This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," February 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And welcome to the "Hannity" Vegas forum. Tonight, we are coming to you live from the Wynn Hotel Resort and Casino. We are on the biggest strip tonight. And over the next hour, you will hear directly from presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Now an invitation to participate in this forum was also extended to Congressman Ron Paul, but it was declined.
Now tonight the main focus of my questions will be on the most critical issues that are facing the country, the economy. And here to join us and kick things off is somebody who picked up a big endorsement today from the one and only Donald Trump, and that's Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, how are you?
MITT ROMNEY, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm terrific. Thanks, Sean.
HANNITY: Big endorsement from Mr. Trump today.
ROMNEY: Very pleased. He's a man who's created a lot of jobs. And he shares my concern about China yeah, the fact that China has been able to run roughshod over many industries in this country. And that presidents have looked at it, have complained about it, but really haven't taken action to stop China from taking away our jobs.
HANNITY: Hey, how do we get fair trade practice without starting some type of a trade war or protectionism? It's a balancing act. How do you pull that off?
ROMNEY: Well, you have to open up new markets. A highly productive nation like ours has to have new markets to sell goods to in order to continue to grow. But if one of those markets, one of those countries begins to cheat on the agreement and to unfairly attack our markets and kill jobs here, you have to say whoa, whoa, whoa, you got to live by the rules of fair trade. And I know some people are concern that if we hold China accountable that they will fight back and begin a trade war. But don't forget, they sell a heck of a lot more stuff to us than we sell to them. They don't want a trade war any more than we do. And you have to stand up at some point and say enough is enough, you have killed too many jobs, you can't keep manipulate your currency, you can't continue to steal our designs, our patents, our know how, and you can't hack into our computers, and if you do, there will be consequences.
HANNITY: All right. And what can the consequences be? What if they say, we aren't going to change anything?
ROMNEY: Well, the consequence to do what I'll do on my first day in office. I will label China a currency manipulator. And under U.S. law, once that label has been affixed, the president is able to apply tariffs to any of their goods where the President believes that their unfair trade practices have cost American jobs or killed American industries. I'm making it very clear to the Chinese, that's where we will go if they continue the practices they are pursuing right now.
HANNITY: All right. Newt Gingrich has brought up an issue about the delegate count distribution. In other words, according to the Republican National Committee they were supposed to have proportional distribution of delegates until April 1st. He may challenge this. As the rules are written, how do you interpret them?
ROMNEY: Well, it would be nice if Speaker Gingrich would challenge the rules before he's lost as opposed to after he has lost. He did that in Virginia. He said, look, I don't think it's fair to have to get 10,000 signatures. That's after he worked hard to get the 10,000. I got them, Ron Paul got them, but he didn't so he wants to change the rule afterwards. Apparently, he wants to change the rule in Florida. We knew what the rules were going into it but now that he lost Florida, he wants to find some way to do better. Look, I'm not terribly concerned about the rule process. It's going to be worked out by the Republican National Committee. I intend to do well and to get the delegates I need. I doubt it's going to come down to a contest of, you know, he's got six more delegates or I've got eight more in this state. I think one or the other of the people in this race will end up with the lion's share of the delegates and we will be able to take on President Obama without going to a convention all counting delegates.
HANNITY: All right. Let's go to the race if we can for a minute here. It is pretty fascinating, almost unprecedented and politics is my love and I love following presidential politics in particular. You know, going into South Carolina, you coming out of New Hampshire, you had a double-digit lead going into South Carolina. You have two debates in a week, a double-digit leads becomes a double-digit loss. You go into Florida, you are down double digits. You have two debates, you turn a double-digit lost into a double-digit victory in Florida. A big victory in Florida. How do you interpret this? In other words, the ebb and flow of this is kind of unlike anything I have ever seen.
ROMNEY: Well, I have been fortunate over the last year. I have had pretty steady support. But there have been some other folks that have jumped in the lead and then, you know, dwindled down over time. And the speaker got a good boost in South Carolina. I think he had two good debates, frankly by taking on the moderators. He wasn't going after President Obama, didn't go after the other candidates, it was just a chance to really whack on the media, the mainstream media. That came across well, the audience loved it and gave him a big boost. When he came to Florida and it actually was not about the moderators but about the candidates, he didn't do so well.
