Mitt Romney, former Republican presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts, had a terrific NCCA basketball bracket, picking Duke University as the winner, but he declined to share a bracket for the 2016 presidential race before a full house at Duke on April 8.
In discussion with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, Romney discussed foreign policy, presidential politics and occasionally touched on sports. The conversation at Fuqua School of Business was sponsored by the Ambassador Dave and Kay Philips Family International Lecture fund.
For the 2016 campaign, Romney said Hillary Clinton is the obvious Democratic candidate, as she had been in 2008, when Obama “caught lightning in a jar” and won the nomination. The Republican field “has lots of good people, maybe as many as 15.”
While Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul lead in fundraising, the debates will be very important, where Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee could be effective, Romney said. There were 20 debates in the 2012 campaign, “and I’m sure you watched them all,” Romney quipped.
“I’ve got my bracket filled, but I’m not going to show it,” Romney said.
Regarding his own showing in the 2012 campaign, Romney said he would change two key things.
He would not allow the Democrats to define Republicans as “the party of the rich” and would be “better at taking the message to minority voters.” He pointed out that the primary structure disadvantaged Republicans, in that minority voters didn’t vote in those primaries, leaving only a few months after the nomination to sway them. He also said the campaign should have monitored Hispanic television more closely “to see what the Obama campaign was saying about us.”
The attack on the American embassy in Bengazhi was “an enormous issue with Republican voters,” and many thought there was something “more sinister than a mistake,” Romney said. He didn’t think it was more than a mistake, but thought the White House tried to downplay it as a terrorist act, “although Candy Crowley corrected me on that,” he said, referring to the town-hall style presidential debate.
On foreign policy, Romney said the president has opportunities to shape events, and thought that the current administration failed to do that in respect to both the revolution in Syria and the recent conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.
“Russia is our number one geopolitical adversary,” Romney said.
Putin was emboldened to believe he could take Crimea because of perceived American weakness. “I don’t think he’s finished,” but wants to reestablish the old Soviet empire, Romney said.
On the pending nuclear deal with Iran, Romney said it was not as “good as it should have been.” He pointed out it was not as tough a deal as North Korea got” and it did not prevent them getting nuclear weapons. He did think that the deal should be taken to Congress, in spite of the fact that it is not required by the Constitution or by previous practice, because “ a nuclear Iran has consequences,” including a possible arms race in the region.
During the question and answer session with the audience, Romney touched on other issues. When asked his favorite books on politics and on business management, Romney mentioned What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer, about the 1988 presidential race between G.H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, and for business The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Strategy and operations are important, but as he gets older, the more he believes in leadership, he said.