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November 30, 2011 8:35 AM A rare Romney interview

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney, despite having been a presidential candidate non-stop for over five years, is still reluctant to sit down for lengthy media interviews. So when the former governor sat down with Fox News’ Bret Baier yesterday in Miami, it seemed like a rare treat for the political world.

The two covered a fair amount of ground, but a few exchanges jumped out at me. For example, Baier asked Romney about Newt Gingrich.

“You know, Speaker Gingrich is a good man. He and I have very different backgrounds. He spent his last 30 or 40 years in Washington. I spent my career in the private sector. I think that’s what the country needs right now.”

That’s not quite true. Romney spent some of his career leading a vulture capital fund, breaking up companies and firing American workers, but he’s also been a Senate candidate, a governor, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, the head of a political action committee, and a two-time presidential candidate. He spent his career “in the private sector”? Not really.

Baier also raised the issue of Romney’s flip-flops, and asked a good question: “How can voters trust what they hear from you today is what you will believe if you win the White House?” Romney didn’t answer, choosing instead to condemn President Obama. So, Baier tried again, noting that Democrats and Republicans have raised this point. Romney didn’t appear pleased.

“[T]here’s no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences, where in some cases, there are not. But one place I’d change my mind which regards to the government’s role relating abortion. I am pro-life.

“I did not take that position years ago. And that’s the same change that occurred with Ronald Reagan, with George W. Bush, with some of the leaders in the pro-life movement.”

First, Romney should never complain about taking people out of context. Second, Bush was consistent on his position on abortion. And third, abortion is only one of dozens of issues on which Romney has flip-flopped.

Later, when pressed on whether he’s changed his views on health care, Romney got testy and complained, “This is an unusual interview.” It’s only unusual because Romney isn’t used to facing any questions at all.

When Baier turned the focus to immigration, Romney said, “My view is pretty straightforward.” The reality is the opposite — Romney struggled badly to explain why he’s criticized Gingrich’s position that appears to be identical to his own. When Baier pressed the candidate on what he’d recommend for the millions of undocumented immigrants who are already in the United States, Romney couldn’t answer.

“You know, there’s great interest on the part of some to talk about what we do with the 11 million. My interest is saying, let’s make sure that we secure the border, and we don’t do anything that talks about bringing in a new wave of those or attracting a new wave of people into the country illegally.

“The right course for us is to secure the border and say nothing about amnesty or tuition breaks to illegal aliens or anything else that draws people into the country illegally. The right course, secure the border, and then, we can determine what’s the right way to deal with the 11 million and to make it as clear as I possibly can.”

Romney’s campaign couldn’t answer the question last week, and Romney himself couldn’t answer the question this week. These guys have had plenty of time to think of something to say; there’s no excuse for coming up empty now.

I don’t imagine he’s interested in my advice, but I suspect Romney would be more comfortable, less awkward, and more proficient in these interviews if he didn’t go to great lengths to avoid them. Practice makes perfect, Mitt.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • DAY on November 30, 2011 8:40 AM:

    "secure the border" is as nebulous as "cut spending" or "support the troops". When will the media ask for specifics?

  • Danp on November 30, 2011 8:45 AM:

    “The right course for us is to secure the border and say nothing about amnesty

    Gingrich didn't bring up amnesty. Romeny did.

    “This is an unusual interview.”

    I was unusual in that Fox doesn't normally conduct confrontational interviews with Republicans. Romney is clearly the bastard at this family reunion.

  • FlipYrWhig on November 30, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Re: abortion, Mitt may have been thinking of George H.W. Bush, who IIRC was pro-choice at one point, and remained pro-Planned Parenthood.

  • c u n d gulag on November 30, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Poor Mittens, he was hoping for the usual FOX softball questions.

    And he got upset when one of the only two people on the NOTwork, who come even close to the term 'journalist's,' Shep Smith being the other, had the temerity to follow-up a question.

