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Mitt Romney advocates for civility in politics during FSU talk

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Scott Olsen
Getty Images
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney greeting supporters in Milwaukee during his 2012 presidential campaign.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney spoke about national issues and the state of political discourse on Monday as part of a series on democracy at Florida State University’s Institute of Politics.

“It’s critically important that opinion leaders from around the country gather in institutes, such as the Institute of Politics that you’ve created, to discuss the issues of the day, and decide how we’re going to deal with them.”

The talk was part of the institute’s Strengthening American Democracy series.

Romney was initially scheduled to speak days after the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Then about 1,500 people had signed up to attend the virtual talk. Romney was injured after slipping on ice and had to postpone until November. About 250 people attended Monday’s virtual talk.

A call for civility in politics was an underlying theme. “The cameras go on, and there are a few people that are very caustic and very extreme and that gets excitement from the base,” Romney said.

The institute’s Al Cardenas asked Romney a series of questions about national issues. The first was about how to address “the inability for us to have in many instances a civilized discourse.” Cardenas said that’s something he thinks has changed since Romney ran for president in 2012.

“There are a lot of people who are concerned with the growing anger and crude nature of comments that are leveled back and forth between politicians these days and frankly between people,” Romney said. “I think a lot of that starts at the top.”

Florida State University's Institute of Politics
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney gives a virtual talk to about 250 attendees on Monday Nov. 1, 2021, as part of Florida State University's Institute of Politics' Strengthening American Democracy series.

Romney explained he’s not sure where the heightened level of incivility ends. He says he’s encouraged by President Joe Biden’s leadership, but he’s unsure about whether Biden alone can bring people together.

“As long as we continue to have people who are making political hay out of drawing on the base levels of humanity, we’re going to continue to be highly divided.”

The discussion provided Romney an opportunity to touch on some of the top issues facing the country, including U.S.-China relations, cybersecurity, and the national budget.

“The biggest challenge that our country faces is the emergence of China as the world’s leader: economic leader, military leader, geopolitical leader.”

Romney says China continues unfair trade practices, such as subsidizing goods. Because China’s economy is so massive, the U.S. needs the help of its allies to sway the country’s leaders, Romney said.

“Play the game the way they are or get them to play by the rules,” Romney said. “We’re doing none.”

Romney also highlighted the need for Congress to address the rising costs of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

“The only way we’re going to get a balanced budget, we need to look at these entitlement programs and bring them into balance,” Romney explained he’s filed a bill to address that issue. “We’re not going to cut benefits for seniors or for people about to become seniors. But we want to make sure that the promises we’re making to young people are promises we can keep down the road.”

Romney didn’t discuss climate change but noted that it was an important topic that is often neglected in national political discourse.

“Our politics today is mired in social issues and cultural issues and small-bore policy issues as opposed to the big issues that we face.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.