In a Tuesday evening phone interview with Right Turn, Mitt Romney called out the White House for “misrepresenting” events in Libya and brushed off the post-debate attacks on him as ineffective. He also gave a friendly warning to running mate Paul Ryan about the unpredictable Vice President Joe Biden, whom Ryan will debate Thursday night.
Romney was in Akron, Ohio, a state in which his numbers have moved dramatically since the debate. He was more focused and fluent in his answers than in previous interviews in person or on the phone. He gives the impression of a candidate in the groove, not cocky but extremely focused and confident. He arguably has had the best week of his campaign, but he knows he needs to finish the race strongly.
I began with Libya. Did the White House mislead Americans or was there just confusion about the origin of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2012? In his most definitive statement to date, Romney answered, “I think there was misleading on the part of the administration.” He continued, “It took way too long for the president to acknowledge that there had been an executed terrorist attack on September 11, 2012.”
Continuing on in national security, I asked him what he would like to see done about the defense cuts the secretary of defense has deemed to be “devastating.” He said: “I do not want the sequestration cuts to occur. I would like for there to be a runway suitable for the next president.” He explained that whoever is president should be able to get in place tax, budget and defense plans. He emphasized, “I don’t want to have these cuts. I don’t want to have these tax hikes.”
As for foreign aid, some Republicans have called to cut off or freeze aid in the wake of the spate of embassy attacks. Romney was more circumspect. “I don’t want to stop foreign aid.” However, he continued, “We should stop and see what makes sense. I would make sure [the aid] is to fulfill a real purpose for America. That might be military. That might be diplomatic. My view is that we should devote more of the aid to help [countries] move to free markets.” He explained, “We should not just send checks to countries or even to NGOs.” He stressed, as he did during his Clinton Global Initiative speech, that we should be fostering “economic reforms to put people back to work.”
Does he have a favorite secretary of state he would want his nominee to emulate if he is elected? He said with a laugh, “I have too many friends to pick one.”
He continued, “I spend time every week or on the phone with George Shultz, John Bolton, Henry Kissinger, Condi Rice and James Baker.” He readily acknowledged, “These are very different people.” While he said he doesn’t entirely share the views of any one of these, he said, “I do appreciate their deliberate and thoughtful approach.” Plainly, Romney wants to avoid being pigeon-holed but wants to convey that he is the one wading through advice and drawing the conclusions.
We shifted to the campaign. Is he surprised by the post-debate “Romney lied” tactics from President Obama and his team? He responded: “Well, I don’t think it’s been very effective. Even their deputy campaign manager says the $5 trillion figure [claimed to be his proposed tax cut] is wrong.” His voice conveyed a hint of disdain when he added, “You’ve got to scratch your head. We’ve got 22 million people out of work and he [Obama] is talking about Big Bird.”
What about Obama’s second-term agenda? He said matter-of-factly, “It sounds eerily familiar.” He said that in addition to more stimulus, Obama now wants to raise taxes. He observed that this approach “hasn’t worked.”
“We did raise taxes with the Obamacare tax,” Romney said. “Now he is planning on raising income taxes as well. That includes about a million small businesses. It is a job killer. He knows it is a job killer.” He deadpanned, “I hope he’s not doing it for populist reasons.”
What does Romney need to do in the next four weeks to close the deal with voters? He answered, “There are two presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. They will capture a good deal of attention.” He plainly wants to win but with the claim to a mandate for his agenda. He added, “If I do my job, the American people will have a clear choice.” Any words of advice for Paul Ryan on Thursday’s debate? Romney joked: “Be ready for anything. It’s coming!”