SALT LAKE CITY — Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said before giving a speech at the University of Utah Wednesday that shutting down the government is the wrong way to oppose the nation's new health care law.
Romney repeated his concerns about the strategy against the Affordable Care Act employed by some Republicans in Congress, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, that led to the shutdown of the federal government on Tuesday.
"My view is that Republicans, elected Republicans, almost universally agree that Obamacare is problematic for the economy and for the American family," he said in response to a Deseret News question.
"We have different tactics as to how to replace it, repeal it, improve it," he said. "My tactic does not include shutting down the government. But other people have other tactical views, and we'll see which work."
This summer, Romney began criticizing the efforts by Lee and other tea party members of Congress to stop the health care law by removing funding for it from the budget bill needed to keep the government operating beyond September.
Just last week, Romney told CNN that it was "more effective tactically not to use a shutdown of some kind to pursue...the anti-Obamacare objective. I don't know that will be as effective."
During his address to the fall convocation at the University of Utah's business school Wednesday, Romney was asked how he'd handle the impasse in Washington had he been elected president last November.
He suggested that having a Republican in the White House would have given opponents of Obamacare a single spokesman who could keep the GOP members of Congress in line while reaching across the aisle to Democrats.
"When you don't have a president, every congressman, every senator, every governor, thinks they're the spokesman for the party," Romney said. "And the one that lights their hair on fire is the one that gets on the evening news."
Romney said there were plenty of leaders in the Democratic Party who "care about the country and will do the right thing" when approached by a Republican president.
But the lack of leadership shown in Washington, where Democrats control the White House and the Senate, is preventing progress on a wide range of issues, including immigration reform, he said.
Much of his speech was focused on what were identified as the top issues facing the nation identified during the Deer Valley retreat he held earlier this year for business and political leaders, including many of his campaign's top donors.
At the top of their list was dealing with the nation's deficit and growing debt, followed by the ability of the United States to compete in the world, education and immigration reform.
"It is not written in the stars that America has to be the world's strongest economy," Romney warned, describing the country as facing real competition when it comes to international influence from China, Russia and even jihadists.
He also raised global warming as a top issue. Romney said he believes global warming is occurring and is human-caused, although he added that he is not certain to what extent.
Romney also made it clear to the overflow crowd of students, faculty and business leaders gathered to hear his 45-minute speech that he was done running for the White House after two unsuccessful tries.
"I've had two bites at the apple. Three strikes and you're out," he said.
Romney, who received hearty applause after a questioner thanked him for his 2008 and 2012 presidential races, jokingly suggested his wife, Ann, or son Josh — who lives in Utah — would be better candidates next time around.
Before the speech, Romney said he was "feeling bad I'm not in the White House," calling it a "great thrill to run for president" and an honor to have had the support of Utahns.
"The country faces real challenges, which unfortunately are not being addressed in the way I'd hope they'd be. A lot of people are hurting. A lot of people across the country can't find work," he said, including new college graduates.
He offered the business school students some personal advice about how success should be defined.
"For most people, it's more money," Romney said. But he said the happiest people he knows define success as fulfilling objectives including having a happy family, a strong relationship with their god" and giving back to their communities.
In his case, Romney said running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was the highlight of his professional life, one of the experiences that gave him "the greatest joy and satisfaction."
So were his bids for the White House. "Running for president and losing still was one of the greatest experiences of my life," he said. "Winning or losing is not how you define success. It is what you give your life to."