Q&A

Charlie Rose Talks to John McCain


“I haven’t met a single voter in Arizona who asked me, ‘When did Mitt Romney leave Bain?’”

Photograph by Tobias Hase/DPA/Zuma Press

“I haven’t met a single voter in Arizona who asked me, ‘When did Mitt Romney leave Bain?’”

You’ve certainly been talking with Mitt. Has he been listening?
Oh sure. But I’m very cautious about when I give him advice. I find it more satisfying if we just have conversations, rather than, “You’ve got to do this!” Everybody that’s not a candidate has the formula for success.
 
But you know what it takes to compete in an election. If he asks your advice, what would you say?
I would reinforce what he’s already doing, and that is to try to bring as much focus on the economy and jobs as he possibly can–and not be diverted. You know, I haven’t met a single voter in Arizona who asked me, “When did Mitt Romney leave Bain Capital?” Especially when nearly half the homes in Arizona are still underwater.
 
Is foreign policy–your area of expertise–even an issue in this race?
We need to make it an issue, and that’s why I thought his performances both in Poland and in Israel were important. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re in a crisis situation with Iran, and the world is very unsettled. I think it’s important that Mitt spend some time on those issues. I view him almost as Reaganesque on national security. He has strong core principles about America’s role in the world. I see that in him.
 
Does the president have that?
Oh no. I’m convinced that he does not, ranging from his failure to stand up for the Iranian demonstrators back in 2009 to his abysmal lack of even words of encouragement for those who are being massacred in Syria today. The U.S. continues to not be well regarded in the Arab world. And obviously we have the rising challenge of a somewhat assertive China.
 
What should the president do in terms of China?
He should make it very clear to China that we will stand with the other countries in the region, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea, because they’re threatening the backbone of our national security policy, which is freedom of navigation of the seas. The president’s record isn’t completely bleak, but my problem has been from the beginning that he doesn’t believe that America should lead. Whether that be in Libya or whether it be now in Syria.
 
On the issue of national security, will we see the massive cuts in defense from sequestration or can we avoid this fiscal cliff?
As commander in chief, that’s his primary responsibility…national security. And I have blamed Republicans and Democrats in Congress for agreeing to this cockamamie idea. But the president just recently said, well, Congress did it so Congress can, quote, “wiggle out of it.”
 
Will you have a role at the convention?
I’ve been told I will. It’s not been defined yet. I don’t want to distract from Mitt Romney and his running mate.
 
Speaking of running mates, what advice would you give Romney there?
My advice, if I were asked, would be: Who does he think fits best in shaping a winning campaign? As well as trust and friendship, particularly the trust side of it because, obviously, that running mate would be next in line for the presidency.
 
Did you have that with Sarah Palin?
Absolutely. One of the factors with Sarah Palin that was so important was that she galvanized our party, got everybody fired up. I have great confidence Mitt has a strong team to choose from.
 
Would you include Condoleezza Rice on that list?
Sure. She certainly brings strong national security credentials to the table.
 
We’re in a tough campaign. Can we come out of it with the resolve we’ll need to boost American opportunity?
I still believe in the greatness of this country. We’re a beacon. I was in Libya on July 7. They had an election; 80 percent of the people voted. They’ve got a long way to go toward democracy, but there were about 200,000 people in the square in Tripoli, and many of them were driving by, and I was waving to them. And they said thank you. They may not always agree with us, but we’re still the best nation on earth.
 
What should we do about Syria?
We should do what we should’ve done a long time ago. We should establish a sanctuary zone in Syria on the Turkish border, get arms and equipment to the rebels, and give them the moral support this president won’t even speak up for, which is shameful. Remember when everybody worried that Libya would have al-Qaeda influence? Well, a non-Muslim moderate just won the election there.

Watch Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV weeknights at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Charlie Rose is the host of Charlie Rose, the nightly PBS program.

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