    Usually, the only follow-up questions on FOX are directed towards Democrats, and are of the "So, do you still beat your wife?" variety.

  • SteveT on November 30, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Romney spent some of his career leading a vulture capital fund, breaking up companies and firing American workers . . .

    Calling Romney's work at Bain Capital "vulture capitalism" isn't fair -- it isn't fair to vultures, who have the decency to wait for their prey to die before they pick the bones of the corpse.

    A more accurate description might be rodent capitalism. Rats will kill their prey rather than waiting for it to die. But mostly, rats live by stealing the provisions that were set aside and stored by creatures higher up the evolutionary scale.

  • bleh on November 30, 2011 9:13 AM:

    People who have been in high-ranking executive positions in industry don't LIKE interviews, because they don't control them completely. See, for example, under "Cheney, Dick."

    This inability to cope with situations in which they are not in control is a major reason why -- propaganda to the contrary -- former industry executives do NOT make good political leaders. They're too used to things going as they ordain, and when things don't, they fall apart and/or overreact. (Again, see "Cheney, Dick.")

    Romney is a thin-skinned empty-suit control freak. He would be a lousy president.

  • walt on November 30, 2011 9:21 AM:

    What bleh said.

  • Mudge on November 30, 2011 9:24 AM:

    Wrestling a greased pig comes to mind.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on November 30, 2011 9:32 AM:

    Romney is a thin-skinned empty-suit control freak. He would be a lousy president.

    I think Romney is a chameleon-skinned, sell his mother's soul to the devil for a few percentage points type, all while making sure no hair on his head is out of place freak. And he would be a lousy president.

  • navamske on November 30, 2011 9:42 AM:

    Maybe Romney meant Old Bush, who did a 180 on abortion after becoming Reagan's running mate in 1980.

  • DRF on November 30, 2011 10:07 AM:

    I don't think it's a question of lack of practice. The fact is that there really is no good answer he can give to the question about flip-flopping, since it's apparent to everyone that the guy has set a world record for reversal of positions. Romney's answer to what is an unanswerable question is first, to attack Obama and, when that doesn't deflect the question, to focus in on his "conversion" on abortion. Although no sane and intelligent person can believe that Romney's view on this really changed while he was in his '50s, this sort of conversion story does seem to have an appeal to religious right wing voters.

    By the way, this notion that he constantly puts forth that this country needs a President whose background is in the private sector is complete nonsense. Performing capably as President has virtually nothing in common with running a business (particularly a consulting/finance business), so Romney's private sector background would be basically worthless. I don't blame him for pitching this; what else can he say?

  • johnny canuck on November 30, 2011 10:08 AM:

    SteveT on November 30, 2011 8:55 AM:

    brilliant!!

  • ComradeAnon on November 30, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Romney definitely ain't gonna be the Fox candidate. And Romney's right that it was an "unusual interview". But not just for him. For Fox also. They asked him actual questions.

  • Texas Aggie on November 30, 2011 11:36 AM:

    Practice makes perfect, Mitt.

    Sure, it does. Just ask Herman Cain. On second thought, there is a reason he doesn't like to talk to reporters.

  • MaryRC on November 30, 2011 12:56 PM:

    “[T]here’s no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context .

    Oh, the irony.

  • Rick Massimo on November 30, 2011 1:43 PM:

    "Romney spent some of his career leading a vulture capital fund, breaking up companies and firing American workers, but he’s also been a Senate candidate, a governor, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, the head of a political action committee, and a two-time presidential candidate."

    I'm not the first person to point out that the only reason Mitt Romney is not a career politician is because the voters didn't want him to be one.

  • booch221 on November 30, 2011 2:09 PM:

    No wonder Mitt's afraid to go on Fox News Sunday and get interrogated by Chris Wallace.

    Or Meet the Press.

    Or Face the Nation.

    He's trying to sit on his lead and run out the clock.

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