MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday morning, for the first time during this campaign, I go one on one with the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney. We go behind the scenes and on the record with Governor Romney less than two months before the election to press him on how he will turn around the economy and solve the nation’s debt crisis.
GREGORY: Are you prepared to cut a deal with Democrats that would cause conservatives to revolt? Is it that important to get a deal to get us away from this fiscal cliff?
MR. MITT ROMNEY: Well, it’s-- it’s critical to get the country on track to avoid the kind of-- of financial calamities you’re seeing around-- around Europe. And-- and I have a plan that does that.
GREGORY: And we get his reaction to President Obama’s stinging criticism during his convention in Charlotte.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican Convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right.
GREGORY: The fall campaign is now in full swing with new disappointing job numbers sharpening the debate over the economy. Will Americans blame the president for a high jobless rate or give him four more years to solve the problem?
Inside at analysis this morning from our roundtable, a rising star in the Democratic Party who gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention, the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro; author and radio talk show host, Bill Bennett; columnist for The Washington Post E.J. Dionne; columnist for The Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan; and NBC’s chief White House correspondent and our political director, Chuck Todd.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: Good Sunday morning. This weekend I spent time with Governor Romney on the campaign trail for an exclusive two-part interview on the state of the race and what specifically a Romney presidency would mean for the country. We met up with the Romneys Friday in Manchester, New Hampshire, where they began a short trip down state for an evening campaign rally in Nashua.
MR. ROMNEY: Let me tell you this economy’s going to come back in a big way and you’re going to see more jobs again and you’re going to see rising home values again and you’re going to see more take home pay again. But you’re right, it is going to require me being elected president and New Hampshire is going to do it.
GREGORY: It was a day that also saw the president in battleground New Hampshire to kick off his post-convention push to Election Day.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now that both sides have made their argument there’s a big choice to make. And I honestly believe this is the biggest choice, the clearest choice of any time in our generation.
GREGORY: On-board the Romney campaign bus I asked the Governor where the race now stands?
GREGORY: So the two conventions are now in the books.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah.
GREGORY: And we are really kicking off the final stretch, the fall of campaign. How do you feel? You feel like you’re winning? Do you feel like you’re losing? Where do you think things are?
MR. ROMNEY: I think we’re making real progress. I-- I don’t think I was as well known, of course, as the president and-- and so we had a convention and I got better known, people got to see Ann and hear our story and-- and the result of that is I’m better known, for better or for worse. And that allows me to continue to hammer away on what I do to get America on the right track. And I have really two months to be able to convince people I can do a better job than the incumbent. I think I can do that. So I’m in a better spot than I was before the convention.
GREGORY: It’s tough to beat an incumbent, as you well know. Do you feel like an underdog or do you feel like you’re right in this thing?
MR. ROMNEY: I think it’s tough to beat an incumbent if the incumbent’s record is good. I think this incumbent has a very challenged record and-- jobs numbers that have come out this week as well as the performance over the last three and a half years suggest that this is a president that has not been able to deliver on his promises. People are dissatisfied with where he’s taken the country and that gives me an opportunity which might not have been available had he done what he said he would do.
GREGORY: I want to ask you about the news of the day, these job numbers, pretty anemic growth, less than a hundred thousand jobs created last month. And yet it’s striking because here you have the stock market at the highest level since 2007. I spoke to a top prominent business leader today who said the underpinnings of the economy right now are terrific. It’s prime to take off. And yet we seem to be relatively speaking in a jobless recovery. What do you think is going on?
MR. ROMNEY: I think it is a jobless recovery and-- and if it’s a recovery at all. It really doesn’t look like a recovery. You’re-- you’re not seeing the kind of job growth that keeps up with population growth. You’re not seeing any wage growth, so it’s-- it’s not at all what a recovery’s supposed to look like. It’s really not the kind of recovery people had expected. Normally when things go down as deeply as they did they come rebounding, but it’s now been how many months? Forty-three months with unemployment above eight percent. And this last month, it was surprising to me, it was not only the anemic job growth, but that three or four times as many people dropped out of the labor force as were added as net new job holders. I mean, this-- this is-- this is really saying that people are having a hard time finding work. It’s very, very troubling. And of course the stock market does well in part because the indication by the Fed that they're going to print more money, pour more money into the system, says we're likely to have down the road high inflation. And where else are you going to go? If interest rates are going to be near zero investors have to go somewhere to protect against inflation. The stock market's the only place to go.
GREGORY: You don't think the Fed ought to be any more involved at this point?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I don't think that-- that easing monetary policy is going to make a significant difference in the job market right now. I-- I think what the-- the nation needs is a change in fiscal policy. A-- a different structure to our economic positions. And if we take the right course I believe you're going to see this economy come roaring back, because I do believe, as you began by saying, that-- that there are-- many, many entrepreneurs as well as major corporations that are ready to jump, but they're hoping to see the kind of conditions on the ground in this country, the economic conditions, the pro-business, pro-jobs conditions, that suggest it's a good idea to invest in America again.
GREGORY: You talk about creating 12 million do-- jobs in your first term.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah.
