Q&A: Mitt Romney Discusses Iraq War, Reagan's Influence and Gay Marriage

As he ponders whether to seek the presidency in 2008, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday took a break from his family vacation in Utah to talk exclusively to HUMAN EVENTS about the War on Terror, his conservative beliefs and the role bloggers are playing in politics. He also clarified his views on abortion and gay marriage and addressed concerns about his healthcare plan.

Romney’s term as governor ends on January 4, 2007, and he’s expected to announce his future plans shortly thereafter. Recently he’s reached out to conservatives, including National Review Online and talk-show host Hugh Hewitt to discuss his political views.

A complete transcript of our interview follows. It is also available to download in .mp3 format or via Windows Media.

Hi, Governor, how you doing?

I’m doing great. Thank you.

Well, thank you for taking the time to call today and do the interview with HUMAN EVENTS. I really appreciate it.

You’re certainly welcome.

Before Christmas you had said you’d be spending the holidays with your family and contemplating your future plans. And I just wondered, have you made any decisions yet about 2008?

I have nothing to announce at this stage, Rob. I’m sorry, but we’ve already begun a series of, if you will, fireside chats with my family—my five daughters-in-law, my five sons, and Ann and I have a spent a lot of time talking about the future of our country.

There are sort of two piles of considerations. There are the personal considerations and there are the national considerations. And frankly, it’s the national considerations and the needs of our country and the people of our nation and what I might be able to do to help that have the biggest influence.

As you think about these national issues, what are some of the things you think you would offer conservatives if you were to run?

The things I’d offer for all Americans would be similar to, I think, other great Republicans in the past and in the present. And yet in my case, I come with a little different background and different perspective, and therefore, what I’d offer would be slightly different I’m sure in some ways than others.

The key issues we face, of course, are first, the conflict with the jihadists. This is a conflict which is going on within the world of Islam, and the jihadists are attempting to overcome the moderate, modern factions of Islam and replace them with a caliphate. It’s going to require the involvement of the U.S. as a leader of the world to help move Islam away from that kind of extremism and violence. That’s one challenge.

Another challenge is our ability to compete with Asia. Asia’s going to be a much tougher competitor than we’ve known before. I spent my life in international business, been to Asia and, of course, other places in the world and done business there. I have a good sense how you make a nation more competitive. And that’s something that’s going to be critical.

Domestically, we’re going to have to stop spending too much money. And we’re also going to have to stop using so much oil that we’re getting from countries that don’t like us. And, of course, our spending problem is related to our entitlement problem. So we’ve got a lot on the table. My approach on each of these issues would probably be a little different than the other folks who are looking at the race, but that’s something time will tell.

One of the people who is considering a run, Sen. [John] McCain, has advocated sending up to 30,000 more troops to help stabilize Iraq. Do you support sending more troops into that country?

The process that is being pursued right now is that the President and his senior staff are meeting with generals and officials at the front in the theater and finding out their perspectives. That’s something you have to do, along with meeting with al-Maliki to determine where they are and where they can be.

I’m not going to weigh in. I’m still a governor. I’m not running for national office at this stage. I’m not going to weigh in on specific tactics about whether we should go from 140,000 to 170,000. That’s something I expect the President to decide over the next couple of weeks and announce that to the nation. I want to hear what he has to say.

But fundamentally, we’re talking about a very different approach than the Iraqi Study Group concluded. Their approach suggested somehow we would pull out in a setting that was less than victorious. We really do need to make sure we stabilize the nation to the extent humanly possible so that Iraq cannot be torn apart by its neighbors and so that a sectarian disaster does not ensue.

Do you think right now the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq?

The term is overly charged, I’m afraid, and so I’m not going to try and define who’s winning and who’s losing. I don’t think we’re making anywhere near as much progress as we had anticipated we would make.

There’s no question the administration was surprised by the fact that after the fall of Saddam Hussein it was a much tougher road than they ever expected. Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld, as you recall, said we’re just sweeping up a few dead-enders. Well, it turned out to be a lot more than that. We had insufficient troops in place. We had insufficient plans. We did not have the appropriate rules of engagement in place. Obviously, there were management lapses—events such as Abu Ghraib make that clear. For all those reasons, we did less than the entirely effective job that we would have hoped to be able to do. And as a result, we’re in a difficult position right now.

