Romney: If I hadn't changed, I'd be "stubborn and stupid"

In a preview of the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney discusses how fellow candidate Newt Gingrich's accrued his wealth.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is seen in an interview with CBS News, Dec. 14, 2011.
CBS News
The gloves were off when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sat down with CBS News political correspondent Jan Crawford in New York.

Crawford asked Romney about the ad that the DNC has recently released, in which he is shown campaigning to become Massachusetts governor, in 2002. In an interview during a campaign stop, Romney is seen saying, "I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican, that I'm someone who's moderate and that my views are progressive." Comments like this have some conservatives concerned about whether or not Romney truly holds their beliefs.

"I can't go back to 2002 and know the context of the question that was asked at the time but I can tell you that I can look at my record," Romney said in response. Citing his experiences in the business world and government, he said "I think my conservative bona fides are evidenced in my record"

He also said, "By the way, I ran for president four years ago. The views I spoke of four years ago are exactly the same views I have today."

Watch Jan Crawford's interview from the "CBS Evening News" at left.

He admits, though, that he has switched sides on certain issues in the past.

"If I would not have changed my mind over 17 years that I've had experience in politics, why I would be stubborn and stupid," he said. "Frankly, in comparison with other folks running, like Speaker Gingrich... Congressman Paul Ryan put out a plan, and Republicans... voted for it. And Speaker Gingrich came out and said it's right wing social engineering. Talk about violating the principles of conservatism - that's number one in the hit parade."

Romney added that Gingrich's reaction to the Ryan plan "suggests either an erratic response to important issues, or unreliable leadership of the conservative movement."

"Is [Gingrich] in the wrong party?" asked Crawford.

"Well, it depends on the day," said Romney. "I just think he's been unreliable in his support of conservative principles."

Romney's campaign has lately touted the slogan that Gingrich "came to Washington to do good, stayed to do well" -- hitting Gingrich on his successful career after he left public office.

"They see people go to Washington and say they are going to change things there, and then they end up staying there for decades, making a living out of introducing people to people in Washington, and try to affect policy in Washington," he said, "Look, America is not in Washington. America operates outside of Washington."

Romney also specifically hit Gingrich again for pocketing money during his time as a consultant for Freddie Mac -- and agreed with reasoning that he thinks President Obama's campaign would use in the general election against Gingrich. "That's gonna be used by the Democrats to say, 'look, return that money.' And they are absolutely right. He should return those funds to the taxpayers," he said.

"Newt Gingrich has wealth from having worked in government," said Romney, who is himself very wealthy. "He's a wealthy man, a very wealthy man. If you have a half a million dollar purchase from Tiffany's, you're not a middle class American. "

More from the interview:

Romney: Gingrich an "unreliable" conservative
Mitt Romney: Gingrich a "very wealthy" man

Romney's recognition of the wealth of an opponent was not limited to Gingrich. Of President Obama, he said "a guy who plays 80 rounds of golf as president and has made millions of dollars off of his books and other appearances - he's part of the 1 percent."

Romney did not address his own immense personal wealth directly - but referred to it by pointing out that it came from different means than Gingrich and Mr. Obama's experience in government.

"This idea of trying to divide Americans based on their income is not going to be helpful," he said. "And I think the American people salute and respect people of differing backgrounds. In my case I spent my life in the private sector and was successful there. Education, hard work, risk taking - that's something we admire in America. I think the president is very, very badly mistaken if he thinks the American people are going to punish success."

Crawford also asked Romney how he was hoping to spend the holidays, and what traditions he hoped to maintain with his family this year, despite the grueling campaign schedule he is facing as January primary season approaches.

He said he would be off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and holds a family tradition of reading to his grandchildren from "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, every year, for about a half hour.

Lessons learned in the book, he said, are "values that are enduring."

Full CBS News coverage: Mitt Romney

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    Sarah B. Boxer covers politics for CBS News.

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