Mitt Romney interview

GLENN: Well, he now leads in delegates. More people have voted in Michigan last night than all of the other primaries combined. He’s either number one or number two in every race and it is Mitt Romney. Hello, Mitt Romney, how are you, sir?

"Social Security’s the easiest (to fix) and that’s because you can give people a personal account, you can extend the retirement age and you can calculate the initial benefit based on inflation for higher income people rather than the wage index which goes up so much higher. Those simple arithmetic changes will keep Social Security from bankrupt."

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I’m doing terrific, Glenn, thank you.

GLENN: I bet you are. Congratulations. Feeling good today?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Yeah, feels really good. I tell you, as you say I’ve been able to do either first or second in each of the contests and, of course, with Wyoming a first and Michigan a first, that gives me a good start.

GLENN: How are you shaping up? The next one is Nevada? Is that Saturday?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Yeah, Nevada and South Carolina. The media attention has always been on South Carolina although interestingly South Carolina has 24 delegates at stake and Nevada has 34. So we’ll be playing in both markets and I think I’ve got a better shot at coming in first in Nevada. In South Carolina John McCain is way ahead. Of course, he battled some years ago and has put a lot of money and time into it here but, you know, you never know.

GLENN: Right. I will tell you, Mitt, that something that we have talked about before, the economy. I have been very concerned about the fundamentals in our economy for quite some time and you have been my economy guy the whole time. If somebody’s got to deal with the economy, because of your experience of, you know, building companies and great turnarounds, you are the guy. In a way, I mean, it’s going to be real bittersweet for you because you know what’s coming with the economy but you also know you’re the guy to fix it. So it’s good for you.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, there’s no question but that the economy is the issue people face, short-term or long term. You really do want to have somebody who knows something about how jobs come and go, how we stay competitive with other countries, where our dollars lie and how you rein in Washington waste and push Washington to do those things which actually builds our economy stronger. So, you know, it is what I do, as they say, and that would suggest that I’ll get a boost and I think I got a bit of a boost in Michigan because I was willing to talk about the economy and say, look, we don’t have to be pessimistic and look at our shoes here. We can see a return of American strength and there’s no reason to think America can’t lead the world.

GLENN: There’s a couple of articles that are out today. One is in U.S. News and World Report and the other I think is in the Boston Globe. They say Michigan signaled the end of the Reaganomics because everybody, including you, was talking about bigger government. That’s what the article was saying. Do you find that accurate?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: No, of course not. I love how the liberal media is dying to put at rest any conservative thought. The answer is stop the growth of government and instead to return to the individual the ability to make their own decisions. So, for instance, my healthcare plan does not give people government insurance. It lets them buy their own private market insurance. And that’s by far the better way to go. Government insurance is way too expensive. It’s run by bureaucrats. You don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup running their healthcare system. So it’s just, you know, as obvious as the nose on your face but somehow Democrats just don’t see that.

GLENN: We had David Walker from the GAO. I don’t know if you know him, but he’s the U.S. comptroller general. I had him on television last week. The guy never did interviews because he’s not a left or right guy. He’s just right or wrong. And he’s not a political guy. First interview he did was 60 Minutes. I believe we did the second interview and we’re doing an hour with him on Friday on radio. This guy is out now ringing the bell and he’s been a quiet guy for a long time and he says our debt is not sustainable. How do you get the American people to understand that, you know, giving people money to help with their heating oil is not going to fix this economy. It is the massive overspending in Washington. And not just the earmarks but Social Security, Medicaid more specifically, and prescription drugs. It’s got to be fixed. How do you get that message across?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, I think the best way I’ve been able to get it across, and it is in my view why I’ve been able to do as well as I have in the season so far is that I say quite bluntly and with a major sign that’s standing up behind me says Washington is broken. We simply cannot keep on going the way we have gone. We have to deal with the challenges we have. The good news is Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security can be fixed so that they don’t have to weigh down our entire economy. The annual spending is —

GLENN: How? How do you fix it?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, yeah. Well, Social Security’s the easiest and that’s because you can give people a personal account, you can extend the retirement age and you can calculate the initial benefit based on inflation for higher income people rather than the wage index which goes up so much higher. Those simple arithmetic changes will keep Social Security from bankrupt.

GLENN: Hold it just a second. I can — hold on. I think I just heard a politician say "Extend the retirement age"?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Those are the three major levers you have, changing the retirement age, giving people more of their income going in or their Social Security withdrawal going into private accounts, and having a lower rate of inflation on the calculation of initial benefits for higher income individuals. Those are the arithmetic ways to make this work. Other than having a tax increase. And the problem with a tax increase is you slow down the economy, which is the last thing you need in this nation.