GREGORY: I've seen independent reports predicting about that many jobs under any event being created. Doesn't that suggest that the president and his team have laid a foundation for that kind of growth to occur?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, actually, the president has-- has kept in place a series of policies that have made no progress against unemployment and a shrinking job market. That the number of-- of individuals that are in the job market today is at almost-- well, a 30, 40 year low. People can't find work. If this president's re-elected you're going to see chronic high unemployment continue for another four years or longer. You're going to see low wage growth if any growth at all. And of course there'll always be this fiscal calamity at our doorstep, a crisis potential at our doorstep the kind that you're seeing in-- in Europe today. I-- I have-- there's no question in my mind, if President Obama is reelected you're not going to see our unemployment picture change dramatically. You're not going to see us create the jobs we need to create or the rising incomes people need.
GREGORY: This is just a wild guess, but I-- I don't think either one of you were looking for any souvenirs from Charlotte, but I actually did bring one. Okay? I brought one. This is a bumper sticker that I found. And it says, “Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” Obviously this is-- one of the big tag lines, the bumper sticker line from the Obama campaign. Why is that not a good bumper sticker for the president?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I don't know that that's going to get him the support that he wants, but of course, he deserves credit for giving the order for the Seal Team Six to go after Bin Laden and take him out. That's absolutely right. With regards to GM, we'll probably get a chance to take a closer look at that. My view was General Motors should have gone into bankruptcy earlier. The president resisted that for six months. I said, "Let them go into bankruptcy. Help them come out. But let them go in." And I don't think most Americans know that GM went bankrupt. That they did go bankrupt. The president put them into bankruptcy. And he finally did what I also thought was the right thing to do, but I thought it from the very beginning. And that would have saved us $20 billion or so that otherwise-- would-- would have been able to be invested in-- in things like teachers and policemen, as well as-- growing our economy.
GREGORY: What's the Romney-Ryan bumper sticker?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, we got bumper stickers letting people know who we are, but it's basically--you want more jobs, you want higher income then vote for Romney and Ryan.
GREGORY: Mrs. Romney, your speech was very well received around the country. You had an opportunity to talk about yourself…
MS. ANN ROMNEY: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …and to talk about your husband. And to talk about how he's connected to people in your lives and in-- in your family. There was something that caught my attention, I'm sure it caught yours from the keynote speaker of the Democratic convention, which is-- sort of went to this charge that somehow neither one of you are as empathetic about what's going on in the country to people who are out of work. And the line was from-- from Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, “You just don't know how good you've had it.” How did that sit with you?
MRS. ROMNEY: Well, I think the-- the thing that I want to communicate to people, and that it's so important that people understand, is that Mitt and I do recognize that we have not had a financial struggle in our lives. But I want people to believe in their hearts that we know what it is like to struggle. And our struggles have not been financial, but they've been with health and with difficulties in-- in different things in life. And one thing that I-- that I again like to remind people is that multiple sclerosis has been my teacher. It has been at times a cruel teacher. But it has also been a great gift in my life because what it has done it has taught me to be more compassionate and caring for others that are suffering. And I know that people are suffering right now. And for people to think that we don't have empathy just because we're not suffering like they're suffering is-- is ridiculous. It’s-- it’s ridiculous to think that you can’t have empathy for somebody that’s struggling.
Our life has always been devoted to those that are struggling more than we are and I was grateful for the opportunity that we had at the convention for others to speak up and talk about the kind of lives we’ve led-- we’ve led. And in particular for Mitt who really has been demonized in many ways as being heartless. And for people to stand up and say, excuse me, he was there when my son was dying of leukemia. He came to my son’s bedside. He did all of these things for my son. And then another woman saying how Mitt was there for her. So there’re hundreds of those stories that haven’t been told. And it was refreshing to me for the American people to finally be able to see the lens through which I see my husband and the perspective in which I understand how he operates.
GREGORY: As a candidate now when was the last time you really got to spend some-- some quality time with somebody who is out of work and what did you get from them?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, actually, just last night it was I was with a person who is facing some challenge. We spent some time together and shared our personal experiences in an effort on my part to point out that we can make it through tough times. Look, that’s part of everyday life for mo-- most people. You have friends and you have acquaintances that have challenges and you talk about them. And-- and I can tell you this, my-- my life has been greatly enriched by my relationship with this young lady here and I know how well I’ve got it because I was able to marry Ann. But the reason I’m in this race is to help people. I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet. I’m in this race to help the American people. And this is a commitment on my part, on Ann’s part, on our family’s part, because we care very deeply about this country. And-- and I-- I really think that-- that those people that try and minimize the-- the feeling and the connection we have with the American people really miss the mark very badly and are trying to divide Americans based on who has money and who was able to achieve success and who does not have as much. And frankly Americans are not defined by whether they were successful financially or not. We’re a nation that has come together and a United America can solve that kind of challenges we have today.
GREGORY: I raise the convention, we do have this dynamic where I don’t think the Democrats or at least the president and Mrs. Obama were not watching yours and you weren’t watching theirs. Nevertheless, a lot of attention to, beside yourself, big headliner on your final night and that was Clint Eastwood. He actually said after, you know, taking some-- some shots about this that it was mission accomplished. Now, I got to ask you, were you-- were you laughing along with him or were you wincing part of the time, Governor?
MR. ROMNEY: Oh, I was laughing at Clint Eastwood. Look-- look, to have him get up and speak in my behalf was a-- was a great thrill. I mean this is a guy Ann and I have watched from, you know, back in the days of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I mean, we’ve been watching his films for a long time, Dirty Harry, and of course his Grand Torino recently. He’s an American icon and hero and…
GREGORY: True enough. But it was a little bizarre, wasn’t it, to have him talking to the chair?
