Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) had an emotional and in-depth interview with David Axelrod, one of the men who once worked the hardest to defeat him in the 2012 presidential race.
Axelrod is the longtime political consigliere to President Barack Obama, lifting him up from political obscurity and advising him during both of his presidential campaigns.
“If you had told me four years ago that I was going to be sitting down with Mitt Romney for an hour-long conversation, I would have told you you were nuts,” Axelrod said to begin the interview, which was published on his “The Axe Files” podcast Friday.
Once Romney came onto the show, Axelrod jokingly told his formal rival that he had to “confess” to not supporting Romney in the race. Romney professed to be “shocked” by the revelation.
They soon moved on to more serious topics, such as Romney’s father, Ann Romney’s battle with multiple sclerosis and health crises in Axelrod’s own family, the 2016 presidential race, the state of politics today, and whether Romney might reenter the political arena, among other things.
“This will shock you. We actually have something pretty big in common. One of my childhood heroes was your dad, George Romney,” Axelrod told Romney, whose father was an auto executive, Housing and Urban Development secretary, and an unsuccessful presidential candidate.
Axelrod specifically hailed George Romney’s “maverick” role in promoting equal rights for African-Americans in Michigan and at HUD under President Richard Nixon.
“He had such fundamental guiding principles that he never varied from them. And one of them was that all people were created equal. That we’re all sons and daughters of the same God,” Romney said. “It was simply unthinkable that in the United States of America, that African-Americans would not have the same opportunities.”
Axelrod framed George Romney, a devout Mormon like his son, as more progressive than his own church leaders, who once barred black clergy members. But Romney pushed back on that notion.
“His view was that all men and women are created equal and loved by God. And that is also the position of the church,” Romney said matter-of-factly.
Axelrod and Romney then moved to discuss the emotional trauma of having loved ones struck by serious health issues. Ann Romney is currently promoting a new book, “In This Together: My Story,” in which she opened up about her experiences with MS.
“Let me take you back to that moment when you got that diagnosis. I remember when Susan called me to tell me she had cancer,” Axelrod said. “And I remember when my daughter had her first seizure and we had never seen one before. What was it like when you heard that Ann had MS?”
Romney said he and his wife learned about the diagnosis together.
“Ann and I both broke down. We hugged each other, but recognized that our life had changed forever. And I did say to Ann at that time, ‘As long as it’s not fatal, we can handle it. We can do this together,” he recalled.
“I think [for] most people in their lives, things seem to go pretty well until they don’t. And in this case, this was the perhaps greatest shock,” Romney added.
“With a disease like MS, you know that you’re forever changed, that Ann will always have this hanging over her and will be progressively weaker and weaker and able to do less and less in her life. And so your plans change. And in some respects, you cling more desperately to the things you love and care about.”
Axelrod and Romney agreed that their experiences helped inform their separate pushes for healthcare reform in the US and Massachusetts, which both included controversial insurance mandates.
Romney said he knew his healthcare-reform bill was not “good politics” at the time of its enactment in 2006. But he later saw the value of his state’s reforms when a former colleague battled brain cancer between jobs, when she otherwise would have lacked insurance coverage.
Axelrod also asked Romney to analyze the 2016 presidential race. The veteran Democratic consultant pointed out that some of Romney’s own controversial statements – such as promoting “self-deportation” for people who immigrated to the US illegally – pale in comparison to the caustic rhetoric of the current Republican front-runner, Donald Trump.
Romney agreed and started ripping into Trump’s candidacy.
“I think Donald Trump has said a number of things which are hurtful – and he has said that they were ‘childish’ in some respects – and I think [they] will be potentially problematic either in the primary or a general election,” he said.
Romney was much more eager to bash the top two Democratic presidential candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). Romney said it was striking that Clinton had tacked so far to the left, including during last Tuesday’s big Democratic debate.
“I watched the first Democrat debate and watched Bernie Sanders, who I knew would take some relatively extreme positions. But it struck me that Hillary Clinton was going along with a lot of them, or at least not pushing back as hard as I might have expected,” Romney recalled.
Axelrod pointed out that for someone who has publicly sworn off future campaigns, Romney has a lot of thoughts about the direction of US political leadership. Romney is frequently talked about as a potential dark-horse entry into the 2016 race, especially in light of Trump’s rise.
“Do you see any scenario in which you would reenter politics in any way?” Axelrod asked.
“I don’t see that,” Romney mused. “I appreciate the few people who say nice things about me and say, ‘Gee, you were right about this,’ or, ‘You were right about that.’ But frankly I spend my time looking ahead. I’ve got 23 grandkids, and I’m concerned about what their world is going to be like.”
Listen to the full interview below: