Exclusive: Romney, McCain Talk Endorsement

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Some major news was made on the campaign trail today, in New Hampshire when the 2008 Republican presidential nominee announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney. Take a look.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: It's with some nostalgia that I return to this place that I love so well. But I am really here for one reason and one reason only. And that is to make sure that we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America. And New Hampshire -- and New Hampshire is the state that will catapult him on to victory in a very short period of time. That's why I'm here.


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    HANNITY: And joining me now together exclusively for the first time since today's big announcements are Massachusetts governor, former Governor Romney and Arizona Senator John McCain. Guys, welcome back.

    MCCAIN: Thanks.


    HANNITY: All right. Senator, this is a very key moment, key state for you. By the way, I did go back and look at some of the ads you guys had running against each other. You guys were going at it pretty heatedly last time around. Why Mitt Romney? Why did you decide to jump in and support him at a very important time in a state that was very critical to you back in 2008?

    MCCAIN: Well, Sean, to start with, we had a very spirited campaign in 2008, but I agree it was always respectful. I believe it was very respectful. And following that, nobody worked harder for my campaign than Mitt Romney. We became family friends. We spent time together. We campaigned together. And I grew to respect what he stands for, what he believes in, his experience and the fact that I believe that he is the one who can defeat Barack Obama and be president of the United States. And it's a very critical time in our history.

    HANNITY: How important do you view this endorsement, Governor?

    ROMNEY: Well, obviously, having the support of Senator McCain means a great deal to me nationally, but particularly here in New Hampshire, where Senator McCain is beloved by so many people, where this evening, we just had a town meeting, this was the very place that Senator McCain announced his candidacy in the past. So, old roots, old connections and the association with someone who is an unquestioned hero and patriot is something which I value personally and of course, I think it's a good statement politically that we are coming together as a party to get behind folks we believe in.

    HANNITY: There is a bit of an irony here. Back in 2008, Senator McCain, you were viewed as less conservative than Mitt Romney. You struggled a little bit with conservative voters, especially during the primaries. And Governor, you were viewed as the more conservative candidate.

    In this race, it seems like in many ways, you've taken the senator's position here in that you are still struggling a little bit with some of the conservative voters in the voting base. Senator McCain, is there any advice you would give Governor Romney?

    MCCAIN: No, Sean. But I would point out that if we were on this show two weeks ago, the prediction that Mitt Romney would carry a very conservative voting state, and that's the Iowa caucuses, wasn't going to happen. I think there is very little doubt that he is picking up traction amongst all sectors of the Republican Party, just as I was able to do in the primary. And I am confident that a big win here will translate itself into South Carolina and Florida and I think this thing could be over a lot sooner than a lot of people think. I think he's broadened his base of appeal rather dramatically.

    HANNITY: Yes. Well, Governor, I will give you a chance to respond to that. As you look at the exit polls and you look at, for example, on electability, your numbers are really high. On who they view as more conservative, there seems to be with the recent surge, Rick Santorum, only eight votes behind you in the caucuses, the feeling is that conservatives are still not convinced that you would govern as a strong, solid conservative. And I want to give you an opportunity tonight to appeal to them and reach out to them and tell them on important issues where you will be conservative.

    ROMNEY: You know, I think the people of the country have come to know me better and better. The nice thing about New Hampshire is they saw me act as governor here for four years and understand that I was a conservative governor that helped get our state back on track in many ways. We balanced the budget every year I was in office. We cut taxes 19 times. I put in place a $2 billion rainy-day fund. I had a state police and enforced our immigration laws. We are also will able to install English immersion in our schools and our schools are number one in the nation.

    A lot of principles are very conservative principles. And if I don't line up 100 percent behind someone's view, they can look somewhere else. But I think in the final analysis that they will conclude I'm a pretty darn conservative Republican, that I believe in the principles that made American the nation we are. I want to restore to America the kind of freedom and opportunity that drove America to be the leader of the world. And that's what I am in this race for, to help middle-income Americans and to keep this country strong.

