, I can’t remember the fourth, four conservatives…
HH: And when people say Romney’s not a conservative, and I think of you and Jim Talent supporting him, what do you respond to that, John Thune?
JT: Well, you know, it’s always frustrating, because I don’t know where that comes from. I suppose that when you rep, when you come from the state of Massachusetts, people automatically make certain assumptions. But if you look at his governing record, you look at his positions on the issues, he is a right of center conservative in the mold of many of us who are fiscal, economic, national security conservatives. But you know, when you’ve got this many people in the race, and everybody’s trying to position themselves somewhere on that political spectrum, you know, obviously people try and draw distinctions. But I think as the race plays on, and people get to become more familiar with Governor Romney and his positions and his record, it’ll become increasingly clear that this is somebody that really, truly is a conservative. And it’s hard to feature where that comes from. And I know you’ve studied these issues a lot, too…
HH: Yeah, he’s a conservative.
JT: Yeah, he’s a conservative. Exactly.
HH: I’ve got one last question with a minute to go. It’s inside baseball. I’m going to have to spend a whole show on it. But the President did something extraordinary. He made these recess appointments while the Senate was in session, technical session. What did you make of this, John Thune?
JT: Well, I mean, it’s just another power grab on the part of the President. I mean, this is a guy who has taken that to a whole new level, and that’s why we need a president who’s going to be respectful of the checks and balances that we have in this country, and not try and accomplish his whole political agenda through executive power grabs. It’s just another example of that.
HH: Senator John Thune, congratulations on helping Mitt Romney to a win, narrow though that might have been, in Iowa last night. Look forward to talking to you throughout the campaign.
End of interview.