EXCLUSIVE: Mitt Romney Sits Down With Sean

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 11, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Mitt Romney's surprised many by dropping out of the presidential race in front of a packed house at February's CPAC conference. Just one week later Romney threw his support behind then rival John McCain.

Sean sat down with the former Massachusetts governor in his first televised interview since leaving the campaign trail.


SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Governor Romney, good to see you.


HANNITY: It has been a while since you have done interviews.

Watch Sean's interview with Mitt Romney: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

ROMNEY: It has.

HANNITY: Bring people into your world in this way: you are heading at this incredible pace, you're giving speeches and interviews and racing from city to city to city, and then, all of a sudden, it stops. What is that like?

ROMNEY: I go back to seeing the grandkids.

HANNITY: So, in that sense, it is refreshing, rejuvenating.

ROMNEY: It is refreshing and rejuvenating, although that campaign was an experience of a lifetime. To go across the country and to meet so many people who became such close friends is something that, obviously, will be an enormous source of fulfillment and happen as far as throughout our lives.

HANNITY: Is there anything you would have done differently at this point?

ROMNEY: Oh, there is no question that there are lots of things you think about that you would do differently. There are lots of mistakes that you say, I wish I did not do that mistake.

But, of course, that is the benefit of hindsight. You could run a perfect campaign if you knew all the outcomes before you went into it.

But the real story in this campaign was not the mistakes that all the rest of us made, but rather the fact that Senator McCain focused his message on a completely new course from what was happening in Iraq, saying that Secretary Rumsfeld's course was wrong, that we needed a new strategy there, that included a surge in troops.

He staked his campaign on that, his reputation on that, and the surge has been successful.

HANNITY: You said, and a lot of people confirmed my belief — I watched your speech before CPAC, when you surprised a lot of people and you said you were getting out of the race.

One of the things you said there, you said, "Unless America changes course, we will become the France of the 21st century; no longer the leader of the world, no longer the world's superpower." That's a pretty, pretty powerful statement. Do you feel confident that we are going to change course.

ROMNEY: I think we will if President McCain is the next president.

I think it is important for him to be the president, because I think he would do the critical things that have to be done, and they are reform our entitlement system, reign in government spending, rid our dependence of foreign oil, improve our education system so that our kids really can compete globally.

We are going to have to make dramatic changes in those domestic areas, and then on an international basis, rebuild relationships with nations around the world so that we can confront together the threats that exist, such as radical jihad.

HANNITY: Well, let's talk a little about this, because it was a tough race, a tough battle. And when Super Tuesday came along and that early morning primary caucus in West Virginia, and then when Senator McCain's campaign released their delegates to Mike Huckabee, did you get the sense and then that they are teaming up against you for that moment?

ROMNEY: You know, politics is a rough and tumble sport, and you do what you need to do to win. And, sure, in a setting like that, you know, I think the McCain campaign said that this is the best way for the McCain campaign to be successful.

There really are no hard feelings. I don't think on either side of this, the words "no attacks" and so forth to make people feel like we will never come together. Instead, these campaigns are all coming together. We are supporting our nominee enthusiastically, aggressively.

I intend to campaign for Senator McCain. I have already asked my fundraising team to be with his team, and they have done so. We are laying out ways where we can support his campaign.

Sure, there are things I wish he would not have said, but he was successful, and I, you know, I have to recognize that now is the time for us to come together and support his candidacy.

HANNITY: In the course of a campaign, a lot of things are said. You both accused each other, at one point, I think, of being liberal. You said now you're supporting him. At one point you said that he was indistinguishable, a lot of his position, from Hilary and Barack Obama.

Do you worry when you go out and campaign for him that people might bring those things up?

ROMNEY: Well, I think people recognize that each of us that were running in the Republican primary contest — we were different. We had different views on different issues.

Senator McCain and I are not identical on all of the issues. I made that clear in my speech when I withdrew from the race. There are a number of places where I like my position better than I like his position.

But when I compare Senator McCain with the Democratic contenders, there is no question who I think ought to be the next president of United States.

HANNITY: What advice would you give those conservatives that are struggling for finding their support and their voice for Senator McCain?

ROMNEY: I would tell them to do exactly what you did as you introduced the question, which is to focus on the places where there are common ground. And if you think of the most defining issues of our time, it is how we are going to confront radical, violent jihad in the world, it is how we are going to rein in the excessive growth of the federal government.

And Senator McCain has been, as you point out, a tireless crusader for cutting back on the scale of government, cutting back on spending, getting rid of earmarks, of trying to reform entitlements. These have been hallmarks of his effort in Washington for a long, long time.

So while there will be people who say, look, I don't line up 100 percent with Senator McCain, overall, the posture he has taken on the issues of our time, which is our great economy and how to strengthen it, which is by shrinking our government and reducing the burden on the American people in taxes and regulation, and the threat of radical jihad, Senator McCain is right on those issues.