    HANNITY: Let me ask you this question. There's one thing, I interviewed one of your opponents, Newt Gingrich on radio today. And Newt's argument is, he's frustrated. He felt like the super PAC ads against him -- not that they were negative, he felt that some of the comments specifically about him were dishonest. And he made the claim. You were met today when you arrived in New Hampshire, with Newt Gingrich's ad in the union leader. He uses terms like you are a Massachusetts moderate, that you managed the decay in Massachusetts, that you have changed your position on abortion, on gun control and a series of other issues, funded abortions for example and Romneycare. Do you think and do you anticipate when these debates comes Saturday night and Sunday morning, that this is probably going to be a spirited -- to use Senator McCain words -- a debate and moment as we have had in the campaign?

    ROMNEY: Oh, I don't know if it will be more spirited than in the past. But of course, campaigns are an opportunity to get to know the candidate and other people are going to take their best shots. And then you have to either respond to them appropriately or be sunk by them. And I'm a big guy with broad shoulders. I am happy to accept the fact that if I am in a race like this, I'm going to face people that have different views. And if they something that's not accurate, I will do my very best to correct it. Some of the things that the speaker's saying are not quite accurate. But I will get a chance to correct them down the road.

    But right now, what I want people to know is that this president that we have is taking the country in the wrong direction. That I understand what it will take to get our government pared back to size and to get our economy going again. And those are the things people want to hear about. And that's one of the reasons I am going around the state of New Hampshire today and tomorrow, also in South Carolina, making sure people understand why it is we need to have someone of my background helping to lead this country.

    HANNITY: All right. Let me play a little bit of what Newt said on my radio show today. And Senator McCain, I might put you in the position now of being official adviser to Senator, on to Governor Romney who you endorsed. And here's what Newt Gingrich said earlier today.


    NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's somebody who is not candid. He is not candid about his record, he's not candid about his PAC, his PAC run ads that are false. They have spent millions of dollars and I suspect they will pivot now and go after Rick Santorum because the only technique they have is to try to shrink the other candidate. So, you know, after five years of campaigning, they can't move Romney above 25 percent. He got basically exactly the same vote in 2012 that he got in 2008. And so, millions of dollars of campaigning later, he is trapped with three-fourths of the Republican Party rejecting him because he is a Massachusetts moderate. And in the end, people don't want a Massachusetts moderate to lead the Republican Party.


    HANNITY: All right. Senator McCain, you were pretty hard on Governor Romney back in 2008. Now, Newt Gingrich is pretty ticked off. You can hear it in his voice. How would you advise him to respond, considering you had a kind of similar ad yourself when you had the tale of two myths?

    MCCAIN: Well, again, to start with, campaigns are tough. And it's pretty obvious from the tone of his voice that Newt Gingrich is very unhappy. He was sitting very well for a period of time. He kind of had a succession of people who have gone up and then gone down, while Mitt has been putting one foot ahead of the other and maintaining a steady strength and has been going up. He is going to do well here in New Hampshire. And I am confident he will do well in South Carolina and in Florida. And again, to say that the Iowa caucuses, who were something that was expected, it was not. I mean, it shows that the campaign has been gaining traction.

    You know, and I say to my friend, Newt, politics isn't being back, it's a tough business. And I respect Newt's record. I don't agree with a lot of the things that he did. But at the same time, I understand why he might be a little upset and he sounds very upset. But that isn't the way you win elections. The way you win elections is to come forward with your own positive agenda, which is exactly what Mitt has been doing all along.


    HANNITY: Now less than 24 hours ago, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses. And today, he picked up the endorsement of the man who was the Republican nominee for the White House back in 2008, that's Arizona Senator John McCain. But it appears not all of Governor Romney's fellow GOP contenders are impressed with that endorsement. Listen to this.


    JON HUNTSMAN, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have great regard for Senator McCain. I love the man. But it's another example of the establishment piling on. And it seems the more that the establishment piles on -- Dole, McCain and all the rest -- nobody cares. Nobody cares about this. I mean, none of the endorsements that Romney's picked up have meant a thing.


    HANNITY: And continuing to join me tonight from the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain. The latest poll I saw Governor has you at 43 percent. Jon Huntsman critical 10 percent. At that point, I would say that you are the heavy favorite going into New Hampshire.

