GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We are live on ABCNews.com and Yahoo News for an original series called Newsmakers. And we're here with Governor Romney. Thanks for joining us, Governor.
MITT ROMNEY: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's start out with a big question. When did you first know you wanted to be president of the United States?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, as you know-- I ran four years ago, and after that election was over-- you know, we sold our house. Ann and I-- spent some time. I wrote my book. And-- and we thought we weren't gonna be running again. And frankly, had the economy turned around like I expected it would and-- we got down to a six percent unemployment rate, I wouldn't be running.
But-- the failure of this presidency-- compelled Ann and me to say, "Look, we-- we gotta get back in, in part because of the experience I've had in the economy." So-- sometime in the last-- two or three years, we decided, "Let's get back in. This-- the job the current president's doing is not getting Americans back to work."
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and you're now at the top of the Republican field along with Herman Cain, but as you've seen, in most national polls, including our own ABC News poll, you seem to have a ceiling of about 25 percent and you're facing persistent questions, as you know, about your core principles. I mean, I'm -- I'm kind of struck. I think there's only two -- one thing in the world that the White House and Erick Erickson of RedState agree on."
And here's what David Plouffe says. He says you have no core. Erick Erickson of RedState says exactly the same thing. "Mitt Romney is unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself." And this does seem to be holding you back. Governor Huntsman said it made you unelectable. Does that get you angry when people question your core like that?
MITT ROMNEY: You know, I think people can look at my life. They can see how I live my life-- at home-- in-- in the business I was in for 25 years, and of course, as governor, and at the Olympics. And-- my record demonstrates what I believe. I also, as you know, had the chance to write a book and lay down my views on the major issues that the country's facing.
And, you know, I understand that politics is politics, people look for some edge they can get. But-- but people know how I've lived my life and what I believe on the major issues of the day. And frankly, I'm in this race, because of the failure of President Obama to turn around this economy. And my conviction that having spent my life in the economy, having actually created jobs, is a qualification that's necessary for the country to get America back to work today.
So you know, I'll-- I'll let the slings and arrows come, as they may. And continue talking about the failure of this presidency. And I know, of course, the last thing the president wants to do and his team wants to do is to talk about their record. But I'll keep bringing it back to it. They failed.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And-- and your opponents are coming back to your record. They look at issues like a woman's right to choose. They look at gay rights. And say, "You've tried to have it both ways, on those issues." How do you intend to respond?
MITT ROMNEY: You know, I've-- I've spoken about abortion many, many times-- when I served as governor. And a piece of legislation came to my desk that would have expanded-- the-- the ability of-- of government to-- to authorize the-- the creation of life or its destruction. I said, "I-- I cannot participate in that." Indicated that I was pro-life. And I've been proudly pro-life-- ever since.
With regards to gay rights, if someone's looking for someone who will-- discriminate against gay people, that's not me. From the very beginning, I said that I favor-- the absence of discrimination against people-- based on their sexual orientation. At the same time, I said I was opposed to same-sex marriage. Same view I've had throughout this period. But look-- again, we're gonna have folks doin' their very best to deflect from the issues that are-- are driving this campaign. And those issues include-- the failure of our economy.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the core economic issues is, of course, health care reform. And you-- passed health care reform that-- in-- in the State of Massachusetts that you're proud of for that state, but our poll this week also shows that 48 percent of Republican primary voters are less likely to vote for you, because of the issue of health care. Doesn't that raise the hurdle for you to get the nomination, when almost half the Republican primary voters see one of your core legislative accomplishments as a liability?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, it-- it comes from-- from having solid beliefs that you stick to, by the way. That maybe answers the first question that you-- that you raised. And that is one of my core beliefs is that-- that states have the right to craft their own solutions to their own problems. And-- we did that in our state. It's not perfect. There's some things I'd change in it. There's some things I could do better second time around.
There's some things that the current administration is doing that I don't like. But one thing I know, Obamacare is a very bad policy, a very bad law. The people of America want to see it repealed and replaced with something that'll actually work. And I-- I think I'm the only Republican candidate in the-- in the field that's actually laid out what I would do to get our health care system working, lowering costs, and at the same time, making sure people have access to health care. So for me, it's pretty straightforward. Repeal Obamacare. Let states be the place where people are able to fashion solutions to their own needs.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we've gotten thousands of questions over Yahoo and ABCNews.com. And several-- several come in a similar vein. One of them comes from JustMe at Yahoo, "Would you cut your own benefits and those of the Congress and Senate before cutting Social Security, Medicare, and veteran benefits?" In the same vein, Ellen Williams (PH) of Sunrise Beach, Missouri says, "Will you take a salary, if you have substantial personal wealth, why not work for a dollar?"
