MASON CITY, Iowa -- On Dec. 29, The Huffington Post sat down with presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a one-on-one interview on board his campaign bus as it left a stop here in northern Iowa. Below is the transcript of our discussion.
HP: So you are officially all in in Iowa, you know, with your campaign.
HP: Democrats, however, are trying to play up that comment you made about if you finish behind Ron Paul, it's not a win, because you said, "Uh, no." So they're saying, "OK, if he doesn't win Iowa now, it's not a victory."
Romney: If Ron Paul wins Iowa, Ron Paul will have won Iowa. I will not have won Iowa. Now, what that means down the road is a different matter.
HP: What does that mean?
Romney: Well, we have 1,150 delegates to get. This is a long process of getting those delegates. I'd love to get a good send-off from Iowa, and I hope to get that good send-off.
HP: So if you finish behind Paul and it's a strong second, that's a win for you?
Romney: You know, I'm going to let you guys figure that out. What I do is I go out and tell people my message and hopefully get good support. But where you place in the 1, 2, 3, 4 is far less important to me than whether you get 1,150 delegates. And I believe we have a message and a course to get that done.
HP: Any PTSD from four years ago?
Romney: Actually the opposite. The experience of four years ago makes me recognize that this is very much out of my control and unpredictable, and you say what you believe and you look at the results and then you go on to the next contest.
HP: So Governor [Rick] Perry -- I was with him last week -- he made a comment that I found intriguing. I haven't heard you respond to this. He said, "Romney is part of Wall Street" because of your work on private equity. Is private equity part of Wall Street in your opinion?
Romney: You know, I'm not going to be the technical divider of what's Wall Street or not. Wall Street is typically thought of as investment banking and banking, and we were not an investment bank or a bank. But we were in the financial services sector generally. I am not a Wall Street guy, classically defined, but I am not going to quibble over definitions. I can tell you that I have run four different enterprises in my life. One was a consulting firm, one was a private equity and venture capital firm, one was an Olympics, and the other was a state. And my track record in those places speaks for itself.
HP: Is there any way you'd ever disclose investors in Bain [Capital] to put to rest people who want to say all the money came from Wall Street? Because you've said some of it came from pension funds and all these sorts of things.
Romney: I don't know that the Bain people would disclose their investors. I'm just trying to think back to the funds when I was there. I don't believe any of the funding came from Wall Street, meaning from investment banks or the like. Our funding came from individuals, and then ultimately we got funding from a church pension fund, endowments -- I think our largest single investor group were endowments from colleges. And then we used those funds to either start businesses, venture capital, or to try and buy businesses in trouble and make them stronger. That's not technically Wall Street, that's not an investment banking function, but it is financial services.
HP: Do you agree with Jon Huntsman's proposal, or disagree, to break up the big banks to keep them from becoming too big to fail?
Romney: I don't believe in the concept of "too big to fail." I believe that institutions have the capacity to go through bankruptcy if necessary to reorganize their obligations. I think what happened in 2008 was not a matter of one bank, Lehman Brothers, having caused the entire collapse. I think the matter was that we had a massive problem in our economy, which was precipitated by the subprime mortgage crisis, that threatened not just one or two banks but threatened the entire banking sector, our entire financial services sector. And that was a setting very different than that that would be caused by one institution getting in trouble.
HP: President Obama -- what's the most tone-deaf thing you've heard him say recently?
Romney: "It could be worse." When the president's characterization of our economy was "it could be worse," it reminded me of Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake." This is not a time to be talking about "it could be worse." This is a time to recognize that things should be better. And the president's policies have failed the American people, have led to 25 million people still being out of work. He didn't cause the recession, but he has made it deeper and has made the recovery more tepid and the pain last longer.
HP: Unemployment is at 8.6 percent. That's actually the lowest since his third month in office. What do you think it'll be -- roughly speaking, just from the general trends you see -- next fall? And if it's a continued downward trend line, even if it's three or four points, does that complicate your ability to make your point about the economy?
