HUMAN EVENTS continues its ongoing series of interviews with the key advisors to the top GOP presidential candidates.
We spoke with Vin Weber, longtime conservative lawmaker and frequent advisor to presidents and Republican candidates, who now is a key advisor to Gov. Mitt Romney.
Weber got his start in politics in 1974, when he served as a press secretary for Congressman Tom Hagedorn. After serving as a campaign manager for Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in 1978-1980, Weber won a seat in the House in 1981, representing Minnesota until 1993. He has advised Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in their presidential runs and now serves as Romney’s top foreign policy advisor. We talked to him not only about foreign policy but about leadership and why we should care how a candidate runs his own campaign.
Why did Weber choose to support Romney?
Weber says that it is “absolutely essential to nominate someone from outside of Washington” in this election. Analogizing to the years after Watergate and Vietnam when the Republican Party was an “albatross” around the neck of conservatives, Weber passionately believes that the GOP cannot win with a “Washington insider.” However, Weber also believes that “executive competency” is key and that it is vital to nominate someone who “actually ran” something, pointing to Romney’s experience running a business and the Olympics as well as serving as Governor for Massachusetts. He says that his third consideration was to find someone with “personal and ethical standards” he could be proud of. Finally, he says that he, of course, was looking for someone with “conservative principles”– invoking the Reagan phrase of the “three legged stool” to emphasize the importance of national security, economic and family strength. He candidly acknowledges that he was “of course aware” of Romney’s past stance on abortion and that “it did matter” but that after lengthy discussions with him both in Washington DC and Boston he became “quite confident he’s the best candidate.”
I asked Weber in light of recent difficulties in the Fred Thompson and John McCain campaigns if it is fair to assess a candidate by the campaign he runs.
Weber says bluntly that since McCain, Thompson and Barak Obama have “never done anything” to demonstrate executive experience “they are potentially asking you to judge their executive ability based in part on their campaign.” He contends that voters have “every right to look at a campaign” to assess a candidate’s executive and management skills. Weber says that if you can’t run a campaign “it raises a big question mark” about the candidate’s ability to run the country. He concedes that Ronald Reagan had campaign staff shakeups, but points out that he also had a track record of 8 successful years as Governor of California.
Has observing Romney in foreign policy briefings shown Weber anything about Romney?
Weber explains that Romney “is interested and cares” about policy and in briefings and discussions “establishes a tone which encourages a wide range of views.” He jokes that at the end of the conversation no one need fear that someone will say “off with their heads” if he disagrees with Romney. However, according to Weber, Romney shows his business background in that he “can come to a decision like an executive” and “knows you must get to a bottom line.”
Is Romney more a “multilateralist” or a “unilateralist” in foreign policy?
Weber explains that Romney starts from the premise that American must operate from a position of military strength in the world and points to Romney’s commitment to adding 100,000 troops and committing 4% of the nation’s GDP to defense spending. He says that Romney harbors deep “skepticism” about international institutions including the UN and NATO, which Romney contends has been “unable to spend money on defense and commit forces to defense.” He explains Romney believes that we should work “with allies when possible and unilaterally when necessary.”
How does Romney assess Iraq?
Weber says that Romney believes we “shouldn’t second guess” President Bush in the middle of a new strategy and should await the report of General Petraeus in September.
He criticizes the Democrats in Congress who seek to “bury it [the military plan] each week” without allowing the plan to take full effect.
How does Romney view Israel and the current civil war between Palestinian factions?
Weber says that Romney supports the Administration’s approach (which includes a Middle East conference in the fall and a desire to work with the Fatah government) but recognizes the dilemma we face. On one hand, Weber notes that Hamas was rightly placed on the terrorist watch list by the Clinton administration yet it has shown itself to be “more competent” than Fatah politically and paramilitarily as well in its ability to provide social services. He notes that we are placing our faith in “the less competent” faction with the hope that Fatah will improve.
What are Romney’s views on China?
Weber says that Romney’s business background has heavily influenced his views and that he is very optimistic about the potential for more than a billion new customers for America. He nevertheless notes that China faces challenges to continue market reforms and that “there is a big question if China can have a market driven economy with an authoritarian government.” As for China’s military challenge, Romney contends that this is best met by strengthening our own military.
What does Romney think is the best way to meet challenges from Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in this continent?
Romney believes military force is not an option with either and that the current embargo is the correct policy for Cuba. He hopes that when Castro passes away there will be an opportunity for reform. As for Chavez, Romney recognizes that we “do a lot of business” with Venezuela so that economic isolation is not realistic but that “we need to keep the spotlight focused on him.” Weber says that Chavez “is only a long term threat if he consolidates a non-democratic regime” and we should strongly oppose his attempts to bring about a totalitarian state.
Have Democrats and some Republicans lost track of the benefits of free trade?
According to Weber, Romney believes that there is a “great danger to America” if we embrace protectionism. He notes that in the raging battle over Iraq policy we have overlooked the Democrats “plunge to the left” on trade and other issues. He notes that Democrats, and some Republicans, have abandoned liberalized trade that was the policy of Republican presidents as well as Bill Clinton (who Weber notes he advised on trade policy). Romney, as a businessman, intends to be “personally involved” in trade negotiations to make sure the U.S. is not disadvantaged but is firmly committed to “free and freer trade.” Weber contends that Republicans should not be afraid to talk about the “churning marketplace” which creates dislocation for some U.S. workers but that these problems should be dealt with separately, such as with improved education. He notes that Romney will be rolling out policy proposals on this topic during the campaign.
If Vin Weber is any judge, Romney can bring both conservative principles and executive acumen to the presidency. But Romney will have to beat back opponents who will challenge him on both counts and convince conservatives that Weber’s reading of him is right.