MITT ROMNEY: You know-- I've been working for a dollar for some time. But I don't think you can-- demand that of-- of everybody who serves in public office. Not everyone has the-- financial means to do so. But-- but I've been working for a dollar since I was-- Governor of Massachusetts. That was-- my view there. We had a tough financial situation, a real crisis in our state, economically. And I-- I said, "I'm not gonna get paid in-- in a setting like this. We have a crisis going on-- today in Washington."
No one-- I don't believe, is talking about cutting benefits for veterans or for seniors. But we are talking about-- a financial crisis, a fiscal crisis that we would expect our president to actually address. He's said nothing about how he's gonna save Social Security, nothing about how he'd fix Medicare. He-- he's always full of criticism.
And actually, the only person I know who's cut Medicare, from the very beginning, is President Obama. He cut Medicare by $500 billion to pay for his Obamacare. Look, what I'll do is I will save Medicare. I will save Social Security. And I'll do so by making them fiscally solvent.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But that will also lead to cutbacks in-- in benefits for some beneficiaries, at least in the future.
MITT ROMNEY: For people who are in their 20s and 30s and 40s and early 50s, they have to ask, "Do they want to have substantially higher taxes to pay for the current program?" And that's something I would oppose. And-- if they want those higher taxes, they can vote for-- for President Obama. I presume that's what his answer will be. Or instead, they can do what I suggest, which is to have the programs more means tested. Meaning people of higher incomes will receive lower benefits than those in more moderate incomes.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And that addresses a problem that we're in so many polls these days. The-- the concern about rising inequality-- in this country. We saw over the last 30 years the income of the top one percent-- rise about five times the rate of the middle class. How-- how big a problem is that?
MITT ROMNEY: You know, I-- I think it is a problem. And I think it flows from the fact that our economy isn't performing as it should. Look, this-- this should be the best place in the world to be middle class. And middleclass Americans are really, really struggling and suffering right now. I mean, you've got higher food prices, gasoline prices, health care costs. And at the same time, during President Obama's three-year term, you've seen median income decline by ten percent in the United States.
The-- this President's policies have not worked. And the middle class is really suffering. The-- the very poor have a safety net and that's as it should be. The very wealthy are doing just fine. But the middle class is really suffering. And that's one reason why the plans I've put forward bring tax relief to the middle class, provide additional capital from the middle class to get our businesses to grow and thrive, and also I've put in place a plan to scale back the scale of government so that it's not burdening our enterprises and our families, including laying out ideas for Medicare and Social Security, which by the way are-- are pretty broad. I just-- I just gave you a-- topline a moment ago. But a whole series of policies to make sure that-- that people have confidence in America. And middle income Americans can once again-- feel confident that they have a bright future.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You're heading to Michigan, your home state-- for a debate tomorrow night. And a lot of interest there, of course, in the whole issue of the auto industry. We've seen a big comeback-- in the auto industry over the last-- two years since-- the bailout of the auto industry, the restructuring of the industry, which you criticized. You said back in 2008, "If you write a check, they're gonna go out of business." Weren't you wrong about that?
MITT ROMNEY: Actually, read the whole article, George. I said--
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I did. I read the whole article.
MITT ROMNEY: --"Don't write a check to these guys." Good. And you saw in there that I said they needed to go through a managed bankruptcy, right?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's exactly what happened. But they-- but the auto industry--
MITT ROMNEY: No, no. No, that's--
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --also says they needed federal funds.
MITT ROMNEY: --what-- that's-- no, that's what-- that's what I said in the article, George. What I said is-- this is before, by the way-- even President Obama was in office. I wrote an article and said, "These companies, don't write them a check. They've come to Washington asking for money. Don't write them a check. Have them go through managed bankruptcy. And then after that process, if they need help. If they need help, for instance, guaranteeing the warranties of people who bought their cars, then the government can step in and provide that help. But don't just write a check off the bat. And--
MITT ROMNEY: --so I laid out a plan for managed bankruptcy. The head of the-- head of the AF of L-CIO said, "Oh, this is a terrible ideas. The companies can't be taken bankrupt." It turned out that I was right. They finally followed that advice. And the industry is back on its feet.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you're saying you were right, are you saying then what President Obama did was right? Force a managed bankruptcy, along with federal funds?