MR. ROMNEY: You-- you don’t-- you don’t expect to have a-- a guy like Clint Eastwood to get up and, you know, read some speech off a teleprompter like a politician, you expect him to speak from the heart and that’s exactly what he did.
GREGORY: What about Bill Clinton. He had quite an impact. Do you think he could get elected today for president?
MR. ROMNEY: You know, if the constitution weren’t in his way, perhaps. But I-- I don’t know the answer to that. But he-- he did stand out in contrast with the other speakers. I think he-- he really did elevate the-- the Democratic Convention in a lot of ways. And-- and-- and frankly, the-- the contrast may not have been as-- as attractive as-- as Barack Obama might have preferred if he were choosing who would go before him and who would go after.
GREGORY: I want to ask you something a little bit more personal. You-- you both are guarded about in your faith. You talked more about it in the course of the convention. We came across a-- a quote from a biography written about your father in 1968 and he said about being a Mormon, "I’m a member of a religion that is among the most persecuted minority groups in our history." And here you are, the First Mormon to be the nominee of the Republican Party, you could be the first Mormon president. I wonder how much pride that gives you, how much pride you think it gives others in the church? Is it similar to what many Catholics felt with President Kennedy?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I can’t speak for all the members of the church, but I’m sure a number of members of my faith are proud of the fact that someone of my faith and our faith is able to run for president. My own reaction is I’ve got so many challenges ahead of me I don’t think so much about the impact this has on-- on the church day to day but more about what kind of impact I want to have on-- on the electorate and what it takes to become elected president. But I’m-- I’m convinced that-- that my background and my heritage and my faith has made me the person I am to a great degree. The Judeo-Christian ethics that I was brought up with, the-- the-- the sense of obligation to one’s fellowman, an-- an absolute conviction that we are all sons and daughters of the same God and therefore in a-- a human family is one of the reasons I am doing what I’m doing. It would have been very easy for me to just stay in business. I like business. That’s fun. But when the Olympic request came along, Ann said you’ve got to do this, this is important. And when I ran for governor, this is important, and now when I’m running for president. I think that comes in part from this Judeo-Christian ethic of-- of service and commitment to one’s fellowman.
GREGORY: Mrs. Romney, do you think that-- that Mormons in America and around the world, for that matter, have gotten past a level of persecution that they can very openly be-- be proud of what the two of you are doing?
MRS. ROMNEY: I-- I…
GREGORY: This journey that you're on?
MRS. ROMNEY: …I-- I certainly hope so. I mean it's always wonderful when milestones like that are accomplished. And I think that was why we were all so pleased with so many Americans. We’re so pleased with the-- the last election and seeing that a black man was elected as president of the United States. It made us proud as Americans to know that those prejudices that we've had in the past are-- are falling away.
GREGORY: Beyond some of the more personal areas, we sat down at campaign headquarters the next morning for a more detailed discussion about where Governor Romney stands on the key issues of the campaign.
So Governor, we talked last night about jobs and the economy and also the debt. And I want to begin there. You've called the debt and our deficit a moral crisis, and yet in addition to extending the Bush tax cuts, you want to cut tax rates an additional 20 percent. You've rejected a 10 to one spending ratio when it comes to spending to increasing taxes. And, yet, you want to balance the budget. The math simply doesn't add up, does it?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, actually, it does. And the-- the good news is that five different economic studies, including one at Harvard and Princeton and AEI and a couple at The Wall Street Journal all show that if we bring down our top rates and actually go across the board, bring down rates for everyone in America, but also limit deductions and exemptions for people at the high end, while you can keep the progressivity in the code, you could remain revenue neutral and you create an enormous incentive for growth in the economy.
GREGORY: But you haven't specified where you'd cut loopholes in particular to make up the savings, because, in addition, you actually want to increase defense spending in addition to all of that.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I want to maintain defense spending at the current level of the GDP. I don't want to keep bringing it down as the president's doing. This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think, is an extraordinary miscalculation…
GREGORY: Republican leaders…
MR. ROMNEY: …in the wrong direction.
GREGORY: …agreed to that deal to-- to extend the debt ceiling.
MR. ROMNEY: And that was a big mistake. I thought it was a mistake on the-- on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it. The president was responsible for coming out with specific changes they'd make to the defense budget. It was supposed to have come out this last week. He has violated the law that he in fact signed. The American people need to understand how it is that our defense is going to be so badly cut. My own-- my own plan, by the way, to-- to bring down the rates of taxation while maintaining the-- the revenues that come into the government is by making sure that we don't lower taxes on high income people. We're not going to have high income people pay less of the tax burden than they pay today. That's not what's going to happen. I do want to bring taxes down for middle income people. In particular, I want middle income Americans not to have to pay taxes on interest and dividends and capital gains.
GREGORY: But Erskine Bowles, who is part of the Simpson Bowles commission, said that something's got to give. That your plan would not actually reduce the deficit. That indeed taxes would have to go up on the middle class. What-- what gives if you're not right about your projections?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, because first of all I've got Princeton, Harvard, Wall Street Journal and AEI all saying actually that we can bring down the rates. And if we limit or eliminate some of the loopholes and deductions at the high end, we keep the current progressivity of the code and we get the same revenue coming into the government. And one marvelous thing we get is more growth of the economy. And my-- my-- my tax policy is designed to find a way to encourage more-- more hiring in this-- in this country. I’m-- I'm very concerned that we have 23 million people that are out of work or stopped looking for work or under-employed. And so everything I want to do with regards to taxation follows simple principles, which is bring our rates down to encourage growth, keep revenue up by limiting deductions and exemptions and make sure we don't put any bigger burden on middle income people. In fact, I want to lower the burden on middle income people.
