George Stephanopoulos' Interview With Former Gov. Mitt Romney

STEPHANOPOULOS: And after a quick change of seats, we are joined by Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. You heard Governor Huckabee there. He's not backing away from his criticism of the Bush administration foreign policy and he stands by his assertion that he was supporting the surge before you.

ROMNEY: Well, you saw very clearly that wasn't the case. Actually in the interview it was pointed out that John McCain and Mitt Romney supported the surge and then they were asked - then he was asked, do you also support the surge, and he expressed his concerns about the surge, and it's legitimate to have concerns, but it was very clear that I supported it before he did as opposed to the way he described it in the debate last night. I think more fundamental, however, was his mistaken approach in saying that the president or the president's administration is an arrogant bunker mentality administration. That I think is simply wrong. To say that there have been mistakes, to say that the war has been not conducted perfectly is totally appropriate. Military historians are quick to point that out, as is the President. But to say that this president acted out of arrogance or out of a bunker mentality is simply wrong. He listened to alternative voices and he took the course which he thought was best for America and he kept us safe.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You and John McCain also went at it on the issue of immigration again and whether or not his plan is a plan that includes amnesty. Here's what you said last night.

ROMNEY: I don't describe your plan as amnesty in my ad. I don't call it amnesty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But here's your ad.

ROMNEY (campaign ad): On immigration McCain supported this year's amnesty bill, higher taxes, amnesty for illegals. That's straight talk for being in Washington too long.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Had you not seen your own ad?

ROMNEY: I hadn't seen that one and my staff told me afterwards it does say amnesty and I said well it's not supposed…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, two ads. Both of them say it.

ROMNEY: Yeah, there's a man in the street one that says amnesty, as well and I was simply incorrect. His bill - he does not technically under the term support amnesty because he says, well, he makes them pay $5,000 and technically that's not amnesty. And I guess that's true. You could say to somebody, if you pay 5 bucks, that is not amnesty, but the reality is it's a…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So is it amnesty or not?

ROMNEY: Well, you're going to have to define the word for me. I call it…

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're running for president, not me.

ROMNEY: Okay. Well, when you ask the question, when you ask the question, you want a specific answer based on your definition.


ROMNEY: My definition is this, that if a - if illegals are able to all stay in this country and thereby get an enormous advantage over everybody else, that is a form of amnesty.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you do believe his plan is amnesty then?

ROMNEY: Not under a legal definition but under the normal colloquial definition, yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't understand the distinction.

ROMNEY: But let me tell you this. Why don't I just tell you what his ad – what his posture does. What his posture does is it says that every alien in this country who is here illegally gets to stay here for the rest of their life and that is wrong.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He denies that, of course.

ROMNEY: Well, but look at the bill. Look at the bill. He tries to turn and twist. The bill that he came out with, the last bill that he stood up with Senator Kennedy and the others and said this is our bill, it provides for a Z visa, a temporary visa for everyone here illegally, and it says it's renewable indefinitely. That is a permanent right to stay in America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So I'm going to take that as a yes and move on.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, it really did seem last night like you…

ROMNEY: And by the way, the good news, let me just underscore something else. For me the good news is - see, he's been talking out there about how now he learned his lesson. He wants to secure the border. He wants to secure the border first. He's been diverting from the fact that he continues to believe that the aliens that are here illegally should be able to stay.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're standing by your ads. You believe it's amnesty?

ROMNEY: Oh absolutely, it's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on because last night you seemed to take hits from just about everyone on that stage.

ROMNEY: Wasn't that great? It was terrific.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't believe you believe it was great and terrific but…

ROMNEY: It puts me - it's like the guy with the ball is the guy people are trying to tackle so I'm delighted to have everybody talking about me, you know, it's like that old joke I'll talk about me, when I get finished why don't you talk about me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me show you, you didn't look so delighted last night.

ROMNEY (from debate): Don't try and characterize my position. Of course this war has not…

MCCAIN (from debate): Which one?

MCCAIN (from debate): I just wanted to say to Governor Romney, we disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It seems like this flip-flopper charge has stuck.

ROMNEY: Yeah, I think the McCain campaign from the very beginning did a masterful political job of trying to tag me with that and it keeps on being promoted and promulgated. And that's just the way it is. I have to live with that. I keep on describing how my positions are entirely consistent with the actions I took as governor. I was a governor four years. Every aspect of my presidential campaign follows entirely from the actions I took as governor. But, you know, they'll pull back a quote from 1994 when I was running against Ted Kennedy and on the issue of abortion I did change my mind on that. And I know there are some who just will never forgive you for becoming pro-life, but I'm not going to apologize for that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, there seemed to be something else going on on the stage last night. I just wonder what you think about it. I watched Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, all of them jumping on and it seems like they have almost a visceral dislike of you.

ROMNEY: Oh, I think people recognize I'm at a pretty good position and, frankly, I think people who watch the debate had to say to themselves, what is it about these politicians that are more focused on insults than on issues? It's what's wrong with politics. We have extraordinary challenges in America right now. But Washington is unable to deal with the challenges because they're so consumed with score settling and attacks on fellow Republicans or Democrats. We've really got to have somebody who just doesn't care about all the attacks and the insults, who is focused on getting the job done for the American people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you're in a pretty good position yet your entire strategy called the kindling strategy, Iowa and New Hampshire, the kindling, they spark a wildfire that carries you through the whole primaries. You lost Iowa. You're behind here in the polls right now. If you lose in New Hampshire, isn't it the end of the line?

ROMNEY: Well, let's get the record entirely straight here. I won Wyoming last night.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You did win Wyoming.

ROMNEY: I won Wyoming and, number two, the poll this morning, the Zogby Tracking Poll has me in the lead in New Hampshire. They must have liked the debate last night. And I'm planning on winning in New Hampshire. It may not happen but there was something else that happened along the way, the need for getting those early primary states was conditioned on the idea that Rudy Giuliani was the powerhouse I'd be facing in Florida at the end. So I better get…

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's not a powerhouse anymore?

ROMNEY: Well, he doesn't look like the powerhouse he was. As a matter of fact, in the national polls he's not leading anymore. So the dynamics will change. I'm not a political pundit. But I can tell you all I can do as a candidate is describe the things I believe in, fight for them. I'm a candidate that will bring change to Washington. I don't care about who gets the credit, who gets the blame. I'm going to change Washington, to solve our immigration problems, education problems, get health care for all our citizens, get the tax burden down for middle income Americans and put together a comprehensive strategy to defeat global jihad, not just militarily but with our nonmilitary resources as well, and that's something which Americans are looking for, and, you know, how the chips fall, how things settle, that's out of my control.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question, you did spend a lot of time and spend a lot of money in Iowa and but we saw this huge turnout by evangelical born again Christians, 60% of the voters in Iowa, and they broke heavily, more than 30 points for Mike Huckabee. Did your Mormon faith defeat you in Iowa?

ROMNEY: You know, it probably played a role for some people. I don't think for the majority of people it played a significant role. I think more than likely that Mike Huckabee as a Baptist preacher was able to draw on a lot of people very comfortable with a member of their faith and that drew a huge support for him. He ran a good campaign, congratulations for doing that. But it's an entire nation with differing views and I anticipate that issues and vision and experience will trump those things in the final analysis.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, thanks very much.

ROMNEY: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.