MITT ROMNEY: What-- what President Obama and President Bush did was to write a check first. Billions and billions of dollars was written to bailout the industry. And then they realized that that was not the answer. I was, frankly, right. They had to go through managed bankruptcy. They finally went through bankruptcy. That was what was necessary in order to get rid of the excess costs. And for them to be able to get on their feet.
MITT ROMNEY: The government wrote those checks, wasted money.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That was-- that was-- the decision from President Bush, but President Obama and his team required this-- this restructuring of the auto industry, in order to get further funds. That's just a fact.
MITT ROMNEY: And President Obama and President Bush-- by the way, my criticism was not labeled or was not directed towards just President Obama. It was also President Bush. I said, "Don't write checks. They need to go through bankruptcy." And that's finally what happened. And by the way, the fact they went through bankruptcy and President Obama had them go through bankruptcy and get restructured is exactly what I said had to happen in that op-ed. And the support that came afterwards was appropriate.
But let me tell you-- what-- what-- if they needed help for guaranteeing warranties, that would have been appropriate. But what was not appropriate was those first checks and then giving the-- the automobile companies to the U.A.W. And that was what happened under President-- under President Obama.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Just one more question. But the-- the funds that were provided as a condition-- they-- they were conditioned on restructuring. You agree with those funds that were provided to the auto industry?
MITT ROMNEY: (LAUGH) George, I-- I disagreed with the first money that was given, the bailout money. Number two, I said they needed to go through a managed bankruptcy. Not one guided by the government, but one that was led by the companies themselves. And then afterwards, if they would have needed additional support from the government, guarantees, for instance, for warranties, that's something I could have supported. But the initial money was wrong and giving the companies to the U.A.W., that was wrong.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Your-- your fellow frontrunner, Herman Cain, is facing a lot of questions, a firestorm of questions these days related to his time at the National Restaurant Association. His-- his accuser, this morning, was on Good Morning America. And she said that he is unfit to be president until he tells the truth. Do you agree?
MITT ROMNEY: These are serious allegations, George. And-- and they're gonna have to be addressed seriously. I don't have any counsel for-- for Herman Cain or for his campaign. They'll have to take their own counsel on this. But-- any time there's an accuser that comes forward with charges of this nature, you recognize this is a very serious matter and it should be taken seriously.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So if they're true, they'd be disqualifying?
MITT ROMNEY: I-- I'm not gonna say more than that. I don't want to-- suppose truth or lack of truth. I just think that it's-- important to recognize that-- that-- a number of women have come forward with concerns. This woman's-- charges are particularly disturbing and-- and they're serious.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time. But as you know, we're reaching out to a different audience here online. We're asking all the candidates a series of quick questions, just to have a little bit of fun at the end here. What's the worst job you ever had?
MITT ROMNEY: Bailing hay at the ranch I worked on. I'm allergic to hay.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That counts. TV guilty pleasure?
MITT ROMNEY: Watching Modern Family with my wife.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Totally a guilty pleasure. Great show. Favorite junk food?
MITT ROMNEY: Let's see. I love good pretzels and-- peanut M&M's.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, we're on the same page on a lot of this stuff. [Happinest day of your life] other than wedding day and birth of children?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, the best times are always-- family gathering times, Christmas and so forth. But-- other than those family times, it would have to be the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in 2002.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Who would play you in the movie?
MITT ROMNEY: I would like Gene Hackman. He's my favorite actor. (LAUGH)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: He's a terrific act-- boy, you have answers to all these. I'm a little surprised. What's your personal theme song? (LAUGH)
MITT ROMNEY: I-- I don't have a theme song. I-- I guess right now it would be-- On The Road Again.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Fair enough. Final question. Name a fifth president who belongs on Mount Rushmore.
MITT ROMNEY: I got a couple. John Adams and Ronald Reagan.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Terrific. Governor, thanks for playin' along today. Thanks for the interview. We'll see you soon.
MITT ROMNEY: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And if any of you missed any part of this live stream interview, you can come back to watch it any time at Yahoo News or ABCNews.com. Thanks for watching.