During his visit to Claremont on April 15, Governor Mitt Romney sat down with the Forum for an exclusive interview. Romney was a guest of the Res Publica Society, speaking in Orange County to the college community over lunch before coming to campus in preparation for his speech at the Athenaeum.
Below is the full transcript of our interview with the former presidential candidate.
Michael Wilner: As you may know, Claremont McKenna has some of the strongest government and economics departments in the country. These two fields have come to shape the college, and your career alike.
When you were CEO of Bain, you were creating jobs across the nation and around the world. Many students here aspire to such a position of power and influence. How did you come to the conclusion that being governor of Massachusetts would do you more good?
Mitt Romney: Actually, I participated in my career in the business world because I enjoyed it, but also because it made a living for me and for my family, and it turned out to be far more financially rewarding than I would’ve ever imagined. And when I had been successful in that endeavor, I was approached by the governor of Utah asking if I would come help organize the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake… they were in deep difficulty. The experience I had learned in the private sector to turn around troubled industries – or companies, rather – had given me some skills to be helpful there. And my view was I’ve reached a point where I could afford to leave my business, and the earnings of a private-sector job, and I could go serve. And really, running the Olympics, and then running for governor, and becoming elected – those things were about service, rather than about furthering a career interest of mine or something of that nature.
Wilner: The last week of March, President Obama called you the “now presidential candidate” for 2012. Having traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire quite recently, do you see why he, and others, would suspect that you’re running?
Romney: Actually, I’ve traveled to 19 states as part of my book tour, and it is not surprising that would include states where I am relatively well known, like Iowa and New Hampshire. The other 17 states were not mentioned by those who follow politics, for obvious reasons. But I’m keeping the option open, as a number of people are doing. There are probably ten folks who might be considered as potential candidates for the Republican nomination. My guess is that some of the ten will run, and some of us won’t. And that’s a decision you make at the moment you need to, which is probably after the November elections, and not before. But whether or not I’ll get in is a decision which my family and I haven’t made yet, but we’re keeping the door open.
Wilner: But yes or no – do you want to be president? I guess that’s a different question than whether you’ll run.
I don’t feel the same way he does. I feel differently than that. But I thought his was an amusing response. I think people who really want to be president, and want the trappings and benefits of president will perhaps best be disqualified, and that, instead, people who believe they have a contribution that would be critical at an essential time in American history would be the ones that you’d hope would actually run. I think that probably tends to be the case. And in my case, I’m not someone who’s pining after being president. The decision I made last time to run was based upon my belief that my backgrounds and skills in the private sector were very much in need in government. But that was then, and who knows what it’s going to feel like two or three years from now.
Wilner: Do you believe the GOP should try to completely embrace the Tea Party Movement, or try to keep its distance?
Romney: I think the Tea Party Movement is a citizen’s movement, focused on eliminating excessive taxation and reducing the interest of this government. That’s very similar to the message of my party – when it’s abiding by its principles. So it is different than the Republican Party, but it is consistent with our philosophy. And I think it augurs well for our prospects. So I embrace the fact that the silent majority is silent no more, and the tea partiers are expressing their views on issues that America cares very deeply about. I think it is a positive development and good for the country, and may well be good for our party.
Wilner: What would you say is the defining difference – the defining difference, if there were one – between your Massachusetts healthcare bill and Mr. Obama’s bill?
Romney: Ours was a state solution to state problem, and his was a federal intrusion on the rights of states. His is a federal, one-size-fits-all plan. Ours was tailored to the needs of our citizens. And because ours was a state plan, we didn’t have to raise taxes. We didn’t have to cut benefits to seniors. We didn’t have to put in price controls. His plan does all those things, because it’s a federal plan, and that was the wrong way to approach an issue like healthcare.
Wilner: How would you have approached it otherwise?
Romney: My view, when I ran for office and since, has been that the federal government should let states receive the federal moneys they have been receiving that allow states to care for their poor – but to use those moneys to help people buy insurance so that you reduce the roles of the uninsured, letting each state craft their own plan, but receiving flexibility from the federal government in the use of federal funds.
Wilner: How would you fix California?
Romney: By electing Meg Whitman!
I think she has the private sector experience to know what the right answers would be, and the backbone, and conviction, to actually do what’s necessary to get the job done. I happen to believe that California’s people are going to need to be part of this process – that it’s not something that even a great governor alone can accomplish. It’s going to need the people letting their legislators know what’s the right thing to do, maybe even voting for ballot initiatives that are necessary to get the state back on track. But frankly, California is teetering over the edge financially, and this is going to take a very effective leader who can communicate with the citizens of California how she and they, together, need to restructure California’s finances.
Wilner: But do you think there’s validity to the worry of many Californians that she was apolitical before? That she hadn’t registered before she decided to run?
Romney: I think it’s a testament to the fact that she’s not a politician. If Californians want a politician who has spent his entire life in politics, well that’s Jerry Brown. And if you think what we really need in California are more politicians running things then he’s your person. But if, instead, you think you want somebody who is not a politician, who has not been involved in politics, who has been leading in business, then Meg is your person.
Wilner: More than anything else, what did you learn from your run in 2008?
Romney: That it’s more fun to win than to lose?
But also that it’s important to define your message rather than letting the media, and your opposition, define who you are. And that means making sure that you focus your remarks on those issues you care most about. In my case, it’s about strengthening the foundation of America’s economy so that we can not only be prosperous, but we can protect our freedom.
Wilner: I’m going to ask – who is your favorite Democrat alive today?
Romney: Who is my favorite Democrat? Let’s see – I just signed a book the other day to someone who I said, ‘you’re my favorite Democrat.’ You know, I have a number of Democrats who were supportive of me in my campaign, so I’m going to be hard-pressed to pick out a favorite Democrat. I’ve got a lot of Democrats who support me. I had during my administration as governor a number of Democrats who served – Doug Foy, who was my secretary of economic matters; Bob Pozen, who was another cabinet secretary of mine, he’s a Democrat. I have a number of Democratic friends who I consider good friends. But I’m not going to pick a current elected official, because – at this stage – I’m not going to endorse someone. It’s like the kiss of death.
Wilner: Fair enough. And how do you think Hillary Clinton is doing at the State Department?
Romney: I don’t know how much she is responsible for in terms of our new foreign policy, but I think our new foreign policy is badly misguided, and that the administration is making mistakes everywhere from Latin America to the Middle East. And I believe that the consequences of these mistakes are very severe. I don’t know if that’s Secretary Clinton’s responsibility or whether it’s been the president’s direction. My guess is, when the books are written and history unfolds, we’ll know where she stood and where he stood on these matters.
Wilner: Sarah Palin – I know you’ve addressed this a lot. She said she’d be happy to sit on the ticket with you, if you were to run. Would you be comfortable with such a ticket?
Romney: She’s a terrific powerhouse in the Republican Party. It would be presumptive of me to start talking about even my running, but I think the world of her and have respect for what she’s been able to do to help to generate enthusiasm and passion in our party.
Wilner: Would you say it’s presumptive of her to be talking about it?
Romney: I – I welcome, with some delight, her generous comments about me, and I feel the same way about her.
Wilner: Well governor, thank you so much for coming to Claremont. Welcome.
Romney: It’s great to be here, Michael.
For more information on this interview and Governor Romney's visit, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.