EXCLUSIVE: Townhall.com sits down with Gov. Romney

Mary Katharine Ham

4/20/2007 11:07:43 PM - Mary Katharine Ham

MKH: Thanks, Gov. Romney, for taking some time to hang out with us at Townhall today. I’m in D.C. Where are you today?

MR: I’m in Iowa City, IA, which is the home of the University of Iowa, and I just met with 3 or 400 people who were interested in what I’m up to, so it’s a pretty exciting time.

MKH: Let me jump right into this with the Va Tech tragedy, which is of course, what’s on everyone’s minds this week. A lot of our readers are upset that NBC went ahead and showed the Cho video. Should they have taken that step?

MR: Well, I hope that at some point there’s a level of care and responsibility that’s gonna be shown by the members of the mainstream media not to in any way encourage copycat-type activity. And, the attention being given Mr. Cho is, I think, beyond any reasonable level. I certainly wish we could have been far more discreet in what we decide to show the world and keep these copycats from popping up all over the country.

I’d rather show a lot more coverage of people like Liviu Librescu, the fellow who barred the door to keep the gunman from getting to his students. These are the kind of stories we should be hearing.

MKH: Now, one of your claims to fame is that you came into the Utah Olympics and turned around the security situation. Lots of folks are talking about security changes that need to happen on college campuses in light of this. Do you have any thoughts on what those might be and what, if any, role the federal government should be playing in making them happen?

MR: Well, every time something bad happens in the country, there are some folks who say, ‘OK, there oughtta be a federal law put in place to change it.’ And, I’d rather start by saying let’s let individual states and communities decide what they think is best.

In some cases, federal laws help, but I don’t think at this stage it makes sense for us to come up with some federal law to somehow change all this. I do believe the governor of Virginia is right by gathering a group of experts, including Tom Ridge, to take a full review of the law-enforcement response and the decisions made at Virginia Tech, and, I think that’ll be instructive to other universities and other law enforcement agencies around the country. And, we’ll learn from this experience, but I’m not sure if a federal law is called for. Time will tell.

MKH: We’ve already dived head-long, here in Washington, into the inevitable and tacky gun-control debate. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy has already introduced a bill. What’s your take on the battle lawmakers are gearing up for and just how fast they’re gearing up for it?

MR: I realize people will always take the occasion of a major news event to push their agenda. There are people in this country who fundamentally believe that people in our country should not be allowed to have guns. They’re wrong. The Second Amendment protects the rights of individual citizens to bear arms to protect themselves, and I will defend the Second Amendment. I think efforts to politicize this tragedy are mistaken and misdirected.

MKH: Now, you supported an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts. This tragedy is being used to push the renewal of the federal assault weapons ban. What would your stance be if that comes up again?

MR: Well, you know, the weapon used here was not an assault weapon, so I’m not sure what the relevance is. And, that’s what we have to recognize. The people who want to remove Second Amendment rights will look for everything they can. You know, if there’s a weapon that puts our police at risk, like machine guns, of course, then that’s something I would, of course, consider. But, look, we’ve gotta fundamentally recognize the need to protect the right to bear arms and the fact that there are people who are trying to remove that right inch by inch, and we’re gonna have to defend against that.

MKH: One of the quotes of the week, which doesn’t even really need attribution at this point is, “The war is lost.” Your thoughts and what you’re hearing on the trail about that?

MR: Well, first of all it shows a remarkable lack of understanding by Harry Reid. The first phase of the war, the war to knock down Saddam Hussein was won by the United States, solidly, handily, decidedly, and Harry Reid is simply wrong. We won the war to take down Saddam Hussein, and to remove a sponsor of terror.

We’re now in a stage of conflict, which is to help the Iraqi people rebuild their own country. That’s a long process. The jury is out on that. But for him to come out and say we lost the war shows a lack of understanding of the fact that we won taking out Saddam Hussein.

And, secondly, it shows that he just doesn’t understand the nature of the conflict, which we currently are engaged in. And, I go back and think about George Washington. Can you imagine how different our nation would have been if, when the troops were having a tough time at Valley Forge, he just said, “well, we’ve lost.” Or, if Winston Churchill, when the British citizens were hiding in subway tubes, if he said, “Well, we’ve lost.” That is not the American way.

I’m afraid there are some Democrats who can’t get the word victory or success out of their lips. They see loss behind every corner, and instead of looking for our successes and our achievements, they’re always looking for the losses.

Shame on Harry Reid for saying something which will be dispiriting for our troops, and used as propaganda and rallying cries for jihadists around the world.

MKH: What are you hearing from Iowans about it?

The response I’ve had as I’ve made my comments about Harry Reid’s comments today in the three venues where I spoke, was overwhelmingly positive. The largest applause I received was talking about the misguided words that he used to say that America has lost. Did he not remember that we did knock down Saddam Hussein’s government? Has he forgotten that? It’s really a remarkable lack of understanding.

