Colin Powell vs. 'Joe the Plumber'

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," October 20, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We were thrilled yesterday when a great American statesman, General Colin Powell, joined our cause.




SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Joe's dream is so many people here's dream, America's dream — a small business, own a small business that will create jobs.

And the attacks on him are an attack on small businesses all over this country.




Well, Barack Obama talking up Colin Powell, and John McCain talking up Joe the plumber. Whose backing matters more?

It's a question I put to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney just a little while ago.


CAVUTO: So, if you had your druthers and could pick between Colin Powell or Joe the plumber for backing you, who would it be?


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Well, you want the Joe the plumbers. There are a lot more of them in this country than there are Colin Powells. But, of course, you want them all.

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And I don't want to minimize Colin Powell's endorsement. It means a great deal to those who listen to Colin Powell and follow him. But — but most people follow their own heart and follow their own assessment of what's in their best interest.

And — and the — the Joe the plumber allegory, if you will, is a story that can be told by many, many people in this country, who hope to be able to build their own business someday or become enormously successful. And they're not wild about an idea that suggests a president would take away their income and redistribute it to people who aren't paying any taxes at all.

CAVUTO: All right, but did — did it intrigue you, Governor, when — when Colin Powell had indicated why he was supporting Barack Obama, that John McCain's choice of running mates apparently played a large role in that?

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He commended Sarah Palin, said a lot of nice things about Sarah Palin, but also tested her experience, which makes me wonder that, had John McCain picked, let's say, someone like you, with a great deal of experience, Colin Powell might never have jumped ship.

What do you think?

ROMNEY: Well, it's hard to answer that hypothetical, but I — I would anticipate that, if he were to be looking at vice presidential nominees, he would have to look at Joe Biden. And, if he looked at Joe Biden, he would have to recognize that Joe Biden was on a different side of virtually every foreign policy issue than Colin Powell was over the last 20-plus years.

So, if we're looking at V.P. nominees, I think you would have to say, Joe Biden was awfully wrong on a whole series of foreign policy matters.

I think he concentrated on his friendship and respect for Barack Obama. I respect that. But, in the final analysis, I think it comes down to John McCain vs. Barack Obama, not who endorsed them.

CAVUTO: All right.

You mentioned earlier about even the economic platforms of the candidates. And there are many conservatives in your party, Governor, who are very leery, if not angry, at John McCain's propensity to come up with big spending proposals, and that this Mr. Earmark has earmarked quite a bit of spending plans on his own — $300 billion, as you know, for mortgage relief, and another 50-some-odd-billion added to his own stimulus plan — that he's outspending Barack Obama.

What — what say you?

ROMNEY: Well, I think, if you look at John McCain's proposals, they relate to how to use the money that's already being appropriated by Congress.

So it's the $700 billion rescue plan. He's saying a — a significant portion of that, up to $300 billion, ought to be used to help people stay in their homes, and thereby stabilize the mortgage market, reduce the number of foreclosures, increase housing values, and help people at the same time.

CAVUTO: But do you believe that, Governor? Do you really believe that? I mean, this is the argument of a — of a — we take our own knocks and our own responsibilities. It was much the — kind of the campaign that you ran — that is, no bailouts, no rescues — and, now, all bailouts, all rescues. It just seems weird.

ROMNEY: Well, you can't bail out everybody. You can't rescue everybody. But it's in our national interests not to have the housing market totally collapse or to have the credit markets collapse.

And, as you look at ways to try and — and keep mortgage money flowing and — and keep from stopping the housing sector of our economy, from the very beginning, this $700 billion plan spoke about buying back securities that were in trouble. And these were largely mortgage — mortgage securities. And Senator McCain has said, instead of just buying them from financial institutions, we ought to buy them to keep people in their homes.

And it's not going to be painless. People are going to lose their equity in their homes in many, many cases. People will lose some portion of their — obviously, the down payments, but there are going to be ongoing obligations. And, of course, financial institutions are going to take a hit as well. This is not a painless matter.

