It seemed that the second the 2006 elections were over we were onto 2008, and already the campaign seems to be in full swing — even before some of the potential candidates have set up official exploratory committees. And among the most talked about on the Republican side is Mitt Romney, who is just about to finish his term as governor of Massachusetts. He agreed to be e-interviewed by National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez (who — full disclosure — has some pro-Romney tendencies). The full interview — in which he addresses Iraq, gay marriage, abortion, religion, and more, appears below.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Governor, you recently got back from a trip to Asia. What were you doing there? Gov. Mitt Romney: I traveled to Japan, China, and South Korea. Two things from my China trip stand out. First, they will be a more powerful economic competitor than we in America recognize. They are hard working, market oriented, and smart. They even have some lower taxes in some areas than we do. Bottom line: They are competing to win. Second, it is important for us as a nation to reach out to China and to chart out a course that is consistent with a free economy and a free society. This goal must be consistent with our own principles.
We also had the opportunity to go to visit the DMZ when we were in Korea. Imagining what goes on behind that border is one thing — but standing there, staring into North Korea is chilling. Communism and the brutal repression there have exacted an extraordinarily heavy penalty on the people of North Korea and the contrast with the exuberance and prosperity of South Korea could not be more stark.
Lopez: China is, of course, a bit of a human-rights disaster too. Did you have qualms going there at all?
Gov. Romney: I believe in building bridges not walls. We specifically addressed the detention of a Massachusetts citizen, Yang Jianli, with Chinese officials and we asked for special attention and consideration for his early release. Working with China on our own security interests — including the isolation of North Korea — must not be at the expense of our commitment to freedom and basic human rights.
Lopez: What did you make of the Iraq Study Group report that was released last week?
Gov. Romney: The members of the Iraq Study Group deserve credit for their hard work. But their recommendations read like the product of a flawed process — one more focused on reaching consensus for the sake of reaching consensus. There were a few recommendations that I found especially striking: Suggesting that somehow the Israel-Palestine conflict is a root of sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq is just wrong. Sunnis are killing Shia and vice versa. Pressuring Israel won’t change that.
Proposing that we negotiate with terrorist regimes like Syria and Iran — without a rigorous analysis of how our incentives could ever be aligned — is just counter-productive. I have no quarrel with talking, especially if it yields valuable intelligence and insight about an adversary. But that’s a far cry from actually negotiating with Iran, which sponsors Hezbollah, has nuclear ambitions, and has been clear in its intention to wipe our ally Israel off the map. And Syria is systematically undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon and funding and arming terrorists. Any suggestion that we might trade something for their help or forbearance is out of the question. When considering a negotiation, one must ask what kind of leverage we have, and recognize that there are situations where we have more to lose than gain by negotiating.
Finally, inferring that our troops may be withdrawn from combat positions before Iraq is secure runs counter to my view and to the views I have heard from some of America’s most accomplished military leaders. I am not suggesting that there are simple solutions for Iraq. But it is clear to me that some of these recommendations will not meet our objectives in Iraq, or in the broader long war America is fighting today.
Lopez: You just finished up a term as head of the Republican Governor’s Association. Do you feel a bit like you couldn’t have been RGA president there at a worse time, given all the November losses? Do you regret at all not running for reelection as governor?
Gov. Romney: This certainly was a difficult year. We knew going into the sixth year of a two-term administration that we would be going against history to try to pick up seats. A wartime election only added to that difficulty. We raised an unprecedented $27 million for the governor’s races — almost 50 percent more than ever before — and we were able to reelect great governors like Sonny Perdue, Mark Sanford, Tim Pawlenty, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Carcieri, Jim Douglas, Bob Riley, and others and elect new governors in places like Florida, Idaho, and Nevada. The bad news is that we lost six governors, but the good news is that we only lost six governors.
I loved being governor of Massachusetts and feel we accomplished a great deal. I’m proud of what my team was able to get done by applying Republican principles and reaching across the aisle. And now I look forward to devoting my time to new challenges.
Lopez: As you know, in recent days the Boston Globe and the New York Times, as well as the Boston newspaper, Bay Windows, have run pieces about your 1994 race against Ted Kennedy and your run for governor that appear to be in conflict with your current position against gay marriage. Are they?
Gov. Romney: These old interviews and stories have frequently been circulated by my opponents ever since I took a stand against the Massachusetts supreme-court ruling on same-sex marriage. This being the political season, it is not surprising this old news has appeared again. But I have made clear since 2003, when the supreme court of Massachusetts redefined marriage by fiat, that my unwavering advocacy for traditional marriage stands side by side with a tolerance and respect for all Americans.
Like the vast majority of Americans, I’ve opposed same-sex marriage, but I’ve also opposed unjust discrimination against anyone, for racial or religious reasons, or for sexual preference. Americans are a tolerant, generous, and kind people. We all oppose bigotry and disparagement. But the debate over same-sex marriage is not a debate over tolerance. It is a debate about the purpose of the institution of marriage and it is a debate about activist judges who make up the law rather than interpret the law.
I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. I believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman and I have been rock solid in my support of traditional marriage. Marriage is first and foremost about nurturing and developing children. It’s unfortunate that those who choose to defend the institution of marriage are often demonized.
