National Journal's Linda Douglass sat down with Mitt Romney for the April 18 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: I'd like to welcome former Massachusetts governor and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Welcome, Governor.
Romney: Thank you, Linda. Good to be with you.
Q: Well, thanks so much for joining us. And now you are out on the campaign trail again, campaigning for John McCain. And one of the areas of your expertise, certainly, is the economy, and you've been talking about his economic plan. So let me ask you a couple things about that. You know, the heart of the plan, really, is tax cuts for corporations and for businesses. You've heard the Democrats say it doesn't do very much for the middle-class taxpayer who is under so much economic distress. Why does cutting taxes for corporations and businesses help the distressed worker now?
Romney: Well, I'll first reject the Democratic premise that this is focused on corporations. This is overwhelmingly focused on individuals, and the dollars of savings -- if you add up the amount of tax savings, it's overwhelmingly directed toward individuals in the middle class: doubling, for instance, the personal exemption for people who have dependents, children; keeping the income tax rate down, putting in place a new flat tax, effectively, for everyone in this country to be able to do their taxes -- instead of the highly complicated process we do it now on a very simple high standard deduction process -- and at the same time a reduction in rates. So it's a very bold program to help middle-class taxpayers.
In addition, it reduces the corporate tax rate, for a very simple reason: not to help shareholders -- even though ordinary people, by the way, are shareholders; mutual funds and retirement funds or 401(k)s are where the great bulk of shareholdings exist -- but instead, it's designed to make sure that companies don't leave our shores and go elsewhere where the rates are much lower, but that we keep employers here. We and Japan have the highest tax rates on corporations in the world, and nations like Germany and France and, of course, Ireland, have been lowering rates to lure companies to their shores, and it's working. So we want to make sure we're competitive with the rest of the world and we keep jobs here. Because jobs and people earning good wages is exactly what Senator McCain is focused on.
Q: We'll, you've also, I'm sure, heard the Democrats say that John McCain's economic policy will be an extension of President Bush's. How are they different?
Romney: Well, pretty dramatically. Senator McCain, like many Republicans, believes that government ought to be smaller. And he has been a tireless advocate of reining in the earmarks and the pork barrel spending. I don't think anyone in the Senate is more noted for going after excesses in Washington than John McCain. And at a time when President Bush didn't veto any bills, John McCain has made it very clear that he would veto bills that bring in this excessive spending across his desk. He also has committed to say, look, any spending above last year he's going to freeze. He is going to hold all discretionary accounts until he's had a good chance to look at every program and eliminate some programs, scale back some programs. He is someone who is going to cut the scale of government, cut federal spending, and during the Bush years that has grown quite dramatically.
In some respects the Bush years are very similar to what the Democrats are proposing, which is a very substantial increase in the scale of government, and the Democrats are planning on doing it with a lot higher taxes. At least President Bush also held down taxes.
Q: Well, let's talk for a moment about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. You no doubt heard about the Democratic debate the other night, where Barack Obama was pressed on several personal issues -- his association with Reverend Wright, the statements that he made about small-town voters and their values. He was asked about a man he was associated with who was, a long time ago, many decades ago, a radical. Are these issues that Republicans are likely to use against Obama in the general election?
Romney: Well, it's hard for me to speak for Republicans generally. I don't imagine that Senator McCain will be focusing on those things, but I think there will be, certainly, members of the Republican National Committee as well as other groups that are going to say, just exactly what do we know about Barack Obama? He emerged as someone early on who stood above politics, who was a man above it all. And as David Brooks of The New York Times said today, what's been apparent over the last several months is that he is a quintessential politician. He, in the debate, made a number of promises that he cannot possibly deliver -- populist approaches that sound good to the public but that are counter to the growth and strength of our economy and the well-being of our nation. And the associations in the past and things he has said indicate that he has subscribed fully to the kind of elitist view of America that has long characterized those of the most liberal persuasion in our country.
So I think what's happening is that people are getting a better sense about Barack Obama. They didn't know who he was. As this campaign has gone on, we're getting a better sense of the person. We knew Hillary Clinton pretty well. We know her foibles. That's in part why so many Republicans in particular, and a lot of independents, see her unfavorably. But now we're getting a better view of Barack Obama as the -- not just the liberal, but the political liberal that he is.
Q: Hillary Clinton's unfavorable numbers are rising in the polls. Does that mean that she would be the easier candidate for John McCain to beat?
Romney: You know, it's really hard to for me to assess which is the easier for Senator McCain to beat. In some respects, they are both seeing their unfavorables rise. You know, there is the perception that she has more experience than I frankly think she has.
But I think in the case of Barack Obama, it's so clear to people that he does not have the national perspective and experience that you'd want in a president, that the contrast with Senator McCain, who's had such extensive experience -- one, defending our country, leading a military effort and then working in the United States Senate for over a quarter of a century -- that experience really distinguishes him, and I think in some respects distinguishes him in a more dramatic way, at least from a perception standpoint, against Barack Obama than even Hillary Clinton.
Q: An ad has popped up this morning -- I know you haven't seen this -- by an outside group attacking John McCain for his age. Do you think his age is going to be a vulnerability for him in this campaign?
Romney: You know, I really don't. I don't think Barack Obama's race, or Hillary Clinton's gender or John McCain's age will figure into this campaign. There will always be a tiny share of people for whom that will be an issue. But overwhelmingly, people look at the vigor and capacity of the individual. I think John McCain has shown, particularly in our own campaign -- we had a good, year-long campaign -- he worked a lot harder than people expected. And even though he was knocked down -- people thought he had been knocked out -- he rose from the ground, if you will, and was victorious. I think he's proven his mettle time and time again, and I'd be very, very surprised if anyone sees anything other than a vigorous, dynamic, experienced individual who could easily lead our country.
Q: Well, thank you so much for your insights and thoughts, Governor Romney, and I do hope that you'll join us again.
Romney: Thank you so much, Linda. Good to be with you.