Those that have bet and lost are going to find that government is not going to bail them out.

CAVUTO: All right.

But I know you're also a very deeply religious man, but you're also one of the most seasoned businessmen in this country. So, I'm wondering, by saying yes to a lot of folks who just hold their hand out, whether we go down a slippery slope? What do you think of that?

ROMNEY: Yes, I — I don't like the idea of bailing out companies, for purposes of keeping the shareholders and the managers and even the employees employed in a setting where they wouldn't be economic, where they're not competitive anymore.

But what was going on here was a little different, in that the market itself had broken down, and our financial system was very much in doubt. There's a question of whether our dollars are going to be worth very much in the future.

CAVUTO: Right.

ROMNEY: And government does have a responsibility to stabilize the financial markets, the credit markets, to keep our money worth something, so that markets can work.

I don't think anyone in Washington — hopefully, no one in Washington was thinking about, "Oh, gosh, I'm really concerned about those guys at XYZ investment bank."

What they're concerned about is making sure that our financial system doesn't collapse and hurt millions and millions of people all over the country.

CAVUTO: But, Governor, a large part of your fortune gained in life came from your work at Bain Capital, where you and your colleagues were able to see value in a lot of sick companies, shore them up, either sell them or improve their fortunes, where it would never have been the case without that intervention.

Now that intervening force is the government, and a lot of people, judging just by the cover stories in so many business magazines of late, is that we have lost capitalism, and we have lost the very thing that you used to do in the private sector. Now the government's doing it. Is that wise?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, the government should not get in and — and save all sorts of businesses that are in trouble across the country. I — I'm not one of those that signs up for bailing out every business in trouble. You couldn't possibly do that.

We — we lose hundreds of thousands of businesses a year, and then new businesses take their place. It's the creative destruction process that makes capitalism work.

CAVUTO: But haven't we lost that, though?

ROMNEY: Well...

CAVUTO: Aren't we increasingly losing that?

ROMNEY: Well, if you — if you apply what happened to preserve our monetary system, our financial system, and you say we're going to do that across the nation, boy, we would be in real trouble.


ROMNEY: But I think — I think what you saw here, instead, was people on both sides of the — both sides of the aisle recognizing that, if — if banks across the nation massively go bankrupt, and — and you lose the value of money in our society, if markets are totally broken, that's a problem that goes well beyond saving a company. That goes to saving, if you will, the free market system.

And, so, it was necessary to protect our financial system, to keep money worth something, to try and keep all of these banks from going under. And that's why action was taken. But you're right. If — if this same logic was taken beyond the world of finance, into protecting every business in trouble, we would be in a real mess in this country.

CAVUTO: Finally, sir, Sarah Palin getting some pretty good reviews for her performance on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, that she kind of met her critics in the eye and laughed with them.

Would you have entertained, or would you in the future entertain popping up on "Saturday Night Live"?


ROMNEY: I would love to be on "Saturday Night Live."


ROMNEY: I have dreamed of that many times.

CAVUTO: They made fun of you enough, you might as well have, right?

ROMNEY: Oh, I — I think it would be great fun. I have — I have been on "Jay Leno" a couple of times.

CAVUTO: Right.

ROMNEY: I found that a lot of fun. I watch "SNL" from time to time. And, yes, I would love to be on it.

I think I'm — I'm, kind of, a has-been now, so I don't think I'm likely to be invited. But, yes, that would be a kick. And I thought Sarah Palin did a nice job.

CAVUTO: So, if you were running — and for those who look down at that sort of stuff, you would not?

ROMNEY: Oh, it's just good-natured fun. I think, once you're elected, it's beneath the dignity of the office of the president or vice president...


ROMNEY: ... but when you're still running, you're still — you're still able to do that kind of stuff.

CAVUTO: I got you. Before you have that dignity, you might as well surrender some.


CAVUTO: I hear where you're coming from.


CAVUTO: Governor, thank you very, very much.

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


CAVUTO: All right.


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