Lopez: And what about the 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Republicans where you indicated you would support the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and seemed open to changing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military? Are those your positions today?
Gov. Romney: No. I don’t see the need for new or special legislation. My experience over the past several years as governor has convinced me that ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.
As for military policy and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I trust the counsel of those in uniform who have set these policies over a dozen years ago. I agree with President Bush’s decision to maintain this policy and I would do the same.
Lopez: Congressman Harold Ford and 33 other Democrat House members voted for a federal marriage amendment this year; you don’t hear a whole lot of coverage of facts like that — or criticisms that they might be as mean and hateful as Republicans who vote similarly are regularly characterized. Does the mainstream media have double standards for Republicans?
Gov. Romney: Well, they do tend to ignore a lot of facts on this issue. How many people have heard that marriage amendments or referendums this year passed by large margins including by 84 percent in Tennessee; 84 percent in South Carolina, 58 percent in Virginia, and by 59 percent in Wisconsin? In 2004 similar measures passed by wide margins in 13 states. California passed a referendum by 61 percent opposing same-sex marriage in 2000. This is a mainstream issue on which most Americans are fairly united but coverage often doesn’t reflect that.
Lopez: In a 1994 debate with Senator Kennedy, you said “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my Mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it.” Further confusing matters, the Boston Globe reported in 1994 that “as a Mormon lay leader [you] counseled Mormon women not to have abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life was at risk.” Governor: What is your position on abortion today? On Roe? How do you account for what is obviously a change — certainly publicly — on the issue?
Gov. Romney: My position has changed and I have acknowledged that. How that came about is that several years ago, in the course of the stem-cell-research debate I met with a pair of experts from Harvard. At one point the experts pointed out that embryonic-stem-cell research should not be a moral issue because the embryos were destroyed at 14 days. After the meeting I looked over at Beth Myers, my chief of staff, and we both had exactly the same reaction — it just hit us hard just how much the sanctity of life had been cheapened by virtue of the Roe v. Wade mentality. And from that point forward, I said to the people of Massachusetts, “I will continue to honor what I pledged to you, but I prefer to call myself pro-life.” The state of Massachusetts is a pro-choice state and when I campaigned for governor I said that I would not change the law on abortion. But I do believe that the one-size-fits-all, abortion-on-demand-for-all-nine-months decision in Roe v. Wade does not serve the country well and is another example of judges making the law instead of interpreting the Constitution.
What I would like to see is the Court return the issue to the people to decide. The Republican party is and should remain the pro-life party and work to change hearts and minds and create a culture of life where every child is welcomed and protected by law and the weakest among us are protected. I understand there are people of good faith on both sides of the issue. They should be able to make and advance their case in democratic forums with civility, mutual respect, and confidence that our democratic process is the best place to handle these issues.
And yes, as a private citizen I have counseled women not to have abortions.
Lopez: Does that mean you were “faking it” — as one former adviser has suggested — as a pro-choicer in your previous political campaigns? Why should anyone believe you’re really pro-life now?
Gov. Romney: I believe people will see that as governor, when I had to examine and grapple with this difficult issue, I came down on the side of life. I know in the four years I have served as governor I have learned and grown from the exposure to the thousands of good-hearted people who are working to change the culture in our country. I’m committed to promoting the culture of life. Like Ronald Reagan, and Henry Hyde, and others who became pro-life, I had this issue wrong in the past.
Lopez: Since we’re on the Internet here: How tech savvy are you? Are you constantly plugged in or tend to use staff to filter a lot of the blogs and things? Do you use a crackberry? What’s your view of the importance of this new media?
Gov. Romney: I do spend a fair amount of time on the Internet. I use e-mail, have a Blackberry with me at all times, and get almost all my news online.
The new media is a great force for the democratization of information. No longer can just a few newspapers or television stations control what information we have access to. The monopoly on news has been broken wide open. I trust the people and the power of ideas to triumph in the free and competitive information market that the new media provides.
Lopez: So I gather you might want to run for president. When are we going to hear a Romney exploratory announcement? As you know, Senator McCain, Mayor Giuliani, Sam Brownback, and others — on the Democratic side, too — have already become official explorers. What’s your delay?
Gov. Romney: My term as governor doesn’t end until January 4, 2007, and I will be making my decision after the first of the year after having the opportunity to get together with the whole family over the Christmas holiday. We are already starting the 2008 political season earlier than ever before so I’m sure the American people don’t mind getting a chance to enjoy their holidays before the campaign season begins again.
Lopez: Besides giving your family a last chance to talk you out of running for president, what are you doing for Christmas?
Gov. Romney: I’ll be doing what I enjoy most in life which is playing with my ten grandchildren, catching up on a lot of reading I want to do, and talking with my wife, Ann, as well as to my sons and daughters-in-law about some interesting possibilities for the new year.
Lopez: Will an exposé on Mormon Christmas celebrations hurt you in the primaries?
Gov. Romney: This may sound strange to some, but my grandchildren will be eagerly awaiting presents to be delivered to their homes by a bearded man in a red suit led by a pack of flying reindeer. The lead reindeer, by the way, has a red light bulb for a nose — certainly a YouTube scandal waiting to happen.