Full Romney Interview: Trump should be 'careful' in his next steps

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) talks to Chuck Todd about his takeaways from the 2020 election, how he'd like to see President Trump handle the final days of his administration, and what it might be like to work with President-elect Joe Biden, during an interview with Meet the Press.

Video Transcript

CHUCK TODD: And joining us now is Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. Senator Romney, welcome back to "Meet the Press."

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you.

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with a simple question-- what did you learn from the voters on Tuesday night?

MITT ROMNEY: Well I learned that Republicans picked up seats in Congress, held on to the Senate, picked up statehouses across the country, but we lost the presidency. And so it's a bit of a mixed message. I think people are saying that Conservative principles still account for the majority of public opinion in our country.

I don't think the American people want to sign up for the Green New Deal. I don't think they want to sign up for getting rid of coal, or oil, or gas. I don't think they're interested in Medicare for all, or higher taxes that would slow down the economy.

But they do want to see a change in leadership in the White House, apparently, at this stage. And so it's a message, which says all right, a change in leader, but we're not going to be turning a sharp left turn in terms of public policy.

CHUCK TODD: So what do you believe Joe Biden's mandate should be? You heard what he thought his mandate was last night, bringing the country together, number one. And then he talked about some issues that he wanted to focus on. But what do you believe his mandate is?

MITT ROMNEY: Well I believe he said it last night, which is he does want to bring the country together. He does want to bring honor and respect into the White House, the way he sees it. He wants to be a man of character. He is a man of character. And I think these are things which he thinks are very important, both here and around the world.

In terms of policy, I'm sure he'll have his own agenda. But he worked in the Senate long enough to recognize that there are two parties, that things have to be done on a bipartisan basis. And the more extreme wing of his party is not going to take over policy in this country, that's not where the American people are. And if he tries to go in that direction, why, I think he'll fail. Because we Conservatives will make sure and stand up for the great majority, in my opinion, of the American people who believe that Conservative principles serve us better.

But we'll-- he indicated he wants to work on a bipartisan basis. We're ready to do that.

CHUCK TODD: What would you like to see President Trump do this week? You've been here. You've lost an election. You've lost a close election. In fact, in some ways, I feel like there's some similarities, and it was very tight in various battleground states, just like yours, in 2012. How would you like to see President Trump handle the week going forward?

MITT ROMNEY: Well the way I would handle the week, and the way President Trump would handle the week will be different, because we're very different people. We're not going to change President Trump, or his nature, in the waning days of the presidency. And so I don't think I'm going to be giving him advice as to what to do.

Clearly, people in the past, like myself, who've lost elections, have gone out in a way that said, look, I know the eyes of the world are on us. The eyes of our own people or on the institutions that we have. The eyes of history are on us. In a setting like this, we want to preserve something which is far more important than ourself, or even our party, and that is, preserve the cause of freedom and democracy here, and around the world.

But the President's going to do what he has traditionally done, what he's doing now. I don't think that's going to be a surprise for anybody. And by the way, he has every right to call for recounts. Because we're talking about a margin of 10,000 votes here, or less, in some cases. And so a recount could change the outcome. He wants to look at irregularities, pursue that in the court.

But if, as expected, those things don't change the outcome, why, he will accept the inevitable.

CHUCK TODD: Is there a point where pursuing that strategy undermines the democracy?

MITT ROMNEY: Well I am more concerned about the language that's used. I think it's fine to pursue every legal avenue that one has, but I think one has to be careful in the choice of words. I think when you say that the election was corrupt, or stolen, or rigged, that that's, unfortunately, rhetoric that gets picked up by authoritarians around the world. And I think it also discourages confidence in our Democratic process here at home.

And with the battle going on right now between authoritarianism and freedom, why, I think it's very important that we not use language which can encourage a course in history which would be very, very unfortunate.

CHUCK TODD: And maybe this seems obvious to, maybe, you and I, but there were people whose ballot may have voted for Joe Biden, and may have voted for, say, control-- may have voted for a Republican state Senate candidate in New Hampshire. It certainly looks like, to me, that happened. So if you're saying one vote is rigged, are you also saying the other votes are rigged?

MITT ROMNEY: Well I think that's a pretty fair point. And actually, I understand by watching Rick Santorum the other day, that actually, the President did better in Philadelphia this cycle, than he did four years ago, in terms of the percentage of the vote he received. So there are some arguments which auger against suggesting that the election is going to get reversed.

But at the same time, I think you make an important point, which is a lot of Republicans-- a lot of voters-- voted for Republicans, but did not vote for the President. And that suggests to me that Conservative principles are still in the majority in our country.

CHUCK TODD: Well, it's interesting you say that. I want to I want to tell you about Cobb County, Georgia, Senator Romney. When you were on the ballot in Georgia, in Cobb County, you won that county by 12 points-- suburban county of Atlanta. Joe Biden won it by 12 points eight years later.

So you're talking about, you feel good about the fact that you say there's a majority in this country that wants Conservative principles, but your party took a beating in the suburbs. And that's why it looks like you may not win Georgia. And if that is a pattern, you might not control the Senate because of that. Do you believe your party has a problem in the suburbs?

MITT ROMNEY: Well my party, I'm sure, has challenges, as does the the opposition party. But I think I'll let people like yourself make a call as to why people voted the way they did. But I think if you look at the numbers, and look at the pickup that Republicans had in statehouses across the country, in Congress, and holding in the Senate so far, versus our loss in the presidency, you'd suggest that the presidential race was more a matter of a referendum on a person. And that when it came to policy, we did pretty well.

So as I look at what's going to happen in Georgia, this will be a race primarily about policy. I don't think the American people want to sign up for the Green New Deal, and for Medicare for all, and so forth. So I think we'll do well in the Georgia race, but it's going to be a challenge. But do we have challenges as a party? Absolutely. And do we need to do better with young people and minorities in particular? Absolutely. Can we bring back suburban women into our party? I believe so, but we've got some work to do.

CHUCK TODD: Is this still Donald Trump's Republican Party?

MITT ROMNEY: Well he is without question the most powerful voice in our party. He will have an enormous impact on our party going forward. I believe the great majority of people who voted for Donald Trump want to make sure that his principles and his policies are pursued. So yeah, I mean, he's not he's not disappearing by any means. He's 900 pound gorilla when it comes to the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD: Senator Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, appreciate you getting up early and spending a little time with us this morning. Thank you, sir.

MITT ROMNEY: Thanks, Chuck.