GREGORY: But, Governor, where are the specifics of how you get to this math? Isn't that an issue?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, the-- the specifics are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy. And I've indicated as well that-- that contrary to what the Democrats are saying, I'm not going to increase the tax burden on middle income families. It would absolutely be wrong to do that. But you know I've had the experience of being a governor. I've demonstrated that I have the capacity to balance budgets. I balanced them four years in a row in Massachusetts and we cut the taxes 19 times in Massachusetts.
GREGORY: Can you give me an example of a loophole that you will close.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I can tell you that people at the high end, high income taxpayers, are going to have fewer deductions and exemptions. Those-- those numbers are going to come down. Otherwise, they'd get a tax break. And I want to make sure people understand, despite what the Democrats said at their convention. I am not reducing taxes on high income taxpayers. I'm bringing down the rate of taxation, but also bringing down deductions and exemptions at the high end so the revenues stay the same, the taxes people pay stay the same. Middle income people are going to get a break. But at the high end, the tax coming in stays the same. But we encourage small business, because small business is able to keep more of what it makes and therefore hire more people, which is my priority.
GREGORY: Will you balance the budget in your first term? Is that a commitment you can make?
MR. ROMNEY: I'll balance the budget by the end of my second term. Doing it in the first term would cause, I believe, a-- a dramatic impact on the economy. Too-- too dramatic. And therefore the steps I've put in place and we've put together a plan that lays out how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years.
GREGORY: Are you prepared to cut a deal with Democrats that would cause conservatives to revolt? Is it that important to get a deal to get us away from this fiscal cliff?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, it's critical to get the country on track to avoid the kind of financial calamities you're seeing around-- around Europe. And-- and I have a plan that does that by-- by really doing two of the key elements that are necessary for that to happen.
GREGORY: But are you then cut-- will you cut a deal?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I'm going to…
GREGORY: Will you compromise, even if it risked a conservative revolt?
MR. ROMNEY: There's nothing wrong with the term compromise, but there is something very wrong with the term abandoning one's principles. And I'm going to stand by my principles. And those are--I am not going to raise taxes on the American people. Our problem in our country is not that we're not paying enough taxes. It's that we're spending too much money and the economy is not growing as it could and should. Look, we've just watched another month of tepid job numbers. This does not look like a recovery. The president's policies have meant that this economy is not growing as it should. The fastest way to balance our budget is to grow the economy, put more people to work, see rising incomes. That’s how you balance budgets. And so my tax policy is not designed to say, “Oh, let's get some more money from people.” It's designed to say, “Let's get more growth of the economy, hire more people so we can get more tax revenues the way we ought to.”
GREGORY: Well, let me ask you about a couple of specific areas. On healthcare, you say that you would rescind the president’s healthcare plan on day one. Does that mean that you’re prepared to say to Americans, young adults and those with pre-existing conditions, that they would no longer be guaranteed healthcare?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, of course not. I say we're going to replace Obamacare. And I'm replacing it with my own plan. And, you know, even in Massachusetts where I was governor, our plan there deals with pre-existing conditions and with young people. Everybody…
GREGORY: So you'd keep that part of the federal plan?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I'm not getting rid of all of healthcare reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in healthcare reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their-- their family up to whatever age they might like. I also want individuals to be able to buy insurance, health insurance, on their own as opposed to only being able to get it on a tax advantage basis through their company.
GREGORY: Well, that brings us to Medicare, because one of the things you believe in was the idea of premium support or a voucher for seniors under Medicare is to achieve the goal of solvency. Direct question. If competitive bidding in Medicare fails to bring down prices, you have a choice of either passing that cost on to seniors or blowing up the deficit. What would you do?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, let's stand back first. There's nothing about seniors in our plan because…
GREGORY: You're going to wait 10 years to implement any plan.
MR. ROMNEY: Because there's no change for anyone who's retired or is nearing retirement. It's only dealing with those people that are in their 30s, 20s, 30s, 40s and early 50s. And that's the group we're dealing with. And we're saying, “What's the best deal for them?” And it strikes me the best deal for them is to let them either buy current Medicare or to have a private plan. A lot like Medicare Advantage today. I like Medicare Advantage.
GREGORY: But that didn't drive down prices, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: Oh, it sure did. Actually, what-- what-- what you're seeing with-- with Medicare today, with Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, is that Congress, in putting this together, said, “Look, we're going to allow companies to compete for a package of prescription drug benefits.” And the cost that they've come up with is far less than anyone predicted. Competition-- Look, competition works.
GREGORY: Let me turn to foreign policy and ask you a couple of questions there. The Weekly Standard took you to task in your convention speech for not mentioning the war in Afghanistan one time. Was that a mistake with so much sacrifice in two wars over the period of this last decade?
MR. ROMNEY: You know, I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in the speech as opposed to policy. And so I went to the American Legion the day before I gave that speech…
GREGORY: You weren't speaking to tens of millions of people, Governor, when you went to the American legion.
MR. ROMNEY: You know, what I've found is that wherever I go, I am speaking to tens of millions of people. Everything I say is picked up by you and by others and that's the way it ought to be. So I went to the American Legion and spoke with our veterans there and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military. I've been to Afghanistan and the members of our troops know of my commitment to Afghanistan and to the effort that's going on there. I have some differences on policy with the president. I happen to think those are more important than what word I mention in each speech.