    ROMNEY: Well, I hope that people here, having lived next door and having seen me over the years would have a generally favorable opinion. And I know that a lot of folks are going to try and take that favorable opinion down a bit. But I think they understand that I am in this not because I have a political career but because I care very deeply about the country and I think my background of the private sector having worked in business for some 25 years is the kind of background that will post up well against Barack Obama and is a kind of background that's needed to get this economy going again and to finally balance the budget of this federal government.

    HANNITY: You know, Senator McCain, as you ran your campaign in 2008 -- and I was out on the road with you many, many times and Governor Palin -- you know, I was looking at Barack Obama's background, his associations, Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, Father Pfleger, looking at, you know, what his life was like as a community organizer, connections to ACORN. Alinsky -- black liberation theology.

    And I know in the past interviews, I said to you that I thought you were the nicer person because for me, I would have brought all of that stuff up. But again, I'm not a politician, I couldn't be elected dog catcher. Do you think that some of the little that they were able to glean from President Obama has come to fruition? And do you think maybe some of the issues you didn't bring up in 2008, if Governor Romney were to get the nomination, would you advise him to bring some of these things up?

    MCCAIN: What I would advise Governor Romney -- and by the way, the losers' a little reluctant to provide too much advice -- is really what kick the American people are deeply concerned about now and that's our economy and jobs, and secondarily, our leadership in the world. This leading from behind, look at what's happening in the unraveling in Iraq. Look at what is happening in Afghanistan. Look, in 2009, President Obama when there was a 1.5 million people demonstrating in the streets of Tehran, a woman, young woman named Neda (ph) bleeding to death in the street to the view of the entire world, what did he say? He said, I don't want to jeopardize my chances to negotiate with the people's Republic of Iran. And look at what we are paying the price for that. And so, I believe that those are issues -- jobs and the economy. Mitt Romney tonight was talking about Solyndra, they paid half a billion dollars for staples -- yes, $5 million! And guess who succeeded and guess who failed? This is the kind of thing I think is the campaign that -- that Governor Romney is waging.

    HANNITY: You know, Governor, I spent a lot of time and I spoke to everybody that I could on the ground when I was most recently in Iowa and I have been there a number of times now in this election season. And everywhere that I go, I talk to people. And what they tell me -- and I assume you are hearing the same thing -- they want somebody to fight and to explain conservative solutions to Barack Obama because they feel that the government is out of control. Imagine you get the nomination. How would you envision the battle between you and the president, who is a really strong campaigner? How would you think this campaign would go?

    ROMNEY: Well, of course, he's going to be attacking in every way possible and trying to go after me personally and I will be going after his record. And then he will say, well, he did this wonderful job of getting the economy going again, and then I will point out that having been in the business world, let's look at each of the things he did and ask whether the votes things helped or hurt putting people back to work.

    And what I will show is that Obamacare hurt with regards to hiring people again. That Dodd-Frank hurt the banking sector making loans to small businesses. That his work with the National Labor Relations Board putting labor stooges in there has frightened businesses away from hiring people. I'll go item by item and point out that he has failed to get the economy going because he has failed to understand how a free-market economy works. I could demonstrate that from -- in so many different ways, I am looking forward to that. He's going to want to divert from his record. I will want to bring him back to his record time and time again and point out that his failure and his record flows from the fact that he does not have any experience or real understanding of how the economy works.

    MCCAIN: Could I add, Sean?

    HANNITY: Yes.

    MCCAIN: If you think the 2008 campaign was nasty, you wait and see the kind of campaign that the Obama campaign have already announced that they are going to run. And we got to be prepared for that. And I guarantee you, all of us will be fighting back. The future of this country now rests on this election.

    HANNITY: I think that's really well said. And they've already signaled as you point out Senator, Republicans want dirty air, dirty water. They want kids with autism, Down syndrome and the elderly to fend for themselves. None of which is true. Pretty astonishing. The media has not called them out on it. And Governor, if you get the nomination, I am glad to hear that you are prepared for that. And we appreciate both of you being with us. Thank you.

    ROMNEY: Thanks, Sean.

    MCCAIN: Thanks, Sean.

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