And that’s not the way to win. I happen to think it’s not ethical, or right, and not your obligation. But I don’t even think it’s good business or politics, because people aren’t good at describing what is in their own interest … What leaders should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get, and then try and build a constituency and bring it along.
The public, I believe—and I’ve always thought this—is much more likely to follow if the public believes that you are genuine … George W. Bush, who I don’t agree with on a lot of things, I think he got elected and reelected because the public thought he was genuine. They think his father was genuine. Jeb—I know [him] very well; he’s on the board of my foundation—he is genuine, they believe.
And Al Gore and John Kerry tried to be on both sides of every issue. “I voted for the war, but not to fund it.” And that’s Mitt Romney’s problem, I think. He walked away from everything he did. He actually was a pretty good governor of Massachusetts, where I come from. I think that’s a losing strategy, to not have values. I think the public wants you to have them and will respect you for them. They may carp a little bit, but in the end, that’s the kind of person they want. They want somebody who has real conviction.
On why high approval ratings mean you’re failing:
If I finish my term in office … and have high approval ratings, then I wasted my last years in office. That high approval rating means you don’t upset anybody. High approval rating means you’re skiing down the slope and you never fall. Well, you’re skiing the baby slope, for goodness’ sakes. Go to a steeper slope. You always want to press, and you want to tackle the issues that are unpopular, that nobody else will go after.
On regulating metzitzah b’peh, the practice during circumcision whereby the mohel sucks the blood from the infant’s wound:
I think it’s fair to say that nobody else would take that on. I mean, come on! … Who wants to have 10,000 guys in black hats outside your office, screaming?
And yet, I said to the rabbis again yesterday: The science is not perfect, and it is to some extent an art—medicine—but there is a reasonable chance that this is dangerous to kids’ health. There have been some kids who we believe die or have brain damage from the practice. My obligation is to protect the citizens … The job is not to have high ratings.
On the president’s communication with the press:
I talk to the press five days a week … The president—how often does he talk to the press? His press secretary talks to the press every day, okay. But I happen to think the public should demand he should. I think he should; I think that’s his job.
On doing the tough stuff first:
In an election year, just before the election, maybe I cut you a break. Where I don’t cut you a break is the day after the election. I believe you do the tough stuff first. Why? Number one, you have an obligation to those who voted for you, to do what you promised. Number two, if you believe they’re the right things, you need some time to let them work out, adjust them, explain them, maybe cancel and change them—or whatever—before the next election.
And remember, I have a four-year term; presidents have a two-year term, because the midterm elections are so important.
On keeping track of commitments:
We have a scorecard—we haven’t updated it in about a year, but we are starting to do that again—which we will have done five or six times in my 12 years, where we listed every single campaign promise, and then mark them “Completed,” “In Progress,” “Still Good Ideas; We Haven’t Gotten to Them Yet,” or “Ain’t Going to Happen” …
And the thing that I find the most frustrating is that the Fourth Estate never picks up on it. They’ll write a story about those things that you said were a dumb idea, or those things that didn’t work, and never give you any credit for the other things. And never hold other elected officials to task. Now, there are private groups that do this. They keep track of how you vote in Congress and that sort of thing. But the public doesn’t get that information in a form that gets their juices going … Take a look at what Obama ran on, or what Romney did in Massachusetts, with guns. Romney signed a bill, which he lauded, stopping the ability to carry assault weapons. Obama campaigned on passing a bill to ban assault weapons. Neither did anything.
On the low tax rate charged on “carried interest,” a benefit to hedge funds and private-equity investors: