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A Style Guide to the Kind of President Mitt Romney Might Be If Elected

August 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
When it comes to governance, U.S. presidents' styles have ranged from gruff to charming, comedic to academic. Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill try to dissect Mitt Romney's potential presidential governance style with the help of former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt and Tom Stemberg, co-founder of the office supply chain Staples.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, what does Romney’s record tell us about how he’d govern in Washington? 

For that, we turn to two men with personal ties to the former governor. Michael Leavitt, as governor of Utah, tapped Romney to take charge of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He also ran the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. And Tom Stemberg co-founded the office supply chain Staples in 1986, with backing from Romney’s former private equity firm, Bain Capital.

Gentlemen, we welcome you both to the NewsHour. 

TOM STEMBERG, Staples:  Thanks for having us. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Leavitt, let me start with you. We want to ask you in a minute about the Utah Olympics that you recruited Governor Romney to.

But, first of all, you as someone who knows health care, what about that question at the end of Gwen’s report? Do you believe what he did in Massachusetts with health care reform is a test or is a measure of how he would govern as president?

MICHAEL LEAVITT, Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services: I think, from the Mass. health care, you will see a couple things.

One, you will not see tax increases as a means of being able to do it. Massachusetts health care featured — didn’t feature any kind of a tax increase. I think one of the things you will see that’s different is that it will not be a takeover of the delivery system, like Obamacare is. He was trying to solve an insurance problem.

But he took a very narrow approach to solve a very specific problem of how to get people ensured. And I think you will see him take a very direct approach to very specific problems as president as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But in terms of how he dealt with members of the other party, what do you think that may tell us or not about how he would be as president?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Well, I think that’s a very important part of his narrative.

He did govern a state with 85 percent Democrat, and he was able successfully to work across the aisle and be able to find and craft collaborative solutions. And it’s something he will have to do as president, no matter what the outcome of the election.

GWEN IFILL: Tom Stemberg, you — let’s talk about the other part of the Mitt Romney narrative, which is his life as a businessman. Obviously, he helped you found Staples. And tell us a little bit about that, but also make that connection as well.

What is it that you know about Mitt Romney the businessman, which he talks about a lot, that would also roll over into what kind of a president he would be?

TOM STEMBERG: First of all, the way Mitt got involved in Staples is I had a business plan to open the very first office superstore.

I showed it to a bunch of venture capitalists. And many were Doubting Thomases. Now, who would want to save money on paper clips and pens and stuff like that? Mitt Romney may be the cheapest human being I know. So the notion of saving money on paper clips immediately resonated with him.

(LAUGHTER)

TOM STEMBERG: So he liked the idea, he pushed hard on the numbers, and he backed us.

But unlike a lot of investors, he wasn’t just a guy who gave his money and went away. Mitt was there the night before we opened our first store, giving a pep talk to the associates. When vendors wouldn’t sell us because they didn’t want discounting of prices in the industry, Mitt convinced them that if you didn’t get on the train, the train would run you over.

And he was a real instrumental part of the Staples story for 15 years. And when people ask me, would Staples have existed without Mitt Romney, the answer is probably yes, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as big or as successful without Mitt Romney.

GWEN IFILL: Every good businessman is not a good politician or a good governor, someone who can govern.

TOM STEMBERG: Let me tell you something about that.

Mitt Romney credits me with giving him the idea of his health care plan. I gave them that idea…

GWEN IFILL: Really?  

TOM STEMBERG: … during a meeting after his transition team meeting.

I said, Mitt, it’s incredible in Massachusetts, because I was involved with Mass General Hospital, how all these people are coming in without health insurance to the most expensive teaching hospital in the world to get flu shots and to get — to take care of their kids’ grippe.

And he said, this money is being paid for by the insurance companies by mandate. If we diverted that money and used it to provide people health care, it would be a much better solution. Didn’t hear about it for a couple years, until all of a sudden, he called me up and said, remember that idea you have told me about? We have decided to go do it.

And that’s the kind of guy Mitt is. He absorbs everything, studies everything, and then has the unique ability to surround himself with highly talented people to get things done. He did it at the Olympics. He did it as Massachusetts governor. He did it at Bain Capital. He will do it as president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it was a few years after Staples — Governor Leavitt, you were governor of the state of Utah, and you were reached out to Mitt Romney at a moment, what, would you say crisis, to get him to come in?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: It was a crisis.

We had received a bid for the Olympics Games. We were in the midst of preparing and there was a national scandal that we were caught in the midst of. We needed a new leader. And I took it upon myself to find him. I had a very specific profile in mind. I needed someone that, first of all, had a proven track record of turning things around.

Second, I needed someone who could demonstrate the financial discipline to turn the budget problem. And, third, I needed someone who could exert the kind of inspiration required to help our state believe again in the Olympic community. And if you look back, you can almost see a pattern where he stepped in and began to give a speech over and over about needing to divide from the things that we want and the things that we absolutely need to do this.

And he brought the deficit down to — instead of a $400 million deficit, we had a $100 million surplus. But more importantly, he was able to inspire a sense of new confidence among the Olympic community and the people of our state. And people began to believe, and it was a very successful Games.

GWEN IFILL: Tom Stemberg, I just wanted to ask you a little bit about Bain, because that has been — the Democrats have been all over this.

They have used it as an example of Mitt Romney’s remoteness, of the way he has handled money, the way he’s — you know what the rap is on him with Bain Capital. How do you think that the governor, the Republican nominee now, should handle that?

TOM STEMBERG: Well, I think tonight you’re going to hear a number of speakers, including myself, trying as best we can to set the record straight.

The distortions, the lies and the half-truths that the Obama administration and their friends have thrown out there are just outrageous; 95 percent of all Bain companies have been successful and have thrived.

The companies under — during Mitt Romney’s tenure added $80 billion to their revenues. And when you add $80 billion to revenues, believe me, you’re creating jobs, not destroying jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But part of the Obama campaign argument, though, is that sometimes jobs are lost in a private equity situation. A company — the investment is made to make money for the investors. How do you — for people who don’t understand how that works…

TOM STEMBERG: In the aggregate, we had $80 billion of growth. On balance, there are thousands, tens of thousands of jobs created.

Occasionally, was there an inefficient plan where somebody made things less expensively in China and our labor couldn’t compete? Yes? That happens. That’s the kind of creative destruction that happens in the American marketplace and in the global marketplace. That’s not unusual to Mitt Romney or anything else or even to private equity.

GWEN IFILL: Mike Leavitt, you’re as close an adviser as he has. How does Mitt Romney handle setbacks? We know what — he’s run for president before. It didn’t work. We know that he’s running again. What happens if he doesn’t get what he wants?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Well, I have seen over and over in any political setting when that occurs.

And through the primaries, there were moments when we thought we would do better in a particular state than he did. He got up the next morning and recalibrated the plan and drove on. And I think you see that through his business career. You can certainly see it as governor. You can see it during the course of his time running for president as well.

GWEN IFILL: Governor Leavitt, Tom Stemberg…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Stemberg, co-founder of Staples, thank you.

Thank you.

TOM STEMBERG: Thanks for having us.