TODAY   |  January 11, 2012

Romney: Rivals’ attacks a ‘good warm-up’

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney tells TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the “relatively modest heat” coming from his GOP rivals is a “good warm-up” for the general election.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> much. mitt romney is with us now from manchester, new hampshire . governor, good morning and congratulations.

>> thank you, matt.

>> you know, the analysts are saying this morning, governor, that thing went about as well as they could have gone for you in new hampshire . you won by double digits. ron paul came in second which was a lot better for your campaign than any of the other candidates coming in second. you won early in the evening so you got to make a big speech during the prime hours of coverage, and a lot of conservatives seemed to warm up to you. as many as 42% of the people who voted and labeled themselves as conservative. what else did i leave out?

>> i'll tell you, it was a great start, matt. there's no question. but with a slim victory in iowa compounded with a big victory in new hampshire , i have a good start. i have an uphill climb in south carolina ahead of me. it could not have worked better last night. that was as big a gift as the people of new hampshire could give us.

>> how about this? is it a bigger plus that after disappointing finishes, none of your gop rivals is dropping out of the race. so there will be no consolidation of support around one other conservative candidate. they are going to continue to split the vote. isn't that a huge plus for your campaign?

>> well, you're probably right. the more candidates there are, perhaps the better at this stage. but i take what's given to me, and i was pleased that in new hampshire , as you indicated, the people who call themselves conservative or very conservative supported me by a pretty solid majority.

>> while the other candidates haven't united around one candida candidate, they have seemed to unite around a way to attack you. that is that they are going after your record as a businessman, as a venture capitalist, your time as ceo of bane capital. they are using words like predator, raider and vulture. you said last night, quote, some desperate republicans, end quote, were attacking the notion of success itself. you said, quote, this is such a mistake for our party and our nation, the country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. do you think some of your opponents have unwittingly turned their backs on the conservative principles that have put them in this position in the first place by attacking the free enterprise system ?

>> i think you're absolutely right, matt. i think it's something we expected to come from president obama . we didn't expect that newt gingrich and rick perry would become the witnesses for his prosecution, if you will. i don't think it's helped them. for them to be attacking free enterprise and suggest that people should have a limit to how much they can make in their success is something which the democrats have been talking about for years.

>> is so they are turning their back on core republican principles for their own political ambition?

>> well, think they think it will be an effective way to garner support. so far it's proven that hasn't worked.

>> let me ask you about the choice of words last night when you said with we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. i'm curious about the word envy. did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of wall street and financial institutions , anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? is it about jealousy or fairness?

>> you know, i think it's about envy. i think it's about class warfare . when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing america based on 99% versus 1% and those people who have been most successful are in the 1% you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely i consistent with the concept of one nation under god. i believe in the final analysis , the american people with will reject it.

>> aren't there questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?

>> i think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and tax policy and the like. but the president made it part of his campaign rally. everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires, billionaires, executives and wall street . it's an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and i think it will fail.

>> let's look at math for a second. it's impossible for any candidate to secure the nomination until april. if your opponents continue these kinds of withering attacks against you, can you survive until april without entering the general election as a dangerously wounded candidate?

>> well, i actually think, matt, if you can't handle the relatively modest heat coming from republican candidates now you would be in trouble going up against president obama and his decision to put aside the federal campaign election figures and instead put in $1 billion of attack effort. look, i have to be able to handle this or i won't be able to handle president obama . this is a good warm-up.

>> governor mitt romney who had a big day in new hampshire tuesday. thanks for joining us.