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NBC "Today" - Transcript

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MR. LAUER: Governor Mitt Romney, good morning.

MR. ROMNEY: Good morning, Matt.

MR. LAUER: Hey, Governor, I'm sorry. I was supposed to be there face to face with you in Detroit or Dearborn this morning. Mother Nature had other ideas, so I apologize.

MR. ROMNEY: I look forward to seeing you next time.

MR. LAUER: All right, listen, when anybody decides they want to run for president, they have to have that moment that they look in the mirror and say, "Why do I want to do this?" How did you answer that question?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, it was with my family. We all got together at Christmastime and sat around and I asked my five sons and my five daughters-in-law, "What do you think we ought to do?" And we talked about how difficult things are in this country right now, how tough it is for working families, the kind of challenges America faces.

And they believe that by virtue of Ann and my values, and also my experience in helping innovate and transform businesses and the Olympics and the state of Massachusetts, that I have the skills that are really needed right now to help get America back on track.

So with their support and with Ann by my side, we decided to get in this race and do everything possible to make America a more prosperous and safe place for our kids and our grandkids.

MR. LAUER: Let's talk about some of the realities of the race, Governor. Let's talk about money briefly. You've got people like John McCain (and) Hillary Clinton saying their campaigns could raise $100 million this year alone. Can you match those numbers, especially when a recent poll said that 43 percent of Americans are not even sure who you are?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, at this stage it's real early to have people know who I am. That's something which will develop over time. But the answer is yes, I can raise the money. And that's by virtue of the fact that I didn't spend my life in politics. I spent my life in the real world of small enterprise, big enterprise, private enterprises, volunteer sector.

So I have a network of friends and associations which is very broad and people who believe it's time to have somebody who's not a politician, a lifelong politician, running the country, somebody who knows how to innovate from their experience rather than just talking about it. So --

MR. LAUER: What about foreign --

MR. ROMNEY: -- people who don't want --

MR. LAUER: I'm sorry --

MR. ROMNEY: -- talk are going to make that kind of change.

MR. LAUER: What about foreign policy? You have little or no foreign policy experience. And I know there's a history, as of late, of governors ascending to the presidency with little or no foreign policy experience. But some people are saying the times we're living in right now demand that the president have that experience when he or she gets to the Oval Office. How do you respond?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, of course, in the private sector I've done business all over the world and been managing enterprises and negotiating with entities all over the world. And what I find is that people want a fresh perspective. They don't want the folks that have been slogging it out in Washington and battling over minutiae. They want folks that can actually get the job done.

Americans are tired of all the talk. They want somebody who can do, who can act. And so as they look at the people on the scene at this point, they look at someone like a mayor, who hasn't had foreign policy experience. They look at a governor, who hasn't either, other than through their broad life experience. And they look at their ability to make tough decisions, to bring people together and to actually get the job done.

MR. ROMNEY: On the subject of Iraq, you support the surge in troops, saying we need to continue as long as there's a reasonable prospect for success in Iraq, saying our wisest course is to seek stability in that country.

Governor, the president took us to war in Iraq saying in part he wanted to create a model democracy for the rest of the Middle East. Do you think that's even possible in that country anymore?

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, I'm sure all things are possible, but I don't think that's a high probability at this point. I think success is defined in terms of having stability there such that the people of that country have one national leader. They will, of course, have some substates, some strong substates.

But what you're concerned about is to see the Shi'a portion of the country fall under Iranian lead, to have the Sunni portion become dominated by al Qaeda, perhaps having the Kurdish portion destabilize the borders of Turkey. The implications of a broader conflict throughout the Middle East could also be severe.

We all want our troops home as soon as we can have them home. But we don't want to have them have to go back and have them subject to even more potential devastation and loss of life. So my interest is to assure that our interests as a nation and the safety of our servicemen are put first. Let's get them home as soon as we can. But let's not put them home in a way that makes us suffer even more penalty down the road.

MR. LAUER: There's a knock against you by some critics, Governor, that say you're a flip-flopper, that perhaps you're not all that sincere.

Let me give you two quick examples. When you were running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, you responded to a questionnaire from Planned Parenthood that you supported the substance of Roe v. Wade and that, quote, "Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs," end quote, and that while personally you didn't favor it, you wouldn't try to change the law.

Now you say that you have changed. You are firmly pro-life. You may even support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And on the subject of stem cell research, you supported it in 2002. You're now opposing it.

It doesn't take a huge cynic to say, "Wait a minute. In 2002 he said what he said and did what he did because he was currying the favor of liberal voters in Massachusetts, and now he's doing what he's doing and saying what he's saying to curry the favor of conservative voters he's going to need for the nomination.


How do you respond?

MR. ROMNEY: Long question, Matt. Let's try. First of all, your point on stem cell research isn't quite right. I do support stem cell research. What I don't support is cloning. What I don't support is embryo farming. That's the position I've had from the very beginning as we really delved into this issue. There are different levels of stem cell research. I support using surplus embryos from IVF. I do not support cloning. So that's supporting stem cell research.

Secondly, with regards to abortion, you're absolutely right. When I ran 13 years ago, when I ran for governor, I said I wouldn't change the law. I haven't changed the law. But about two and a half years ago, as we were delving into stem cell research, I said that we have so cheapened the value of human life in this society that it's time to make it clear that I am pro-life. And every action I've taken as governor is consistent with that.

MR. LAUER: So --

MR. ROMNEY: Americans don't care where you were.

MR. LAUER: So are you driven by a moral compass?

MR. ROMNEY: They care where you stand. And my record is clear.

MR. LAUER: So people who say you're driven less by a moral compass than political aspirations, you would say --

MR. ROMNEY: Well, what I'd say is look at Ronald Reagan. Look at other people who likewise came to the same conclusion I have, that in the past said they'd leave the law as it was, that they'd support Roe v. Wade, but as they delved into it, as they got into the details of what's going on, as they searched their heart, they said, "You know what? We have so cheapened human life that it's important to indicate that we stand on the side of human life." That's exactly what I've done.

MR. LAUER: And just in closing the subject of religion, as you heard in Norah O'Donnell's piece, 53 percent of Americans right now, according to a poll, said they have some reservations about voting for a Mormon. Twenty-five percent of evangelicals said they would not vote for a Mormon. How are you going to bridge that divide?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I think I've found that people across this country want a person of faith to lead the country. And they don't particularly care as much about the brand of faith as they do about the values the person has. And my values are as American as you can imagine.

I believe in God. I believe that all the men and women in this country are children of God. The men and women of the entire world are brothers and sisters. The kinds of values which I have in my heart are the kinds of values which America needs.

MR. LAUER: Governor Mitt Romney, on the campaign trail. Governor, again I apologize for not getting there in person. We'll do it at another time.

MR. ROMNEY: Look forward to seeing you, Matt. Thank you. And Happy Valentine's Day to Meredith.

MR. LAUER: All right, thank you very much. I'll pass it along.

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