Salt Lake Magazine
Will he or won’t he?
Republicans (and Democrats) around the country remain puzzled by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations.
He looks the part. He talks the part. And he seems ready for the challenge. Though challenge is hardly the word. Romney is magic. After all, who would have thought that a conservative Mormon could ever bag the most powerful position in the most liberal, predominantly Catholic state? Plus, he resurrected the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from a moribund scandal and turned it into one of the most successful Winter Games in recent memory, even in the shadow of the September 11 terrorist attacks. And the Boston press has searched (and searched and searched) every corner of Romney’s past and has yet to find one indiscretion to hang him with. But will the Dudley Do-Right routine hold? Is Romney too nice to be president? More to the point, is America ready for a Mormon in the Oval Office? Romney talked recently (and candidly) about his future, the war in Iraq, and why, immigrants, it’s time to get your gosh dang green cards, now c’mon.
Salt Lake magazine: Will you be running for president in 2008?
Mitt Romney: That’s a decision I’ll make a long time from now. I’m keeping that option open and it’s an active effort, but the decision won’t be made for quite a while.
SL: There’s been a lot of talk about whether a Mormon or anyone from a non-mainstream religion can become president. What are your thoughts on that?
MR: Two things. First, the great majority of Americans want a person of faith as their leader. They don’t care what brand of faith so long as we share values. There’s a smaller slice of America that would just assume not vote for a Mormon, all things being equal. But we know all things are never equal. So my father [former governor of Michigan, George Romney] achieved a leadership position in the polls despite being Mormon because of his character. Then there’s a tiny slice of people who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon no matter what. I would lose those people. Also note, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his La See Um Address that Americans subscribe to a political religion. An elected official follows the oath of office first and foremost.
SL: How difficult is it for you to toe the line on laws you are morally opposed to?
MR: That goes back to that political religion. What Lincoln meant was that we adhere to the rule of law and our oath of office and that is essential to our functioning as a society. That’s what made it possible for Jack Kennedy to become president even though he was Catholic and for Ronald Reagan to be president even though he was divorced and an actor. It’s even allowed me to become the governor of a state that is 55 percent Catholic.
SL: With that said, is it difficult when you see the law of the land go so against what you believe in?
MR: No question there are a number of laws and rulings of the court or the legislature that I disagree with, but as the chief executive in my state, I honor my oath of office to follow the law and when I disagree with a law I campaign against it and fight to get it changed, but I don’t disobey it.
SL: What are your thoughts concerning Iraq?
MR: It’s clear with the benefit of hindsight we made a number of errors with regard to our strategy in Iraq. First and most obviously, our intelligence was flawed. Second, we had insufficient troop strength to establish order following the point of major conflict. That error has led to a reemergence of conflict in the nation we subdued. At this stage we are where we are and it would be inappropriate for us to turn and run, having created a level of instability that is costing human life. On the other hand, it would be foolish to remain a day longer than is necessary to achieve stability through local security forces.
SL: What about Iran?
MR: It would be unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Every option must be available to prevent that.
SL: How can we manage our U.S. borders, especially given the heightened problem with terrorism?
MR: Our immigration laws are upside down. We make it almost impossible for the best and brightest who graduate from top universities in masters and advanced degrees programs to become U.S. citizens. But we have an open and porous border for those people with no education and without skill. So our laws need to be right-sided. Our borders also need to be far more secure. We also need to register those who are here illegally and get them on the path to paying taxes, refusing them government aid, and getting them in line for visas and legal status.
SL: Do you miss Utah?
MR: I love Utah. That Olympic experience was the pinnacle of my professional career. The people in Utah were amazing. The volunteers, who worked so hard to bring a great experience to the whole world to enjoy, were an inspiration to me. I have nothing but fond memories of that time.