Romney: This has been already the worst recovery since Hoover. And he may say it's kept getting better and try to take credit for the fact that the economy recovered, but the economy will always recover. We've never gone into permanent recession or depression. The economy will come back after recession. The question is, "Did he help it or hurt it?" Did he prolong the pain, or did he reduce the pain? And the truth is he made things harder to recover. He made more people suffer longer. And I will point out that his policies have not helped America get back on track or helped Americans get jobs again.
HP: You don't like prognostications, I can tell.
Romney: [laughing] If I could predict what the unemployment rate was going to be a year from now, you know, I could demand the world.
HP: You've come under some criticism for the capital gains rate that you've gotten some of your income at. Is that a special break when people who are wealthy get income taxed at that lower rate because it's an investment? Because you've said, you know, you don't want special breaks for people who are wealthy.
Romney: And I think that's right. You take advantage of the opportunity to be in America, to build a bright future, and you pay your taxes as required by law. And if something is a capital gain, it should be treated as a capital gain. If something is ordinary income, it should be treated as ordinary income. And the determination of those things has been made by Congress and by the courts and by the Internal Revenue Service. I've always followed the law as to the taxes that we've paid, my wife and I have paid. And we can talk about how to make the tax code better going forward. My own view is that the people who are well-off are doing quite well and don't need help, in terms of tax help, tax relief help. The people who are poor have a safety net that helps care for them and needs to be mended from time to time. But it's the people who are in the middle class who are in trouble. And that's why my proposal on taxation is to eliminate the tax on capital gains, interest and dividends for middle-income Americans, not for high-income Americans.
HP: On immigration, do you buy the line, the argument -- Ed Gillespie, who's a major strategist in the [Republican P]arty, feels this way -- that a hard line against immigration is bad for the party or even dangerous for the party's prospects in the future with Hispanics?
Romney: I think we have to be very clear with the American people that we will enforce our laws and secure our border, and at the same time we welcome legal immigration, and we want to prevent illegal immigration in part to protect and, in my view, expand the benefits of legal immigration.
HP: But you've been very strong about people needing to go home no matter how long they've been here. Is that kind of thing going to hurt the Republican Party's standing with Hispanics?
Romney: What I indicate is that there should be a transition period where people are able to transition to ultimately returning home and being in line and applying for the right to come back to this country. But I don't think people who come here illegally should get a special privilege relative to those who have been waiting in line legally.
HP: But what about the party's relationship with Hispanics? I mean, that's important. They're a big part of this country and growing.
Romney: No question. And I believe that Hispanic voters, like other voters in this country, are in America because it's the land of opportunity. And I believe that my party and my positions on issues will demonstrate that I'll keep America the land of opportunity, and the president is turning it into something they wouldn't recognize.
HP: All right, I have two more questions. In your book, you mention the electromagnetic pulse. This is just kind of an oddball question: Why is it in your book? Do you think that's actually a serious thing?
Romney: I think threats and attacks that are beyond our current thinking and conventional consideration have to be envisioned by military planners. I think cyber security is well behind where we should be at this stage. I think cyber warfare is also well behind where we could be. The possibility of other technologies interfering with our capacity to defend ourselves and maintain an economy -- such as the EMP threat -- have to be considered and protected against. It's one reason why I think a missile defense system is an appropriate and valid investment for the country.
HP: Lastly, George Bush was asked -- he was very public about his faith -- he was asked from time to time, "What do you do to keep yourself spiritually grounded and centered on a daily routine sort of thing?" And he would talk about reading the Bible and praying on a regular basis. What do you do -- anything like that, similarly on a daily basis -- to keep yourself centered, whether it's reading or prayer or anything like that?
Romney: Let's see, how would I describe this? Let's see. I read Scripture regularly and seek the counsel of my creator on a daily basis.
HP: Now why did you have to think about how to describe that?
Romney: No particular reason.
HP: And that's every day or most every day?
Romney: You know, I pray every day. I don't read Scriptures every day. Probably should.
[His wife, Ann Romney, holds up an iPad.]
Mitt: There we go, just did. I've got them on my iPad. I should probably read Scripture every day, but I read them frequently. But not every day.
Ann: Sometimes I read to him if we're on the phone. I will read him chapters.
Mitt: But I go to church every Sunday.
HP: Do you really?
Romney: Oh, yeah.