But to assess whether we’re making progress or not, I would presume we’re making progress, but certainly not at the rate we were hoping to make progress and, in some respects, that is disappointing.

Now on domestic issues, in a recent interview with National Review Online, you addressed concerns that conservatives have raised about your previous views on abortion. I’m wondering, why should conservatives believe you when you say you’re now pro-life despite some previous statements you’ve made on that subject?

Conservatives, of course, can make their own assessment. But the great thing is people don’t have to look at what people say, they can look at what they do.

When I was running for office 12 years ago, there were a number of things that I said and felt at that time that, with the benefit of experience, I have a different view today. One of those is abortion.

As governor, I’ve had several pieces of legislation reach my desk, which would have expanded abortion rights in Massachusetts. Each of those I vetoed. Every action I’ve taken as the governor that relates to the sanctity of human life, I have stood on the side of life.

So talk is cheap, but action is real. And people can now look at my record.

And also on the issue of gay marriage, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts today gave you a symbolic victory in terms of scolding some of the lawmakers for their actions. Do you believe the same [skepticism among conservatives] will hold true on gay marriage or will people still critique that 1994 letter and some of the comments you made in that campaign?

No, actually, my view on marriage has been entirely consistent over my political career. And that is that I oppose same-sex marriage. I also oppose civil unions.

There are some people who feel that is inconsistent with also encouraging the elimination of discrimination against gay people as well as others of differences. I’m very much opposed to discrimination. I also recognize that it’s not wise to create a special class and establish new rights for any particular group. But I’m opposed to discrimination.

At the same time, I’m opposed to same-sex marriage. And ever since that feature has become a prominent one in my state, with the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court, I have taken every action that I could conceive of within the bounds of the law to defend traditional marriage and to stop same-sex marriage.

You mentioned the decision today of the Supreme Judicial Court. It’s more than symbolic. The Supreme Judicial Court—and this is a battle that my administration took to the court—they said, in fact, that the Legislature must take a vote on a citizens’ petition to have this go before the voters. They must take a vote, and failure to do so would represent a violation of a legislator’s oath of office. That is a very powerful statement, and I believe it gives me a pretty significant degree of confidence that we will see on the ballot in Massachusetts the right of citizens to define marriage. And that’s what I’ve been fighting for now for over two years.

On that same subject, would you accept another endorsement from the Log Cabin Republicans if it was offered to you?

Haven’t thought about that. I doubt it’s going to be forthcoming—and in part because for gay Americans of both Republican and Democratic stripe, the issue is now all about marriage. It is not about equality and hiring. Look, I would not discriminate against someone in a hiring position based on their sexual preference. But it’s now about marriage, and I am adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage.

I’ve been to Washington to testify in favor of traditional marriage. I’ve written a letter to every U.S. senator on the topic. I’ve fought same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in every way I could within the bounds of the law. So that’s not going to make me popular with gay Republicans or gay Democrats. But there are some gay individuals who I know, who are friends of mine, who respect that fact that I believe that traditional marriage is right for the nurturing and development of children, but that I do not want to discriminate against gay people in employment or housing or other parts of their life.

Some other things that have been looked upon in recent weeks have been comments you made about Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan back in 1994—critical comments. Do you regret making those? And could you put those in a context to explain to conservatives what you were trying to say?

When I was running for office for the first time in 1994, I was trying to define who I was, not who I wasn’t. I was trying to define that I was an individual who had his own views and perspectives and I wasn’t a carbon copy of someone else. I’ve said since, and continue to reiterate, that one of my heroes is Ronald Reagan.

I’ve been asked time and again in interviews, who are your heroes? And I mention Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower among others as some of my favorite heroes, and I feel that deeply. But I am a different person than any other person and my interest is, of course, looking forward to defining who I am.

Of course, now there’s no need for me to try to define myself in reference to others. I’ve got a record. And people can look at my record and see, for instance, that when people were clamoring to raise taxes in Massachusetts, I said “no” and we held the line on taxes, and held the line and borrowing, and we balanced our budget. They can see that I vetoed literally hundreds of line items in budgets because I thought there was too much spending. They can see that I fought for better schools. They can see that I fought for a better environment. And they can recognize that a lot what Ronald Reagan was doing I’m also doing. So I’m pretty proud to follow in his legacy, if you will, recognizing, of course, that there’s some differences. He’s just a lot better than anyone else I know.