GREGORY: But he used some pretty tough words in talking about you, saying you and Paul Ryan are, quote, “New to foreign policy. Want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.” Said you were stuck in a Cold War time warp. Pretty-- pretty tough stuff and suggesting you're not ready on day one to be the commander-in-chief.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I can certainly look at his record and I think one can say that he's had some successes and he's had some failures. And perhaps the biggest failure is as it relates to the greatest threat that America faces and the world faces, which is the nuclear Iran. The president has not drawn us further away from a nuclear Iran and in fact Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office. This is the greatest failure, in my opinion, of his foreign policy. He ran for office saying he was going to meet with Ahmadinejad. He was going to meet with Castro, Kim Jong Il. All the world's worst actors, without precondition, he'd meet with them in his first year. He put--
GREGORY: President Bush said that he would stop Iran from going nuclear. So did President Obama. Neither one were able to achieve that. Correct?
MR. ROMNEY: President Obama had a policy of engagement with Ahmadinejad. That policy has not worked and we're closer to a nuclear weapon as a result of that. I will have a very different approach with regards to Iran. And it's an approach which, by the way, the president's finally getting closer to. It begins with crippling sanctions. That should have been put in place long ago.
GREGORY: Is the country safer or less safe because of President Obama's leadership?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, in some ways safer. Getting rid of Osama bin Laden, I think a success on the part of the president. Authorizing SEAL Team Six, commanding SEAL Team Six to take him out. That was a great accomplishment. Using the drones to strike at al Qaeda targets. I think those are positive developments. I think Iran; however, becoming nuclear is a whole different development and a game changing, threatening development. Threatening not only to our ally, Israel, but threatening the United States of America. And…
MR. ROMNEY: …the president has not been successful. And in the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, "Iran has not changed its nuclear course one iota by virtue of this president's policies." And that's something I intend to change.
GREGORY: What's your red line? You put troops on the ground to stop Iran from going nuclear or can you live with a nuclear Iran and contain it?
MR. ROMNEY: I don't think we live with a nuclear Iran. I think we make it very clear that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable to the United States of America, to civilized nations throughout the world. And that we will maintain every option that's available to us to keep that from happening.
GREGORY: Two presidents have said the very same thing. Why can you succeed on Iran where they could not?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, at the time President Bush was president, Iran was years away from a nuclear weapon. And he pursued diplomacy, as I can think we should continue to pursue diplomatic channels. We should pursue as well the kind of crippling sanctions that I've spoken about when I gave a speech at the Herzliya Conference five years ago. We need to use every resource we have to dissuade them from their nuclear path. But that doesn't mean that we would take off the table our military option. That's something which certainly every American would hope we would never have to use. But we have to maintain it on the table or Iran will, undoubtedly, continue their treacherous course.
GREGORY: I want to ask you one question on the social issue and that is abortion. You were on this program in 2007 and you said that you would fight to overturn Roe v. Wade. I know you said this is an issue for the courts. I ask you now would a President Romney fight to overturn Roe v. Wade? And what would you do in that fight to achieve that goal?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, there are a number of things I think that need to be said about preserving and protecting the life of the unborn child. And I recognize there are two lives involved: the mom and the unborn child. And I believe that people of good conscience have chosen different paths in this regard. But I am pro-life and will intend, if I'm president of the United States, to encourage pro-life policies. I don't--
GREGORY: Just encourage or fight for it to be overturned?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I don't actually make the decision the Supreme Court makes and so they'll have to make their own decision. But, I will, for instance, I'll reverse the president's decision on using U.S. funds to pay for abortion outside this country. I don't think also the taxpayers here should have to pay for abortion in this country. Those things I think are consistent with my pro-life position. And I hope to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will follow the law and the constitution. And it would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue.
GREGORY: I want to come back to where we started in this final area about how difficult it's going to be to govern in Washington, as you well know.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah.
GREGORY: You know you could be a very unpopular president if you make tough choices that you say you'll make. If it came to it, if the only way to achieve a deal on the debt, on this fiscal cliff, was to endanger yourself politically to the point that you were a one term president, would you be satisfied with that?
MR. ROMNEY: David, I could not care less about my political prospects. I want to become president of the United States to get this country on the right track again. America is at a critical crossroads. We have to strengthen the foundation of our economy, of our values, of our principles so we have a military that's so strong we can defend freedom for ourselves and for others. We've got to put Americans back to work. And politics, and-- and whether I am highly favored, not highly favored, just doesn't enter into the equation.
GREGORY: Would you be-- would you be satisfied with one term if you could get a deal on averting a fiscal cliff?
MR. ROMNEY: Let me tell you, if I can get this country on track again I'd be satisfied with anything.
GREGORY: As you know, there’re still questions, you acknowledged it about, do people really know you? And I think the question is whether are you the-- the moderate from Massachusetts who championed Universal Health Care, who at one time was for abortion rights or are you the-- the candidate who said he was a severe conservative? What will you be as a president?
MR. ROMNEY: I’m as conservative as the constitution. I believe in the principles of this nation was founded upon. I understand how our economy works. I’ve lived in the economy. I also understand how to work across the aisle. You get elected in Massachusetts where 87 percent of your legislature is in the opposition party, you’ve got to work with people across the aisle. I know how to do that. I’m going to work like crazy to break the deadlock in Washington and to get America on the right track. And I actually think that because we’re at this precipice economically, at the precipice fiscally as a nation as well, that there are going to be good Democrats and good Republicans who have shown respect and if they see a president that’s willing to work with them to share credit with them, to encourage them and pull them along, that we’re going to be able to deal with the challenges we have. And if-- if not, I’m going to die trying because I’m going to do everything in my power to fix this country.