And, sure, there are differences among all of us, but on these fundamental issues that we face, we are very much on the same page. And that is why I think you'll see Republicans strongly getting behind senator McCain and pursuing a campaign with vigor.

And I think it is very encouraging that at least the polls today say that he is tied with either one of the potential Democratic contenders, and I think that is helped by the fact that the Democrats have made the issue experience and the ability to deal with national security issues. I mean, you listen to —

HANNITY: I want to hear that 3:00 a.m. phone call with Senator McCain.

ROMNEY: Yes, you look at that ad, the red phone add, that was the best ad that the McCain campaign could have ever hoped for, because listening to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talking about experience in a national security crisis is like listening to two Chihuahuas arguing about which is the biggest dog. When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and they are the Chihuahuas.

And I think when we talk more and more about their battle with one another, focused on the fact that neither one has real experience with the issues of our time, that will only augur for his benefit.



HANNITY: And we continue now with more of my interview with former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.


HANNITY: Let me ask you this then —


HANNITY: — the inevitable question: speaking of phone calls, if the phone call came, if it were to come to you one day, and on the other line is Senator McCain, and Senator McCain says Governor Romney, I would like you to be my running mate?

ROMNEY: I think any Republican leader in this country would be honored to be asked to be serving as the vice presidential nominee, myself included.

Of course this is a nation which needs strong leadership, and if the nominee of our Party asked you to serve with him, anybody would be honored to receive that call, and to accept it, of course.

HANNITY: Do you think there is any chance? Obviously there has got to be a chance. You were his closest opponent in this. I think you still ended up, even the Mike Huckabee stayed in a lot longer, I think you still ended up with more delegates, according to my last count.

ROMNEY: You know, I think Senator McCain has a long list of people he can look to to potentially be a vice presidential nominee.

And he is going to have a process for doing that which will begin by seeing which person or people have the skills to actually become president, which could strengthen the administration and strengthen our nation at a critical time, and, perhaps, who can help in some political ways, who can help in key states or key constituencies.

And that is something which he and his team will carry out that kind of evaluation over some period of time, and they have got a lot of contenders, a lot of terrific people who could be available for that kind of role.

HANNITY: You are obviously still following the race closely here. Do you think that it is more likely at this point, this juncture, that Barack Obama gets the nod for the Democratic Party?

ROMNEY: I think so, and I hope so.


ROMNEY: I think he is more likely, just based on the delegate count, and I do not think that the super delegates would, in the final analysis, decide to turn away from the votes of the committed delegates that came to the electoral process.

And I am not a Democrat steeped on the ways of their voting, but it does look to me that at this stage Barack Obama is the more likely. I think he is the better match up for Senator McCain because the public recognizes just inexperienced he is.

With Senator Clinton there is some confusion in perception, that somehow being there while her husband was president made her a foreign-policy, national security person. She is not. She does not have any more experience really of a significant nature than Barack Obama does.

But in Barack Obama's case, people recognize this guy was a state senator, and before that he was a community activist. He has been a United States Senator for a short, short period of time. He is in no significant way qualified to lead the country at a time of war, to lead the country out of an economic challenge. This is not a person you can stand up to Senator McCain.

HANNITY: What is interesting is that Hillary Clinton has been making the case to the media and to anyone who will listen that he has not had the scrutiny that most other candidates have had.

I think every candidate has been tested, and it is only in the last couple of weeks that there has been added scrutiny to Barack Obama.

I do this little thing both on television and radio, and I will go out and ask people, do you know the theme of Senator Obama's campaign. Almost every person will answer yes, it is about change.

Do you know one accomplishment he has ever had in his live, and not one person can answer the question. And in that case, I do not think there has been the scrutiny for Senator Obama that the other candidates have gotten.

Do you agree with that assessment?

ROMNEY: I think you hit the nail on the head, which is he really has not accomplished anything, not in the life prior to becoming an elected official. And then as a state senator, he was undistinguished as a U.S. senator, he has been undistinguished.

Now, he is an inspirational speaker, and that has given him a great deal of following and support. But in terms of accomplishment, there is not much there.

And so when you said, let's scrutinize his record, there is not much there to scrutinize. If you chose a college senior to be a nominee of their Party and you say let's scrutinize their record, well, there is no record. There is not much to look at.

And so in his case, the absence of a record means there is not a lot to poke at. But it is the absence of a record that I think will make it very clear to the American people you do not turn over the largest, most powerful nation on the earth to someone who has been unproven and untested.

HANNITY: It is interesting, because you are suggesting that he is the easier candidate to beat. But if you look at the polls right now, the polls would say that Hillary is the easier candidate for Senator McCain.

