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NBC's Alexander to Romney Sons: 'Are You Out of Touch?'

In an interview with Mitt Romney's five sons aired on Thursday's NBC Rock Center, campaign correspondent Peter Alexander took a jab at the family's wealth: "Their life of privilege, plus a reported $100 million trust fund, continues to draw harsh scrutiny....The criticism is that a family like yours, the Romneys, can't really understand what the average American family is dealing with right now....are you out of touch?" [Listen to the audio]

Earlier in the segment, Alexander explained the role of the sons: "For a candidate who at times has struggled to connect, the campaign hopes the sons can also help explain some of their father's more idiosyncratic moments." In a preview of the interview on Thursday's Today, Alexander proclaimed: "For a candidate who's been called aloof, even awkward, the Romney boys help highlight their father's human side."

In one line of questioning in the wide-ranging interview, Alexander bizarrely jumped from asking about their missionary work to grilling them on why they didn't serve in the military: "...they all went overseas on a two-year mission to spread their Mormon beliefs. All of you served your church going on missions. Did you ever consider serving your country by putting on a uniform, by serving in the military?"

After Matt Romney described how they "look at those guys [in the military] with a tremendous amount of respect" Alexander turned to Ben Romney and pressed: "Ben, do you regret you never served? Do you?" Ben, a doctor, replied: "I'm in residency and I spend a lot of my time at the VA hospital. I get to work with vets who have made great sacrifices for this country and I look at their lives and hopefully I get to serve them a little bit, too."

Near the end of the segment, Alexander tried to get the sons to react to attacks against their father: "They've called your dad a flip-flopper. They have said that he was aloof. Newt Gingrich called him a liar. Does any of that stuff sting at any point?...What got under your skin?"

Matt Romney dismissed such attacks: "...we know what a great father he is, we know how much he loves the country, we know how much he loves our kids, you know, his grandkids. It's not ambition that's driving him, it is really a desire to give back. And this is how he thinks he can give back and we agree."

Following the interview, host Brian Williams wondered: "The nice way of putting it is they don't make kids like that anymore. And the cynical way of putting it is they don't make kids like this anymore. So can they be that earnest? What are they really like?"

Alexander observed:

I think it's fair to say that they are guarded, they know they're role in this campaign, there's only so many places that they will go in the course of the conversation, and talking policy is not one of them. Talking Mormonism is another one that they're not as comfortable talking about....as the scrutiny gets a little bit more intense, you can see those moments where they start to realize this is the big leagues and the family has definitely put up its guard.

Here are portions of the July 19 interview:

10:23PM ET

(...)

PETER ALEXANDER: For a candidate who at times has struggled to connect, the campaign hopes the sons can also help explain some of their father's more idiosyncratic moments.

MITT ROMNEY: This feels good being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height, the streets are just right.

TAG ROMNEY: He's a little goofy and that's just, you know, that's part of – part of his charm I think.

ALEXANDER: We were with him recently and he said, "I was guffawing when I looked at this old picture."

MITT ROMNEY: I'd lost it. I was completely guffawing.

ALEXANDER: Like when you hear him say some of those things, or at one point he was with you guys recently where he said, "I love them like they're my own sons, and they are my own sons."

CRAIG ROMNEY: It's the same corny jokes we grew up with, I mean, we're used to it. It's just kind of part of his personality.

ALEXANDER: We read that there was scripture in mornings – that each morning you started the morning with scripture. Tell me about, Craig, tell me about that, if you would.

CRAIG ROMNEY: You know, the scriptures every morning, I think, is a stretch.

[LAUGHTER]

ALEXANDER: But like their father, they all went overseas on a two-year mission to spread their Mormon beliefs. All of you served your church going on missions. Did you ever consider serving your country by putting on a uniform, by serving in the military?

MATT ROMNEY: You know, I think we can look at the guys that serve in the military, the men and women, and just say that's the biggest sacrifice you can make for your country. It's just, it's nothing any of us did, but we look at those guys with a tremendous amount of respect.

ALEXANDER: Ben, do you regret you never served? Do you?

BEN ROMNEY: You know, I look at my life that I'm leading right now, and I'm in residency and I spend a lot of my time at the VA hospital. I get to work with vets who have made great sacrifices for this country and I look at their lives and hopefully I get to serve them a little bit, too.

(...)

ALEXANDER: Politically, the image of this attractive, well-to-do family cuts both ways. Their life of privilege, plus a reported $100 million trust fund, continues to draw harsh scrutiny in a campaign season focused on the economy. The criticism is that a family like yours, the Romneys, can't really understand what the average American family is dealing with right now. I guess the question, very simply put, Matt, is, are you out of touch?

MATT ROMNEY: I mean, it's hard for us to obviously tell you that we're very much in touch, but we are. I mean, you know, we have problems just like everybody else. Health challenges, there's challenges with your kids.

CRAIG ROMNEY: You know, we've obviously been very blessed, and because of that, we feel a responsibility to make sure we can do everything we can to, you know, make this country as great as it can be.

ALEXANDER: The press and politics can be a tough place. They've called your dad a flip-flopper. They have said that he was aloof. Newt Gingrich called him a liar. Does any of that stuff sting at any point?

MATT ROMNEY: It's funny, we know our Dad so well that when you hear that stuff you just, you kind of shrug it off because we know who he really is.

ALEXANDER: No one ever said anything that you said, "Alright, alright, enough already." That you felt some obligation to shake the screen or to yell at somebody?

ROMNEY: Of course, of course, things that people say, I mean, you can't...

ALEXANDER: What got under your skin?

ROMNEY: ...you take certain things personally at times.

ALEXANDER: What got under your skin?

ROMNEY: But ultimately-

[LAUGHTER]

TAG ROMNEY: But ultimately-

ALEXANDER: Nice, nice, appreciate it.

MATT ROMNEY: But ultimately, you just kind of go, you know, it's okay because you know his true identity will come out and we, we know what a great father he is, we know how much he loves the country, we know how much he loves our kids, you know, his grandkids. It's not ambition that's driving him, it is really a desire to give back. And this is how he thinks he can give back and we agree.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Peter Alexander, in off the campaign trail, with us for just one night. The nice way of putting it is they don't make kids like that anymore. And the cynical way of putting it is they don't make kids like this anymore. So can they be that earnest? What are they really like?

ALEXANDER: I think it's fair to say that they are guarded, they know they're role in this campaign, there's only so many places that they will go in the course of the conversation, and talking policy is not one of them. Talking Mormonism is another one that they're not as comfortable talking about. But the truth is, they seem to be a pretty good group of guys, they enjoy themselves, they've been nice to us, to the reporters that follow them throughout the course of this campaign trail. But as the scrutiny gets a little bit more intense, you can see those moments where they start to realize this is the big leagues and the family has definitely put up its guard.

WILLIAMS: Fascinating conversation. Back on the campaign with you, thank you for stopping in with us. Peter Alexander.

(...)