GREGORY: Final question, Governor, before you go. You’re in a unique position. You had both parents seek high office and both fell short. Victory in this race in November will be humbling enough because of the problems this country faces, but if you lose, how would you handle that?
MR. ROMNEY: Oh, I don’t worry about-- about myself. I worry about the country. I mean, I watched my dad when-- when he thought he lost actually. It was his second term as governor and Lyndon Baines Johnson had won by a landslide in Michigan. And my dad’s pollster came in and said, George, I don’t think we can pull it out. Johnson has won by such a wide margin here. And my dad wasn’t concerned at all. He-- he was running because he cared about the state, thought he could do a better job than the people who were otherwise going to be running the state and he went on and-- and anticipated going on with his life. I’m not-- look, I’m not worried about my life. My life’s fine. I’m worried about the country. I’m worried about the people that can’t find work. The people in the middle class that have been crushed under this president. Look, their wages have gone down, their costs have gone up. Around the world, people are asking where is America’s leadership. I was with Lech Walesa in Poland a few weeks ago. He said where is American leadership. The world needs American lead. This is a critical time for our country and the president gives himself an incomplete. We can’t afford a president who’s incomplete. We’ve got to have a president who understands what it takes to restore America’s economic vitality, put Americans to work and be able to provide the kind of military strength and leadership globally that the world needs and that Americans deserve.
GREGORY: Governor, thank you for having us to your headquarters. Sorry about the gusty conditions, but stay safe on the campaign trail.
GREGORY: My conversation with Governor Mitt Romney.
Coming up here, reaction. How did Governor Romney change the debate in this campaign with this interview? We’ll get reaction to all of it from our political roundtable. One of the stars of this past week in Charlotte for the Democrats, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. Plus, author Bill Bennett, columnist Peggy Noonan and E.J. Dionne and NBC’s own Chuck Todd.
GREGORY: Coming up here, reaction to my interview with Mitt Romney. How will those jobless numbers affect the campaign debate? As well, our political roundtable is here and prepared to weigh in right after this brief break.
GREGORY: We’re back now for reaction to the Romney interview with my roundtable. Joining me, Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, our political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute Bill Bennett, and fresh from the Charlotte convention where he gave the Democratic keynote address, we welcome to the roundtable for the first time, the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro. Welcome to all of you. Lots to get to. Not quite as much time because we had the opportunity to sit with Governor Romney. Here was I think a key piece of news made in that interview and it had to do with an open disagreement that Romney has with the Republican leaders who struck a deal to extend the debt ceiling, you remember last summer, that required automatic spending cuts for defense and social programs that would take effect January 1st. This is what he said.
MITT ROMNEY: This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think, is an extraordinary miscalculation…
GREGORY: Republican leaders…
MR. ROMNEY: …in the wrong direction.
GREGORY: …agreed to that deal to-- to extend the debt ceiling.
MR. ROMNEY: And that was a big mistake. I thought it was a mistake on the-- on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.
GREGORY: And here is from the national review last July, Romney’s running mate, Paul Re-- Ryan, defending his vote yes for that sequestration deal. He said, “I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation.” Chuck, what does this say that there is this open disagreement?
MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News; Chief White House Correspondent): Well, this is about, I think Romney playing battleground state politics. I hate to say it. But that’s what he does. He was right after the interview where did he go? Went to Virginia, where some of these cuts, if they take place, but people seem to have amnesia about the whole point of what sequester was. It was to force a conversation, it was to force new negotiations. Nobody wants to sequester. The whole point was pick something that each party thought was something that a third rail in their-- in their-- in their conferences so that they would force them to have a new conversation, so the whole re-imaging of the sequester. I understand the battleground state politics that Romney’s up to…
MR. TODD: …but I think he’s walking into a trap.
GREGORY: Bill Bennett, my impression spending time with Governor Romney and talking to him about these issues on camera and off is that he understands the need for some level of compromise, and to even take on conservatives. And yet in this interview, there was a level of rigidity, even to the point saying this deal on a defense sequester make no sense.
MR. BILL BENNETT (Former Secretary of Education, 1985-1988; Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute): Right. Well, he’s-- he distinguish between the willingness on principle to compromise and the willingness to compromise on principle. And that’s an important difference. But I agree with Chuck, this was to set up a conversation about what-- what’s going to be cut and where the cuts are going to be. And I think Romney’s absolutely right to talk about these defense cuts as being, in Leon Panetta’s words, devastating. It’s possible to still have that conversation. Time is running out. But I understand the Ryan point of view, because you need the forces in order to-- to avoid default. But that conversation still has to take place. You cannot strip the military 50 percent.
GREGORY: Mayor Castro, Governor Romney in this interview goes out of his way to say that your attack and other Democrats on him for cutting taxes is unfair. That this is not a give-away to the rich, that this is a job creation, pro-growth tax cut, even though, again, he was not specific about he’d make the-- how he’d make the numbers work, your reaction?
MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO (Mayor of San Antonio, Texas): Well, and that’s always the challenge with Governor Romney. You know, it just strikes me that throughout this entire campaign he has missed opportunity after opportunity. You asked him very specifically to be specific, and all he said was that, well, for higher income folks that we’d reduce some-- some deductions and the exemptions. He will not get specific. And the fact is that over the years, the marginal rate for the wealthiest has come down significantly. So even if we accept him at his word and say, well, he’s not going to reduce it further, it’s already been reduced tremendously, and-- and independent analyses has shown that his-- his plan, to the extent that he has one, because he hasn’t been very specific, would overly burden the middle class.
