‘Utah Politics’ podcast: Mitt Romney on the election, conspiracy theories and more

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives at the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

Sen. Mitt Romney says he thinks there are issues a Republican-controlled Senate can work with President-elect Joe Biden on when he takes office in January. The economy, federal deficit and immigration reform are all areas where he sees opportunities for compromise.

Romney was a guest on the “Utah Politics” podcast Wednesday where he discussed the post-election controversy, President Donald Trump’s legal challenges to the election results and whether Americans would accept the vote as legitimate. He also teased he might run for a second term in 2024.

Below is a transcript of his conversation with host Bryan Schott, lightly edited for grammar and brevity.

Schott: You’ve acknowledged Democrat Joe Biden as winning the election, but many of your Republican colleagues haven’t yet. Is that something you’re concerned about?

Romney: I think the areas of concern relate to the movement to change personnel at the Pentagon. That gives me a little concern so late in this process, particularly as a new administration would need to be coordinating on defense policy, foreign policy, and national security. And I don’t quite know what the president and his team will end up doing.

The idea that people are sending congratulatory notes, that doesn’t bother me. Each senator has to decide what’s best for them, and their constituency. And my guess is that they don’t want to send mixed signals. They know that there’s a recount underway in a number of states. And so sending congratulations at the same time they’re supporting a recount would be a difficult message to carry. So I don’t worry so much about my colleagues in that regard.

But I do watch with interest and some potential concern with what’s happening in the administration.

Schott: We’ve seen some surveys come out in the aftermath of the election that a large number of Republicans, specifically Trump voters, do not believe that the election was fair and many tens of millions think that President Trump will ultimately be declared the winner. With so many people believing the election was illegitimate, do you have any concerns about what that means for American democracy and the Republican Party going forward?

Romney: In many cases where people are getting the news from social media as well as from more and more extreme sources on the left and on the right, leads to a setting where it’s hard for people to have a common basis with regards to facts.

I spoke with a very prominent former national security chief yesterday, and he said if the Democrats were able to pull off an election fraud like this, it would be the most successful covert activity that’s happened in a century.

The idea that someone could pull off shifting thousands of votes in multiple states like that is absurd. And yet people sometimes imagine that someone else has extraordinary powers, that there’s this great conspiracy and that everybody keeps it secret.

I remember when I was speaking with a member of the (Trump) administration, a senior member of the administration after the 2016 race. He said, you know, President Trump won in New Hampshire. If you counted the legal votes there. And I said, why is that? And he said, well, there were hundreds of busses from Massachusetts that brought people up from Massachusetts to vote in New Hampshire. That’s why he lost there.

I said I don’t think there are hundreds of busses in Massachusetts, to begin with. And secondly, if a bus showed up at a polling place in this day and age, someone would take a picture of it. And there were no pictures of any busses from Massachusetts at a polling place in New Hampshire.

Somehow these stories capture people’s imagination and they get repeated and repeated.

Schott: Post-election, the Republicans will have at least 50 members, so we’re looking at, at least, a 50-50 Senate, depending on what happens in Georgia. Do you feel in that scenario, in a Senate that is almost evenly divided, you might become a large player in getting things done? Have you done those calculations?

Romney: Any time that something is that closely divided, the opportunity to find commonality across the aisle is probably greater.

It really does make a difference whether we (Republicans) have the majority or they (Democrats) have it. If they have the majority, they will, without question, be pushing a new President Biden to take a far leftward tack.

They’ll be looking to pack the courts. They’ll be looking to make D.C. and Puerto Rico states and therefore solidify permanently their lead in the Senate. They will be looking to impose Medicare for all, a green new deal. I mean, they’ll be pushing very hard left and he’ll (Biden) have a hard time pushing against that tide if they get the Senate. So keeping it is critical.

I think the real challenge going forward is to make sure not that we adopt middle of the road positions, but instead that we defend conservatism, that we believe in keeping taxes low and regulation low, that we believe in using the energy resources — we have oil, coal, gas, as well as renewable resources. That we believe in international involvement such that we do not see an emergence of China as the global superpower. I mean, conservative principles work, and that’s what we’re going to be fighting for.

That’s what I’ll be fighting for, whether hopefully in the majority and if not the majority, certainly in the minority.

Schott: Does the term “conservatism” mean anything anymore? It’s seemingly lost some of its punch during the Trump administration. A cynic might say the concern with the deficit is only back in vogue now that a Democrat is headed to the White House.

Romney: I think it’s a fair point. Which is conservatism like liberalism or progressivism, all those isms are being redefined in the modern era, in part because of President Trump, in part because of President-elect Biden, as well as the emergence of people like AOC and the Democratic Party. We’re becoming more populist in our parties.

When I say conservatism, I think of the things which people in Utah associate with conservatism. And we may be an outlier in that regard. But in our state, we really do care about balancing budgets, about helping people who need help, but not sending out government money to people who don’t need help. We believe in defending and honoring the law. At the same time, we believe in being compassionate.

For instance, we’re not anxious to see children separated from parents at the border. We’d like there to be immigration reform that makes sure that people who come here come here legally.

These are the kinds of things that I think Utahns consistently have been in favor of, which for me is kind of a good definition of conservatism, Utah style.

And that’s what I’ll be fighting for over the coming four to 10 years.

Schott: 10 years? That means you would have to run for another term in 2024.

Romney: Well, I’m not going to take it off the table, at least not on this show.

Schott: Assuming everything holds, we’ll have a divided government in January, with Democrats controlling the House and White House and Republicans with the Senate. Do you see any opportunities for President Biden to get anything done with a Republican-controlled Senate during the first six months of his term, or will there just be more gridlock?

Romney: I think what we could get done together would be taking positions on issues where there is some common ground between the two parties. He (Biden) keeps on saying that he wants to unify America. Well, if he takes policy positions, which are anathema to Republicans, that will not unify America. So if there’s a Republican Senate, in some ways it could be a gift for Joe Biden, it would allow him to move to the center and to help unify the country.

For instance, on immigration, you know, we really can’t find common ground there. We keep on kicking the ball down the field. But, you know, we could actually get that solved.

With regards to our deficit and our debt. There’s going to need to be entitlement reform, and that’s going to have to be done on a bipartisan basis. It will not get done unless it’s done on a bipartisan basis.

Divided government could allow us to get some things done.

We have to, in my opinion, find a way to work together to take on the big issues, because, over the past several years, we haven’t really dealt with how to fix health care, to bring down prescription drug prices, to stop surprise billing. We haven’t dealt with how to improve our schools, how to reduce racism, how to reduce the income inequality that exists in our country, how to get our economy really going on a permanent basis, how to make sure that China plays by the rules.

There are a lot of things we need to get done. And I guess I’m optimistic that with divided government, we will be able to make progress in a way that is unifying rather than dividing.