In a candid and even feisty interview on Fox News’ Wednesday, Mitt Romney said that despite losses in Mississippi and Alabama primaries on Tuesday and despite ongoing criticism of his ability to connect with voters he is still the only candidate who can defeat President Obama.
Asked by Fox’s Megyn Kelly about his critics’ comments that he is still struggling to connect with the conservative core of the Republican party, Romney went on the defensive, listing the states he has won.
“Well I’m sorry they have to go back at some other states that actually are kind of important, let’s say Florida for instance where I won and Michigan and Ohio and Nevada and New Hampshire, the list goes on,” said Romney, who appeared in the Fox News studio in between a series of high-dollar fundraisers he traveled to New York to attend. “Last night by the way they’re forgetting there were a couple of other contests like Hawaii, where I won.”
“Oh and by the way last night I got more delegates than anyone else,” Romney added.
Kelly also pressed Romney on his recent series of gaffes that some suggest highlight his difficulty relating to average Americans. Kelly specifically brought up Romney’s recent remark about being friends with NFL owners, a comment made shortly after he quipped that he was friends with NASCAR team owners.
“Megyn, guess what? I made a lot of money,” Romney said. “I’ve been very successful. I’m not going to apologize for that. I know the DNC tries to push this out and they get it on the mainstream media networks and that’s where you guys see it and everybody laughs about it, because in this country we want someone who can help other people become successful.”
“This is a nation which is not going to choose our president based on these little innuendos and personal attacks. We’re going to pick a president based on keeping America safe, keeping Iran from having a nuclear weapon, restoring freedom in this country, retaining the ability of Americans to have confidence that their kids’ future is brighter than their own past. This is what America is looking for,” said Romney.
Romney declined to give advice to his GOP counterpart Newt Gingrich, telling Kelly that it is up to the former speaker to decide whether he should stay in the race.
“I don’t think it’s my place to tell other candidates when they should stay in or when they should get out. This is Newt’s decision. He can do what he thinks is in his best interest and what’s in the best interest of the country. I just am not going to give him on that at this point. This is for him.”
The interview ended on a slightly awkward note, when Kelly, who had pressed Romney on a 2008 comment regarding health insurance mandates, suddenly cut Romney off to go to a commercial break.
The issue of health insurance mandates has followed Romney throughout his career. Romney signed one into law in Massachusetts as governor, and Democrats used that as a model for their national health care law, which also requires that citizens buy health insurance. Running for president this year Romney has said compulsory health insurance is a bad idea at the national level.
Romney had said during the 2008 ABC News debate that, “I like mandates,” although his position is more complicated than that.
The conversation in 2008 was between Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who was also seeking the GOP nomination that year and ABC’s Charlie Gibson, who moderated. Here is the entire exchange and the video from 2008:
GIBSON: Governor Romney’s system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.
ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.
THOMPSON: I beg your pardon? I didn’t know you were going to admit that. You like mandates.
ROMNEY: Let me — let me — oh, absolutely. Let me tell you what kind of mandates I like, Fred, which is this. If it weren’t…
THOMPSON: The ones you come up with.
ROMNEY: Here’s my view: If somebody — if somebody can afford insurance and decides not to buy it, and then they get sick, they ought to pay their own way, as opposed to expect the government to pay their way.
ROMNEY: And that’s an American principle. That’s a principle of personal responsibility.
So, I said this: If you can afford to buy insurance, then buy it. You don’t have to, if you don’t want to buy it, but then you got to put enough money aside that you can pay your own way, because what we’re not going to do is say, as we saw more and more people…
GIBSON: Governor, (inaudible) you imposed tax penalties in Massachusetts (inaudible).
ROMNEY: Yes, we said, look, if people can afford to buy it, either buy the insurance or pay your own way; don’t be free-riders and pass on the cost to your health care to everybody else, because right now…
THOMPSON: The government is going to make you buy insurance…
ROMNEY: No, the government is going to stop…
THOMPSON: ,.. and make you pay — I mean, the state — your state plan, which is, of course, different from your national plan, did require people to make that choice, though. The state required them to do that.
What was the penalty if they refused?
ROMNEY: They refused to pay your — let’s go back, Fred. What’s your view? If somebody…
THOMPSON: Well, I asked the question first.
ROMNEY: OK. Well, I’ll answer your question, you answer mine.
ROMNEY: If somebody is making, let’s say $100,000 a year, and doesn’t have health insurance, and they show up at the hospital, and they need a $1,000 repair of some kind for something that’s gone wrong. And they say, “Look, I’m not insured, I’m not going to pay.” Do you think they should pay or not?
THOMPSON: Did your plan cut people off at $100,000? Was that the level?
ROMNEY: No, actually…
THOMPSON: Did it only apply to people with $100,000 income and over?
ROMNEY: It actually applies to people at three-times federal poverty. They pay for their own policy. At less than three-times federal poverty, we help them buy a policy, so everybody is insured, and everybody is able to buy a policy that is affordable for them.
The question is this, again, if someone could afford a policy and they choose not to buy it, should they be responsible for paying for their own care?
Or should they be able to go to the hospital and say, “You know what? I’m not insured. You ought to pay for it.”
What we found was, one-quarter of the uninsured in my state were making $75,000 a year or more. And my view is they should either buy insurance or they should pay their own way with a health savings account or some other savings account.
GIBSON: We have an expression in television: We get in the weeds. We’re in the weeds now on this.
GIBSON: Let me just — one point. Yes or no, in your national plan, would you mandate people to get insurance?
ROMNEY: I think my plan is a good plan that should be adopted by other states. I wouldn’t tell every state…
GIBSON: In your plan, would you mandate…
ROMNEY: I would not mandate at the federal level that every state do what we do. But what I would say at the federal level is, “We’ll keep giving you these special payments we make if you adopt plans that get everybody insured.” I want to get everybody insured.
ROMNEY: In Governor Schwarzenegger’s state, he’s got a different plan to get people insured. I wouldn’t tell him he has to do it my way.
But I’d say each state needs to get busy on the job of getting all our citizens insured. It does not cost more money.
GIBSON: I want to give Governor Huckabee a little time. Then we’ve got to go.