GREGORY: E.J., Peggy, discuss?
MR. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post): You know, first of all, I think your interview really made clear he wants to cut taxes, he wants to raise defense, and then he doesn’t tell us how he’s going to balance the budget. This is a core problem that he has. I think, you really got to him on the issue of taxes because he can’t do what he wants to do without cutting-- raising taxes for the middle class in some way. And it really struck me that he kept falling back on these studies. I mean, a Republican leaning on studies from Harvard and Princeton over and over again is like Clint Eastwood throwing away his six-gun and saying let’s rely on sweet reason. He just couldn’t explain what he was doing. So he kept citing studies. And, by the way, the other issue I thought you really had him on was GM. I mean, that was not a coherent answer on GM. His original position was, let it go under. That would have been an irreversible decision that would have destroyed a large part of our domestic auto industry, and he couldn’t really explain that.
GREGORY: Peggy, I thought it was pointed when he said reelection of President Obama means chronic high unemployment. And yet, there-- there is all the evidence of the underpinnings of this economy being very strong. Is that a credible case he’s making?
MS. PEGGY NOONAN (Columnist, Wall Street Journal): Well, you had brought up the point about the underpinnings being strong. I think there is a general Republican point of view that if Mister Obama is reelected, nothing will move forward in Washington, a sort of cold, blanket, heavy on the economy will probably continue. No progress will be made. Taxes on corporations won’t be lowe-- lowered, so we won’t be more competitive. So, I think, that’s what he was referring to. However, I must add that there was a little news there in what Governor Romney said about, well, frankly, at the higher end for more well-off taxpayers. They’re going to lose some of the things they were relying on, like certain loopholes. I thought he might be talking about limits on the mortgage interest rate deduction. He was not clear about it. But it seems to me he was saying, look, we’re trying to be fair here, we’re trying to make it all work. But the-- but-- but don’t demagogue me on the rich get away with everything.
MR. BENNETT: But-- but-- but-- but-- emphatically, the taxes-- taxes on the rich will not go down. He said that three times. But defaulting this guy for not having a plan, President Obama, where is his plan? He’s the President of the United States.
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.
MR. BENNETT: Three years ago on this network he said, you know, if I don’t get this thing under control, it’s a one-term proposition. He puts forward a plan, a budget plan. It gets rejected 414-0 in the House and 97-0 in the Senate. What was the plan we heard at the convention? This guy has been the president, and he has not made things better, he has made things worse.
MR. DIONNE: Well, Romney has repeatedly said he won’t raise-- he won't cut taxes on the rich, and yet he has proposals to cut taxes on the rich. He doesn’t explain why it adds up. In terms of Obama’s budget…
MR. BENNETT: Where is the proposal cut tax-- where…
MR. DIONNE: Obama’s budget was a serious proposal. The Republicans tried to force a political vote on it. Democrats decided they weren’t going to play the game.
MR. BENNETT: It got-- it got zero. It got zero support in his own party. And…
MR. DIONNE: Yes, because it was put up there as a political matter because it was never going to pass through a Republican.
MR. BENNETT: If-- and if you read the Bob Woodward book-- if you read the Bob Woodward book, you’ll see just how-- how pathetic the White House (Unintelligible).
GREGORY: All right. Let me take a break here. We’ll come back and talk more about the economy, the impact of-- of jobs in these new numbers on the debate, and some of the straight up politics after these two conventions. More from our roundtable, more reaction to the Romney interview right after this.
GREGORY: Coming up more from the roundtable, did President Obama get a bump out of the convention? Roundtable is back with more after this.
MAYOR CASTRO: Their theory has been tested, it failed, our economy failed, the middle class paid the price, your family paid the price, Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it.
GREGORY: That’s Mayor Castro who is with us here making the case, Chuck Todd, against the Republicans and I thought that Governor Romney went out of his way to try to beat back the idea that this is a return to a Republican orthodoxy of-- of-- of cutting taxes on the rich.
MR. TODD: See he tried a little bit, but I think this is getting to the greater thing, we've talked about this, we were talking about this off camera. He has done-- one of the drags I think on Romney is the unpopularity of the Republican Party. It’s more unpopular than the Democratic Party as a whole. George W. Bush’s years are not remembered fondly. He has not figured out how to separate himself from that. It was Bill Clinton’s great challenge in ‘92. He had to separate himself from the old orthodoxies of the Democratic Party. He figured out ways to do it. That’s why he won. Romney has yet to figure out ways to do it. I actually thinks it’s his biggest hurdle and he hasn’t cleared it.
GREGORY: Mayor Castro, it seems to me it comes down to one question--do Americans blame this president for the job situation or do they listen to President Clinton who said nobody could have fixed it faster, not even me? I mean that seems to be-- if Americans believe that, then maybe they'll give him a chance.
MAYOR CASTRO: I think President Clinton did a stellar job, as usual, but making the case that we've see now 30 straight months of private sector job growth, 4.6 million jobs created. And I believe that the folks see that kind of progress around the country. And so for Mitt Romney to say, well, there’s been no progress whatsoever, you know, folks can tell the difference between what they see out there and what he’s saying.
