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Mitt Romney's "Free Stuff" Conference Call: Pseudo-Transcript

Mitt Romney:

[My team and I still feel] troubled [by our loss to President Obama.]

We had 20 Republican debates, That was absolutely nuts. It opened us up to gaffes and to material that could be used against us in the general. And we were fighting these debates for a year, And the incumbent president just sat back and laughed. [I would like this group to stay together to pressure Republicans to abbreviate the primary process.]

We need to agree that we're gonna do, you know, I don't know, eight debates, And we're gonna, we're gonna do one a month. And we're gonna pick stations that are reasonable, it's not all gonna be done by CNN and NBC, alright. I mean we're gonna try and guide this process so that it's designed to showcase the best of our people, as opposed to showcasing liberals beating the heck out of us.

What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition. Give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote. The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people. In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups.

[I followed a strategy of] talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.

The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift — so he made a big effort on small things. Those small things, by the way, add up to trillions of dollars.

With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.

[The Obama healthcare plan's promise of health care coverage] in perpetuity [was behind the intensity of support for the president.] With regards to African American voters, 'Obamacare' was a huge plus — and was highly motivational to African American voters. You can imagine for somebody making $25—, or $30—, or $35,000 a year, being told you're now going to get free healthcare — particularly if you don't have it, getting free healthcare worth, what, $10,000 a family, in perpetuity, I mean this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus. But with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for the children of illegals — the so-called DREAM Act kids — was a huge plus for that voting group. On the negative side, of course, they always characterized us as being anti-immigrant, being tough on illegal immigration, and so forth, so that was very effective with that group.

What the president did was he gave them two things. One, he gave them a big gift on immigration with the DREAM Act amnesty program. Number two, he put in place Obamacare which is basically $10,000 a family. I mean it's a proven political strategy, which is, give a bunch of money from the government to a group and guess what? They'll vote for you. What I would do if I were a Democrat running four years from now, I'd say, you know what, dental care will be included in Obamacare. Immigration we can solve, but the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with. And Republicans will say, no, that's going to cost a trillion dollars, and the Democrats will say, that's fine, you know, we'll pay it. So this is a challenge we've got on how to deal with this is a real issue.

And what'd we do with the Hispanic community was not as popular, obviously, we talked tough on immigration and said we weren't going to give amnesty, and of course we were going to repeal Obamacare, so on the issues we were not good, and then of course they followed on not just giving the Hispanic community things they wanted, but a very good turnout effort. Going forward, clearly we have to have an immigration plan, this idea of just kicking this down the field until every four years the Democrats use it as an issue to hit us over the head with is nuts, we have to have an immigration plan and program, and I certainly hope that our leaders in Washington are willing to put that forward.

[I had] gotten beat up pretty bad [by Obama and his allies after the primaries, but there was a good rebound after the first fall debate.]

[The campaign organization was] a very solid team that got along. [There was] really no drama in the campaign. There were no battles, political fights going on, people arguing that other people should be demoted or fired, or whatever, it was a campaign that, we weren't perfect by any means, but people worked around the flat sides of one another and worked as a unified team.

I think our strategy was highly effective. You know, I don't go back and say: "Oh, I wish we'd have done this differently or done that differently."

[I never expected the campaign to raise more than $500 million.]

I spoke with president Clinton the day before yesterday. He called and spent thirty minutes chatting with me. He said a week out I thought you were going to win. And he said, but the hurricane happened, and it gave the president a chance to be presidential, and to look bipartisan, and you know he got a little more momentum, and of course he also said that when he was watching Ann speak at the Republican convention, he decided he was tempted to join the Republican Party. So he may have just been effusive with generous comments as he chatted. He was very complimentary, by the way, of how well we did with middle-class voters, and he said they were surprised by how strong we were in Ohio and in other states with middle-class voters, they did exceptionally well with minorities, but white, middle-class voters, we really cleaned up with and that caught them by surprise.

I’m very sorry that we didn’t win. I know that you expected to win, we expected to win, we were disappointed with the result. We hadn’t anticipated it, and it was very close, but close doesn’t count in this business. And so now we’re looking and saying, ‘O.K., what can we do going forward?’ But frankly, we’re still so troubled by the past, it’s hard to put together our plans for the future.

I wish you also had the chance to see the transition team. A large group of folks were working on everything from pieces of legislation to file to the first budget to executive orders, and it's disappointing we won't be able to file those executive orders, but I guess that happens, we're still having a hard time, just contemplating what could have been versus what is, and it just doesn't seem real, we're still in the stage of denial at my house. We still think the campaign is going on.

I think the question that I have and I'm sure each of you has as you look at the future, is just what we should do with our team to try and influence the direction of our party and to influence the selection of the next nominee, and to help influence the success of that nominee in becoming the next president, and I don't have a particular plan in mind for that at this stage, but I do want to note that I think I'd like us to get together sometime after the beginning of next year with this group.

[My team and I are discussing how — perhaps with annual meetings or a monthly newsletter —] to stay connected so we can stay informed and have influence on the direction of the party, and perhaps the selection of a future nominee, which, by the way, will not be me.