He initially said, well, the audience in the first debate was too quiet for him. Then he said in the second debate the audience was too loud and too boisterous. And then he said he didn't want to debate in settings where the moderators are members of the media. Look, you don't get to choose what kind of debates you're going to have. When we go up against President Obama, it's the presidential commission on debates that will decide who are the moderators, how long the debates will be, how many there will be. And I'm ready to debate President Obama anywhere, anytime, anyhow because I happen to know that his experience has not led this country to greatness.
HANNITY: I want to get to that in a minute. When you spoke the other night in Florida, you did address this issue. You said our opponents comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us weak and divided, you said that's not true. A competitive primary does not divide us, it prepares us. In many ways, do you think that these debates, this battle back and forth, even as contentious as it has gotten at times, has been good for whoever the nominee is? If that's you, has this made you stronger? Because I felt watching you in Florida, for example, I felt that you really needed to step up in your mind. I got the sense that you had put a lot of time and effort into saying I'm not going to lose this debate. I'm going to fight hard in these debates in Florida. And I thought in that sense, you know, Newt Gingrich might have helped you become stronger. May sound a little strange but --
ROMNEY: There's no question. But a primary process, all of the debates, the give-and-take, it allows you to hone your message and prepare for the big contest with Barack Obama. The mistake I made in South Carolina was just focusing all of my effort on Barack Obama. And at the same time, my opponents were going after me and hitting me pretty hard, and I was standing above the fray focusing on --
HANNITY: That doesn't work, does it?
ROMNEY: You know what? It didn't work and so I came to Florida and I said, you know, enough is enough. If you are going to attack me, I'm going to respond and I'm going to answer the attacks with truth and if you don't like that, well, that's just the way it's going to be.
HANNITY: Because this is what the general campaign is going to be. President Obama, the Democrats have already telegraphed what they are going to do. Republicans wants dirty air and water. They want kids with autism, Down syndrome and the elderly to fend for themselves. And by the way, I would assume if there was a Paul Ryan look alike throwing granny over the cliff that there might be a nominee, Mitt Romney throwing grandma over the cliff before all said and done. Are you prepared for that? And how do you respond to such attacks that are so blatantly false. What is the strategy to deal with that?
ROMNEY: There is no question. You have to be prepared for that and I am. And you've got to be able to fight, you've got to have the facts on your side. You've got to make sure that message breaks through. And I'm looking forward to debating President Obama. Because when he, for instance, stands up and says, you are throwing the elderly over the cliff and runs an ad like that, I will say shame on you Mr. President, you are the only president in history to cut Medicare by $500 billion. And why did you cut it? To pay for Obamacare that we don't want and we can't afford. This President is on such shaky ground and his record is so bad, anyone who has any skill at telling the truth and confronting another individual will be able to take him to the cleaners.
HANNITY: You were reminded it was two days ago, two days ago, three years past, that was in February of '09 when he first became president that he said, if I don't fix this it's going to be a one-term proposition. You said, we are here to collect.
ROMNEY: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, he has been a failure. There's no question about that. He has failed internationally. And I know we're going to talk about that in a moment. But his failures around the world are really breathtaking. And domestically, we've seen record numbers of people fall into poverty. You have 25 million people out of work or underemployed. You have, median incomes have dropped by 10 percent in the last four years. This presidency has been a failure. And I think the president doesn't want to talk about that. But in our debates, and I hope I'm the nominee, but whether I am or someone else is, we have to go after President Obama's failure. His record is the most fertile ground for us to point out why we need to change the direction in Washington.
HANNITY: Would you like more debates than are probably going to be scheduled, usually two, one of the vice president, it would be three, would you like more?
ROMNEY: Of course. The challenger always wants more debates. I will like to be able to debate the president as often as possible. His record will not sustain scrutiny. And going after him and pointing out, whether it's just in the United States or around the world, the fact that we have to dramatically change course in this country. The path he has put us on is a path of decline, it's hurting the American people. It's putting us in greater jeopardy and our interests in greater jeopardy around the world. We have to change course. And beyond that, we've got to fundamentally restructure and rebuild the American economy. And change the relationship between government, state and citizen.
Content and Programming Copyright 2012 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2012 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.