GREGORY: Peggy Noonan, where is this race right now? Two conventions, this interview with Romney, where-- where are we now with less than 60 days? Does it feel like Romney’s behind or not?
MS. NOONAN: It feels like it’s very close and amazingly nobody knows what’s going to happen. I feel like the two conventions coming so close to each other were a bit of a blur. One night these guys yell and the next night these guys yell. Everything I think is about the debates right now. When the debates come Mr. Obama’s going to say Mr. Romney why would they vote for you when you represent the issues and the stands and the traditions of George W. Bush’s party which got us into such terrible trouble for eight years. Before that debate I think Mitt Romney has to kick away from and define himself against what happened for the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, in terms of it ended in economic collapse and there were two long, frustrating wars that people think were not won. Romney can’t be allowed to have himself painted as he’s going to bring that stuff back. He’s got to say, no, there were things there that didn’t work, both parties made mistakes. My party, the Republicans, made a mistake. Set himself up for the debate and go forward in the debate not worried about this likability stuff.
GREGORY: Which he still…
MS. NOONAN: And having jokes.
GREGORY: But what about…
MS. NOONAN: He doesn’t have to. He should be strong and capable and say I have the talent to turn around your crisis.
GREGORY: What about, is there a bump? Is there any discernible bump from the Democratic convention?
MR. TODD: Well, look, we only have really Gallop, a couple of the Robo polls out there, all of them showing some movement toward the president. But the point was the president was ahead before they-- going into the conventions and he’s still ahead coming out of it. Because when you talk to campaigns body language is everything, right? We know the Romney campaign believes they’re behind. The map has shrunk. Yes, Wisconsin’s in play, but no, Pennsylvania and Michigan are not. The fact there are not new states in play. It’s a narrow path for Romney. He’s behind. And I think he’s down to-- convention’s a missed opportunity. The pressure on him to win that first debate, he doesn’t win the first debate I don’t know how he pulls this off.
MR. DIONNE: I completely agree with that. And I think that you can tell the Democrats won the pairing of the conventions because all liberals say the Democrats won, but a lot of conservatives think the Democrats won the convention. And I think a couple of things happen. One, Bill Clinton, as my colleague Greg Sargent noted is for a lot of undecided voters a kind of referee, vouching agent on the economy.
MR. DIONNE: A lot of those voters say hey look, we had-- we were gangbusters under Clinton. If he says this, it may be true. It doesn’t decide it, but it pushes. I think the other thing is the Republican convention was all about business investment and it was businessmen who are the dominant figures, workers almost disappeared from that convention. What was striking about the Democratic convention, it came through in Mayor Castro speech, there was much more talk about family. There was a much more talk about upward mobility as a struggle, as a family effort. It was much more about individual struggle. I think that connected to a lot of swing voter kinds of people.
MR. BENNETT: Let’s this become unanimous. Let me just say. I don’t think we throw out the whole Bush whole eight years. We won the war in Iraq. Bush did a lot of fine things. He can separate himself from Bush policy particularly in the last couple of years. And he’s already done so by having Paul Ryan there. Paul Ryan was a critic of Bush spending and he’s a critic of Obama spending. There’s a recent survey, I just want to note, and that is they asked people would you prefer a bigger government with more services or a bigger economy with more jobs? 75 to 15, bigger economy with more jobs. Conservatives have families, they believe in families, they work. And by the way this wrap that we lack compassion, you know, for people who are suffering. Why in every survey and every study, conservatives-- self-identified conservatives give more of their time, their money, their blood and their treasures to helping people than do liberals.
GREGORY: I want to ask you at this point. I think it’s important. Do-- do you believe that Governor Romney is a practical enough politician to cut a deal with Democrats to rely on Paul Ryan to essen-- essentially assuage conservatives?
MR. BENNETT: Yes. Yes.
GREGORY: That’s important. You don’t get that from the interview but spending time with him I get that impression.
MR. BENNETT: Sure…
MR. DIONNE: That’s to raise tax…
MR. BENNETT: Sure to save…
GREGORY: Right. That’s-- but, that’s the point.
MR. BENNETT: Sure to save the country. And we’ll see if he has to. You know…
GREGORY: He said he might even be satisfied with anything, including one term if he can get that.
MR. BENNETT: Look-- it-- it was E.J. who criticized Harvard and Princeton, not me. Just let me say that for the record. It’s…
MR. DIONNE: I didn’t-- I just said Republicans…
MR. BENNETT: No, no, it’s possible-- it’s possible what they’re saying is true. But look, can I just say, with all due respect, I’m glad the conventions are over. Now the real stuff begins. The debates will be very, very significant, I think.
GREGORY: Mayor Castro, we’re talking about family. We’re talking about your impact. I know a lot of people are saying you’re a rising star. Move over fella, there’s somebody else who really captured the show, and that is your lovely daughter Carina. You thought all the cheering going on in the hall was for you…
MAYOR CASTRO: That’s right.
GREGORY: …but it was that she was on the jumbotron. That was a fun moment.
MAYOR CASTRO: Oh, you know, I’m-- I’m-- I’m going to have to save that for when she gets married at her wedding reception.
GREGORY: Yeah. You will. Yes, you will.
MR. BENNETT: We have children, too. I just want to do that for the record.
GREGORY: That’s good. They’re always on both sides. All right.
MR. DIONNE: See Republicans got defensive on family values…
GREGORY: We’re going to leave it there.
MR. BENNETT: You would have us think.
GREGORY: Thank you all very much. The conversation continues. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.