GLENN: Do you ever get to the point, do you and your wife ever lay in bed and just say, what did we get ourselves into? I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a primary like this before. I mean, if there’s anybody that seems to be taking it from all sides, it’s your candidacy. Do you ever just say to your wife, what are we doing?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, we say that all the time, but what we know we’re doing is running in this race because I don’t believe that the Republican party is going to nominate a good man, Senator McCain, who is somebody who voted against the Bush tax cuts, who authored a bill to give illegal immigrants the right to stay here forever, if you will a form of amnesty. I fellow who authored McCain/Feingold which devastated our First Amendment and has made money an even bigger political player in political events. I just don’t think that’s the right course to take and for many reasons I think Mike Huckabee wouldn’t be our nominee. So I look at it and say if they are not going to be able to it, somebody’s got to. We’re going on as long as the American people say that the accommodation of, if you will, Reagan’s coalition of social economic and foreign policy conservatives are what are needed to lead this country.

GLENN: Okay. So tell me then, because this is something I’ve been asking on the air and my listeners can’t give me an explanation on John McCain. Explain why — I mean, every conservative knows who this guy is, and I admire that he never changes — you know, he knows what he believes and he just, you know, he bucks the system and says I’m going forward and that’s what it is, but he’s wrong almost every single time. How is it that he’s got this momentum?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You’d rather change than be wrong, but it is a combination. I read an article just a couple of days ago that said actually he was opposed to Second Amendment rights and then he has changed and now is in favor of Second Amendment rights and he, of course, voted against the Bush tax cuts but now he says that he wants to make them permanent. So, you know, he has had his fair share of points on which he has evolved as he’s described it.

GLENN: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait, wait, wait. That’s not evolution. I mean, if there’s a clear case to be made some case for flip-flop, it’s John McCain. He was just trying to hand free amnesty out to everybody and was like, wow, you know, that was a bad idea; we shouldn’t do that. That, at least with your abortion thing, you had an explanation. I don’t understand how McCain’s not being labeled a flip-flopper.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s just too hard for people to imagine because of the brand he’s been able to establish over the years and I don’t have any problem with a person changing their mind to do something which I think is right. I have to take a position which I think is right. And if somebody can go through life for decades and never find that their experience causes them to change their mind, then they probably shouldn’t be in public office. I’m not going to be critical of somebody changing their views from time to time.

GLENN: But hang on.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But I can tell you when their views are wrong, I’ll point it out.

GLENN: The first time we spoke, I don’t know if you remember this, I said to you — I was very, very skeptical and I said before you came on the air, I’ll going to ask this guy for his pivot point and if he can’t tell me the moment that it crystallized in his head on abortion, if he can’t tell me the wallpaper color of when he realized, "Wait a minute, I’m on the wrong side of this issue," he’s lying to you. And you told the story about when you changed and you didn’t hesitate at all and I knew it was a valid pivot point. I’m a pivot point guy because I’m a alcoholic. I knew — I can tell you the moment I said I’ve got to change my life. That’s not the case with John McCain. That’s a flip-flop. When it comes to taxes, you don’t support them back then and now, "well, I’ll make them permanent but I’m not really sure if I would do more tax cuts now." That’s a flip-flop. He doesn’t even understand what tax cuts do.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, I do think you have to have an appreciation for the fact that if you reduce taxes, and particularly if you reduce them in the right way. You actually can grow the economy and make it possible for the Government to get more revenue and take less revenue away from the American people. And that’s, you know, that’s a very fundamental perspective and I know there were a lot of people, myself included, who didn’t think that made a lot of sense a long time ago but you know what? The more I’ve aged, the more I recognize how brilliant Ronald Reagan was.

GLENN: Let’s just, let’s play a game here and let’s just say that you are the guy facing off the other side. Who would you rather face?

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You know, I don’t know who that would be. I have to be honest with you. All three of the leading contenders are so extraordinarily liberal that I find it very, very hard to pick among them. I think it’s going to be — I do think it’s going to be a Republican victory if I’m the nominee. I think if I go up against Hillary Clinton, I’ll be able to say, Senator Clinton, you worked very hard to create a healthcare plan but there’s a big difference between your plan and my plan. My plan got passed and yours didn’t. And number two, mine didn’t cost more money. It was paid for with money we were already spending. Yours cost, your new one cost $110 billion more. You impose one plan on the entire nation; I let each state craft their plan within guidelines that we helped put together. And number four, you give people government insurance; I don’t do that. I let them get free market insurance.

GLENN: Mitt Romney, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you again, my friend.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Have a great day.