One of the other things you accomplished as governor was a healthcare plan for Massachusetts, which has been both lauded and criticized by some libertarians and conservatives. Is this something you would consider proposing for the federal government as well?

My current thinking on that is that the states as laboratories really play a very useful role for the nation. There are some aspects of what we proposed and put in our health plan that actually could be helpful for the entire nation and may well figure into national legislation. But there are others that really are peculiar to the state of Massachusetts, and I’d like to see how they work in Massachusetts, and frankly to see what other states do. Because I wouldn’t be surprised if some other states came up with ideas, borrowing from our own experience, that could be better than ours.

I don’t think we’re ready as a nation to adopt a Massachusetts plan for the entire nation. I’d like to learn more from other states, perhaps take some things that we found and get them under way right away. For instance, all the mandates we put on insurance—that just makes insurance more expensive than it ought to be. There’s a need also to allow people to own their own insurance policy rather than having a company decide which insurance you get. There are features in our plan that I think could be helpful, but time’s going to tell, because we want to hear what other states have to say.

You mention the issue of taxes as well. I just wanted to get your position on what tax reform you would prefer most, because as I understand it, back in 1996, you ran a newspaper that was critical of Steve Forbes’ flat tax, calling it “a gimmick” and “a phony.” Do you still hold those views today? Or do you like the flat tax or the Fair Tax or is there a system that you prefer?

I think the flat tax and the Fair Tax both have very favorable elements to them and I respect the features of simplicity and fairness. There are, however, I think some challenges, I think, that have to be recognized in terms of them being politically acceptable to the American people—and, if you will, effectively able to be implemented in a political setting.

So, for instance, a tax that did not in any way tax dividends or interest or capital gains I think would be very difficult to see successfully passed in a political environment such as Washington, D.C., because it would suggest that some people who had inherited all their wealth would never pay any taxes at all. There would be a lot of people who feel that’s just not fair.

I think you have to take into account the political realities of a dual-party setting. On the other hand, there are some features I love. I like the simplicity and I’d like to move toward greater simplicity. I’d like also to see corporations not have the double taxation, which we currently apply, which makes it difficult for our corporations to sell products on a global marketplace because of the double taxation associated with our system.

Simplification of our system and reducing burdens on the abilities our employers to compete are, I think, features that people are going to look for.

Are you prepared to deal with what is bound to be attacks from the media and opponents about your religious faith? And how do you plan to talk about that and address that?

I think the American people want to see a person of faith lead the nation, and I don’t think the American people care very deeply about which brand of faith that is.

There’s not very much that’s well known about my church because it’s not broadly based throughout the nation with large numbers of people who are adherents. When anything is unknown, people are going to be a little skeptical. But I think, again, as individuals look at my life and my family’s life, they’ll recognize that my values are quintessential American values; that my religious beliefs are consistent with the religious beliefs of other Judeo-Christian faiths, such as a belief in the divinity of God and the need to need to provide service to others, the preeminence of the family unit. These types of elements are what America looks for in a leader.

What I will do to bring home those sentiments will probably be shaped as time goes on.

And finally, Governor, recently on, one of our bloggers, Matt Lewis, suggested that you hire a full-time staffer to work with bloggers and new-media people. You took that advice and now employ Stephen Smith, who formerly worked for VOLPAC. Why do you think it is important to dedicate resources to this?

I think that the opinion leaders in the country, particularly those in primaries, are people who are very involved on the Internet and are watching the blogs and seeing what’s being said. They’re getting ahead of the news cycle by oftentimes weeks. And that kind of lead and that kind of awareness is very powerful in a primary setting, where the voters tend to be well informed and very involved in party politics.

Particularly in a primary kind of setting, you want to be very closely connected to the online world, to the blog world and make sure your perspectives are being understood, and that the misperceptions, which inevitably creep up, are being nipped in the bud. That’s something which, by virtue of the fact that I do not yet have an exploratory committee—that decision to file for that has not yet been reached—so I’ve sort of had to sit here and watch a lot going on without being able to respond and clean up some of the misperceptions that were out there. That’s something Stephen Smith is going to be able to do for us. I’m looking forward to that.

Governor, I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.

Thank you so much. It’s good to be with you.

Happy New Year.