Politics & Government

Mitt Romney explains himself in his own words

EXETER, N.H. — Below is a transcript of an interview with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Exeter, New Hampshire, October 25, 2007.

McClatchy: I've been with you all day, and here's what I've noticed in New Hampshire. People like you. You're ahead in the polls, but the passion isn't there yet. I have a notebook full of quotes saying, 'I like the guy, but I don't know him yet.' How do you overcome this?

Romney: I don't know if I can say if you're misreading or not. I've raised more money than anyone else in the campaign on the Republican side, and that's pretty encouraging. To be a guy no one knew...I was unknown in Iowa and New Hampshire when I announced my candidacy. I had the support of like 6 or 7 percent in each state, and now to be at the top or tied for the top, depending on which polls you look at, is an indication the message is connecting.

And you know, at the beginning people don't know you as well and they get to know you over time. They want to see how you deal with circumstances, and that's in part why I do so many of these town meetings. I've probably done…I've done a lot.

McClatchy: People often won't tell you who they're supporting till the last minute.

Romney: I get a very enthusiastic response. Gosh, I had, where was it, in Portsmouth we had 2, 300 people there, got a very warm and enthusiastic response. But some instances, like the student body response (earlier that day at Phillips), kind of a show me perspective from students. Others are more enthusiastic. And you know I'm pleased that I've gotten the extraordinary level of support that's been building.

McClatchy: I'm surprised that immigration came up here twice here (at the Phillips forum). It keeps coming up in my interviews. How do you read that?

Romney: I see it all over the country. I must admit it's a much bigger issue than I think people had expected. It shows how far out of touch Washington is, that they brought forward the immigration bill that's going to give permanent residency to all illegal aliens here. I think that was an enormous mistake by Sen. McCain and those who supported that bill. Because it was so out of alignment with the mood of the country I think it continues to be an important issue.

McClatchy: On health care…You keep saying you don't want a government-run program, but if you went national with your (Massachusetts) program (requiring everyone to get health insurance), you would have to have some kind of government oversight.

Romney: You have government oversight of our whole economy, of course. It's one thing to have government oversight to make sure the rules are being played fairly, that there's not, you know, mayhem in the streets of course. That's part of government's legitimate role.

But the question is, is government going to give out hundreds of billions of dollars of free insurance to everybody? That's a very different setting, and will there be a massive bureaucracy telling doctors what procedures they could do, how much they could be reimbursed. They do that now with Medicaid. Medicaid and Medicare already do that?

McClatchy: Government provides insurance now. How would you be different?

Romney: But if you said guess what, you're going to do that for everybody else too, you've finally got the Democrats' nirvana, which is a single payer telling everybody what they can do. And we already have that. We have creeping single payer mentality in Washington.

They put more and more people on Medicaid, more and more people on Medicare. Hillary Clinton comes out and says the uninsured should get Medicare or a government insurance plan. I say no no no no, let them get private insurance, get private insurance to take them.

McClatchy: When we have more time I'd like to talk to you further about this. But for now, are you saying you would change Medicare and Medicaid?

Romney: With regard to getting people insured, no. With regard to using them as the vehicle to getting more people insured, no, they would not be the vehicle to get more people insured. Are there changes in Medicaid and Medicare needed? Absolutely. Would I change them and reform them? Yes. But that's a different vein than getting more people insured.

McClatchy: I have to write a profile of Mitt Romney.

Romney: I'll take care of that.

McClatchy: I'm looking for a pivotal moment when you said yeah, I can do this, I can be president. When did it hit you? Was it the Olympics, the health care debate? What was it?

Romney: The final decision-making point was Christmas time with my family. Ann knows me well, my sons know me well. They're bright guys, 3 of them went to Harvard business school, another went to medical school, and one's just out of college. They said, 'Dad, your background as a 25-year business leader, running a very successful business and turning around another business, and then running the Olympics and turning it around and then going to Massachusetts, and doing some things people didn't think could get done, that gives you the skills to do what the nation needs.'

And in my opinion, getting America on the right track does not require a person who knows all the answers. It requires a person who knows how to get all the answers and to get them done and that's what good leaders do.

Someone like Jack Welch who was head of GE, he didn't know all the answers. He knew how to bring a bright team together, motivate them, follow a process to reach the right answers and get it done. That's what you learn in the private sector.

People who spend their whole lives in government are missing a whole dimension of life, which is how to solve tough problems and overcome them. They don't do that. In the private sector if you don't do that, you go out of business. In government you don't do that and you blame the other party.

Government desperately needs the vision of the founders, which is the people coming from different walks of life, come to Washington, make a contribution and go home. George Washington showed us how to do it.

McClatchy: When did you make the mental leap, saying, 'I can picture myself behind the desk,' instead of being awed thinking, 'No that's not me.' When did you say to yourself, 'I can do that?'

Romney: I had the privilege of growing up in a home with a very extraordinary mom and dad. I met early presidents. And I saw they were not supermen who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. They were ordinary people, but with, in some cases, extraordinary talent. Ronald Reagan didn't have all the answers to all the problems but he knew how to motivate people and change a nation. I aspire to have Ronald Reagan's skills and capacities.

But I know that people running for president, quite a few of them could be the president. But those who could actually get America on the right track is not a large number.

McClatchy: Who was the first you met?

Romney: Eisenhower. Dwight Eisenhower, and he was at our home for dinner, and I listened to he and my dad writing a new constitution for Michigan. He talked about the challenges of the invasion, the problem he faced in France with some of the misconduct by our own soldiers.

I won't go into it in great depth. I was 14 years old and of course Eisenhower was a model for me.

McClatchy: How did he end up at your house?

Romney: My dad was chairman of the Michigan constitutional convention and Eisenhower came to speak at that, and mom and dad brought him to our home to have dinner. He was not president at the time, this was after he was president, it would have been about 1960 and 1961, right at that time period.

McClatchy: You see yourself at the same desk as Eisenhower?

Romney. No, no. But I realized its not that the president has to have an IQ of 250. The president has an IQ of that of above average Americans, but not genius level. They have skills developed from life experience which prepares them to lead and accomplish.

I didn't plan it this way. I had consulting experience and then I actually led that firm through a turnaround. I started a venture capital company, which became one of the most successful in the world. I went up and led the Olympics and turned that around with the help of other great people.

McClatchy: The rap on you is that often you put companies together and lowered the wages.

Romney: They (critics) look awfully broadly at the entire record. You don't create value in businesses for people by cutting compensation for people. That specific they're talking about is a factory that was bought after I left Bain Capital. I was no longer there. I was running for Senate (in 1994).

And I have to tell you, if a business isn't doing well, sometimes you have to perform surgery. If there's a place we need to perform surgery it's in Washington. We got way too many people, and there are probably some who should be getting less money and others who should be getting more.

McClatchy: We've discussed your position switches on gay rights, abortion and other issues before, so we won't go into it in depth now. But how much is the perception you switched hurting you?

Romney: When the time comes when I'm the nominee, I'll be able to go head to head with the person on the other side and say OK, let's look at your list of how many places you changed your mind. And I can do that with Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. You look at Rudy's list and places he's changed, so if someone tries to launch that, turnaround is the best offense in that regard.

McClatchy: Here's another question. You must have grown up a (Detroit) Tiger fan.

Romney: Oh sure. Al Kaline was like a hero, of course. When I moved to New England I stayed a Tigers fan for, I don't know, a few years. My sons started watching the Red Sox and I started falling in love with the Red Sox and…now I'm a Red Sox fan.

McClatchy: What's your World Series prediction?

Romney: We're going to take it, but I think it's going to go all the way to the last game.