Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared at a Monitor-sponsored lunch Thursday and opened some distance between himself and the Bush administration on the war in Iraq and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Romney announced last month that he is not running for reelection, a move widely analyzed as a preliminary step toward a bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
"There are plenty of places where I would separate from the administration," Romney told a roomful of reporters, "where I might have chosen another course ... certainly with regard to the war in Iraq or the front in Iraq - were there mistakes made there? Absolutely. Would I have done it differently? Of course. Would the president have done it differently based on what he knows today? Of course, in some measure."
For example, Romney said he would not have rested the whole case for the war in Iraq on finding weapons of mass destruction. He added, " There will certainly be occasions to recognize that no administration is omniscient and that there are places where we will disagree on policy."
Romney was also critical of the process by which the Republican-controlled Congress and President Bush produced a precription drug benefit under Medicare, the so-called Part D of the program. "The final product on Medicare Part D, that final bill was sort of sausage squared, the idea you don't want to see how sausage is made," Romney said.
The issue of Medicare Part D "is a complicated one," Romney said. He noted that President Bush "wanted to bring prescription coverage to seniors. He got that done, that's huge.... It has with it a financial burden which is very large. I don't imagine that that was what he was aiming for when he thought about this during his campaign."
Romney said, "I would have hoped to do it differently, I would have hoped to include within the additional prescription benefits certain reforms to Medicaid, Medicare, and our entire healthcare system to be able to pay for a very helpful prescription drug benefit."
Romney downplayed the impact his Mormon faith would have on evangelical Republican voters. "First of all the great majority of Americans and the great majority of the people in my own party ... frankly couldn't care less what someone's religion is," he said. The Bay State governor said there was "a small group," which he placed at 11 to 17 percent of the voters, "would just as soon not vote for a Mormon" but would if they liked an individual candidate. "Those two groups together are 98 or 99 percent of the electorate and then there is this very small slice, and boy, they will not vote for a Mormon no matter what," he said.
Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Politcal Report, wrote in the current issue of the newspaper Roll Call that Romney's membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints "is certain to raise questions (and concerns) that will give many Republican caucus attendees and primary voters a reason not to support the governor. That would be a considerable handicap for a politician who begins with other liabilities."
Romney displayed flashes of self-deprecating humor, which is not always politicians' favorite variety. He said he had asked his wife if in her wildest dreams she had thought he would be addressing prominent groups. He said her response was, "Mitt, you were not in my wildest dreams."
Governor Romney's life story is an inspiring riches-to-riches tale. The son of auto executive and Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mitt attended the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He graduated near the top of his class at Brigham Young University, and then picked up diplomas from both Harvard Law and Business Schools.
After Harvard, Romney pursued a business career. He founded Bain Capital, gave Ted Kennedy a scare during the 1994 Senate race, and in 1999 took over as head of the winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Mr. Romney ran for governor of the Bay State in 2002. Last month, he announced he would not be a candidate for reelection, freeing him to learn more about the wonders of ethanol in Iowa and to articulate a passionate defense of New Hampshire's innate right to have the first primary in the nation.