A softer side of Mitt Romney was on display Sunday on Fox News as he talked about his wife’s 1998 diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
“We stood up and hugged each other and I said to her, ‘As long as it’s not something fatal, I’m just fine,’” Romney told anchor Chris Wallace as his eyes welled up with tears. “Look, I’m happy in life as long as I’ve got my soulmate with me, and Ann is.”
An emotional Romney said he was afraid Ann had Lou Gehrig’s disease, because she was struggling with balance and losing feeling in some areas. But she had multiple sclerosis, and since the diagnosis she has recovered most of her capacities.
Romney said he could handle hardship – even subsisting on cold cereal and peanut butter sandwiches if Ann were too weak to keep cooking the family meals – as long as she survived. “Life,” he said, “is all about the people we love.”
Wallace began the segment saying he wanted to "get personal" with Romney, and he did. It was a rare and apparently spontaneous moment for a typically unemotional Republican presidential candidate whose public appearances are carefully choreographed.
Making his first appearance on a Sunday public affairs television program in nearly two years, Romney sat down with Wallace in Charleston, S.C. on Saturday for an interview that aired Sunday morning. The former Massachusetts governor pushed through a series of questions about his tax and spending policies, his state health-care overhaul and the Iraq war, as well as his views of former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Romney also previewed a probable line of attack from President Obama and his campaign if he were to become the Republican nominee next year. When Wallace said Obama was likely to portray Romney as a Gordon Gekko-like greedy rich man, Romney said: “Of course he will, in part because he’s been the great divider. This is a president who goes after anybody who’s successful, and by the way, he’s pretty successful too.”
Romney defended his career in private equity at Bain Capital, where he invested in some companies, like Staples, that were successful and created thousands of jobs, but also in some that went bankrupt and laid off scores of workers.
“My business was not buying things, taking them apart, closing them down,” Romney said. “My business was associated with trying to make enterprises more successful. Not always was I able to succeed, but in each case we tried to grow an enterprise, and in doing so, hopefully provide a better future for those that are associated with that enterprise.”
If he becomes the nominee, Romney said, “there’s going to be every effort to put free enterprise on trial – to attack free enterprise, to attack people who work in free enterprise, to attack those who believe that profit is good.”
Then Romney drew a new contrast with Obama over his stewardship of the federal government’s takeover of General Motors and Chrysler.
“The president has had one experience overseeing an enterprise – General Motors and Chrysler. What did he do? He closed factories. He laid off people…. Why did he do that? Because he wanted to save the enterprise.”
Romney also blamed Obama for the gridlock in a divided Congress that has prevented Washington from reaching long-term bipartisan accords to reduce the deficit.
“The right course for any leader is to work with other people,” Romney said. “Good Democrats love America; good Republicans love America. We need a leader who understands not just the words of unity, but the practice of unity.”
On Iraq, Romney would not say when asked whether he would have invaded the country nine years ago if he knew then what he knows now. “Oh, boy, that’s a big question,” Romney said, adding that President Bush “took action which was appropriate at the time,” but that the nation had learned a lot of lessons from that action.
Romney said he was “very concerned” about Obama’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and that he should have left 10,000 to 30,000 personnel in Iraq to help transition to the Iraqi’s military capabilities.
Romney said the Republican primary campaign could go on for months, well into the spring, in part because the GOP now awards convention delegates proportionally by state rather than winner-takes-all. And he continued his sharp criticism of Gingrich, who has surged in the early states and nationally to become Romney’s top opponent for the nomination.
Romney said Gingrich’s comments dismissing House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul plan earlier this year “cut the legs out from underneath a very important message.” And on climate change, Romney criticized Gingrich for cutting a television advertisement with then-Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi advocating a global warming campaign.
“He has been unreliable in those settings,” Romney said. “And zany – I wouldn’t think you’d call mirrors in space to light highways at night particularly practical, or a lunar colony a practical idea, not on a stage like this.”