MKH: Speaking of Harry Reid, he and the Dems are also cooking up abortion legislation this week in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the partial-birth abortion ban.

MR: I was pleased with the decision, of course, to permit states to outlaw partial birth abortion. But it underscored something else. Four justices disagreed with the majority. And that means that if the next president were to be a Democrat like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and they appoint more judges like the four who were in the minority, they would say, in effect, that there’s a constitutional right to partial-birth abortion. Late-term, very late term abortion, which is simply a very offensive practice, and it simply underscores the importance of electing a conservative Republican to be the next president.

MKH: When it comes to winning, you’ve got one of the keys going strong for you—fundraising. But there’s a discrepancy with your poll numbers. Now, I’ve read and heard from folks that this is the way a Romney campaign works, building cred over a long period, so that eventually the numbers will catch up with the money. But in this accelerated election cycle, how does that work for you?

MR: Well, first of all, the places where I’ve spent my time—like I am today in Iowa City, Jackson County, and in Jones County—these are the places where the first primaries and caucuses are held, and the polls here are very encouraging. The New Hampshire poll, for instance, two weeks ago that Zogby put out, had me tied for first place.

The poll that the University of Iowa did just last week has us all in a statistical dead heat for first place, so I’m doing well in the early primary states, which are the ones that count to get the momentum going.

And, of course, I’m not a household name. Not at this point. Win a couple of these primaries, and I become a household name pretty darn quickly. But early on, of course the names people will know, and will acknowledge in the polls, are the names that have become famous from the past. And I anticipate becoming famous by virtue of my message. It’s a message that is catching on across the states that have spread it, and I expect that more and more people in this country will come to my camp and I’m gonna win this thing.

MKH: I’ve been reading this week about your ability to tap new donors. Now, that’s something that always gets politicos talking. Hillary and Obama were the ones who were supposed to tap new donors and new constituencies, and yet you’ve come out as a bit of surprise in your ability to do it. Tell me about how that happens.

MR: Well, we’re really pleased with the message that I’ve been able to carry to people throughout the country. We got fundraising from all 50 states in the country. I’ve gone after young people. I’ve gone after some old folks, like myself, that is. I just turned 60. I’ve gone after our veterans, and we’re bringing people into my camp that are really allowing me to get the kind of support I need to win these primaries.

MKH: I work in the blogosphere where a lot of have noticed your campaign’s pretty considerable online savvy. In particular, I remember you’re doing a podcast with Instapundit and videotaping it for YouTube at the same time. It really sent an early message that you “get” the new media, which is not all that common among Republicans. What’s your strategy?

MR: Traditionally, everyone has assumed that the way to build support in a political sense is to cotton to the mainstream media. But the truth is, if you want to get support among young voters, increasingly, they don’t get the newspaper. They get their news from the Internet, from the web.

And, as a result, a major part of my effort is to make sure we’re communicating with young people, that we’re getting our message across to people who get their information in new and more up-to-date manners. And so, yeah, we have a very active effort. My son Tagg is one of those who plays a leading role to make sure we’re up-to-date with what we’re doing and we’re gonna continue to get our message out through the Internet. I spend a lot of time with folks that are bloggers and webcasters, and I want to make sure that we’re connecting to all Americans, not just the people who read the New York Times.

MKH: Now, in the past, McCain has suggested he’d have blogger conference calls as president. What would be the role of bloggers in a Romney administration. Conference calls, White House press passes. We’re always curious about things like that.

MR: The truth is that I haven’t spent enough time to lay out a media strategy yet for what I would do if I were president. But clearly, it’s important for a president and important for a political party and an administration to communicate with the people of the nation. And, there’s a lot of folks that just don’t get newspapers anymore, don’t watch the TV evening news, and their information comes from the Internet, from blogs and from other webcasts. And, we’re gonna have to find the very best way to communicate with those that are getting the message out.

MKH: I’m sure you’ve got a lot of experience having to find alternative media, since your hometown MSM is the Boston Globe.

No question about that. And, fortunately, the world of alternative media has really come alive in the last few years. I mean, I have five sons. I don’t think any one of them gets the newspaper. Every single one of them gets their information from the web. That being the case, it’s critical to me—I recognize that in my campaign strategy, and if I’m lucky enough to become president, in my presidential plans—to be able to communicate to those folks who get their news in the new media.

MKH: Have any horror stories, worst moments with the MSM?

MR: You know, I’m sure I do. There’s probably more than one, but I’ve never liked people who engage in too much whining, so I’ll skip telling you about the worst that’s happened.

MKH: One last quick one for you. Who has the best hair? You, Sanjaya, or John Edwards?

MR: Well, that’s quite a grouping. I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t spend $400 to get mind cut, so it’s not a comparison I’d like to make. I’d just like to keep as much of it as I can.”