So you are saying that over time, this perception and this mantra of change is going to evaporate away and that there is going to be some real analysis of some significant issues, and the differences and distinctions between Senator Obama and Senator McCain.

ROMNEY: Yes, I think it will come down to the red phone. I think Hillary Clinton did the nation a big favor by reminded us of the significance of being the president of the United States.

And whether it is foreign policy, war, or our economy, people are going to recognize that you do what an inspirational speaker to motivate us from time to time, but the president of United States has to be a personal action, not just a person of words.



COLMES: Welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes." We now continue with more of Sean's interview with Governor Mitt Romney.


HANNITY: What do you think happened to Hillary Clinton's campaign? I mean, if you just put your political commentator hat on for just a minute, let's examine what went wrong. This was supposed to be a coronation. She was way ahead in the polls. What do you think happened?

ROMNEY: At the very beginning of this race, there were two candidates that were the presumptive nominees: Senator McCain and Hillary Clinton. And both their campaigns, perhaps recognizing this inevitability, made some errors.

Senator McCain recognized it, took corrective action, and was able to become successful. Senator Clinton did not. She just kept on going along, assuming that she was going to be successful, and she was unable to make the midcourse correction that she needed to make to become successful, and Barack Obama capitalized on that.

My dad used to say there is nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success. And I think the Clinton team felt that there was just no way anyone could knock them off. I felt that way. I thought Senator Clinton had the nomination for sure.

And now you look at the delegates ...

HANNITY: She should be lucky if she gets it ...

ROMNEY: ... and it looks like she has got an uphill fight at this point.

HANNITY: I want to go back one more time to the differences between and the battle between conservatives and Senator McCain. And he said in his CPAC speech that is his job to unify the Party.

What specific advice, considering you were viewed as the conservative candidate in the end — when it came down to Super Tuesday, you were it — what advice would you give him in his outreach to conservatives?

ROMNEY: I would offer it issue by issue. Obviously there are places where he and I had differing views, and if he asked my opinion on a particular issue, I would be happy to describe it for him.

But the last thing is going to do in a presidential campaign is start changing positions. But I am not going to start trying to guide the guy who won.

Let's not forget, he won the primaries. He won the caucuses. He became the nominee. And so, the positions which he has are ones which have been successful in the final analysis.

And you say, gosh, if you have got some areas where you agree with him on, let's get together on those areas. If you have areas where you disagree, you try to convince. But, ultimately, he is the guy who won. Let us not forget it.

HANNITY: Ronald Reagan before CPAC gave a speech, no pastels but bold colors, and he was talking about a Republican Party, a revitalized Republican Party that needed to really distinguish itself from the Democratic Party.

A lot of conservatives feel that the Republicans became sort of watered down Democrats in a lot of ways as it relates to earmarks and spending and Medicare prescription drugs. Do you think there is some truth to that?

ROMNEY: I think our Party in Washington made some serious errors over the last several years.

HANNITY: Washington is broken.

ROMNEY: You heard my pitch — Washington is broken. And I meant that, both Republican and Democrat.

I think the earmarks under Republican leadership in Congress were simply unacceptable, disgraceful. And, again, Senator McCain fought against those earmarks.

So on some of those defining issues that Republicans are angry about, do not forget, Senator McCain was on the right side of those.

Now, there are some places where certainly conservatives and Republicans are going to disagree. But, overall, we come together and say look, keep government small, keep spending down, and make sure that we do not retreat in the face of all violent, radical Jihad around the world.

HANNITY: Governor, last question: would you ever consider another run?

ROMNEY: I have not given that a lot of thought. That is like asking a woman after she has just delivered a baby, do you want to get pregnant again? Good. Let me have some time pass.

I am hoping that you are going to see Senator McCain become elected president, serve for eight years, and who knows what the future holds. I am not going to close the door to the future.

But what I am going to do, at least from now until November, is campaign for Senator McCain and his team, campaign for Republicans across the nation, a lot of congressmen, senators, governors —

HANNITY: You are going out on the road again. I just saw your wife. Did you tell her you were about to go back on the road?

ROMNEY: She knows, and we are working on the schedule today. I am going to go out and do fundraisers. I am going to do events for certainly the congressmen and senators that supported me, and governors, as well as many others that are in tough contests.

And I will do whatever Senator McCain asks for me to do in his campaign to help out in any way I can. I want to make sure that we have conservative leadership guiding our country.

HANNITY: Karl Rove says he wants an M and M ticket, you know — McCain and Mitt.

ROMNEY: That is a real honor, a real privilege coming from Karl Rove, quite a man.

HANNITY: Governor Romney, it's good to see you again.

ROMNEY: It's good to be with you.

HANNITY: Thanks for the interview, I appreciate it.

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