I’m probably not the most qualified person to write this article. I’m not a member of Mitt Romney’s inner circle. I just happen to live in the same neighborhood with two of his sons: Matt, who I’ve known for a few years, and Craig, who I’ve known for a bit less time. I also happen to be friends with Ann’s brother Jim, and Jim’s wife. Here’s Jim today when he met Nikki Haley:
Perhaps the picture below best sums up my relationship with the family: every once in a while I find myself just outside the family circle, with a chance to view things just a touch closer than I would otherwise.
But so it’s clear, my relationships aren’t with Mitt and Ann, they’re really with extended members of their family. And while I’ll call him “Mitt” in this article, face-to-face I’d probably address Mitt as “Governor Romney.”
But after those caveats, I wanted to write this to share what glimpses I’ve had from time to time just outside that extended family circle. These are just my impressions, and are certainly informed by my biases. But they’re my honest opinions.
Being President is Not a “Bucket List” Item for Mitt
I’ve never had the impression from the few times I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with Mitt or Ann (and that’s been relatively few), or any of his family members, that being President of the United States is on Mitt’s “bucket list.” In fact, the one time I got to spend any extended period with Mitt and Ann, at a dinner at Matt’s home after the 2008 campaign, I had the impression Mitt was just as happy that the campaign was over. He seemed glad he had done his duty in running, but was very happy just spending time with his grandchildren. It’s obvious that family is of primary importance to him.
At that time he explained that during the campaign he found himself talking all day, every day. I understand it took weeks, if not months, for his voice to truly recover. When he said in 2009 and 2010 he wasn’t planning on running for President in 2012, based on what I saw after his first campaign, I believe he was sincere. When people derisively say he’s been campaigning for 5 years, I don’t believe that is truly the case.
So I don’t believe jumping into the 2012 campaign was a light decision. At a local fundraiser a number of months ago Craig discussed his dad’s decision to run again in 2012, and actually began to choke up. It was clear it was not an individual decision, but a family decision, and not an easy one. The decision would have a significant impact on all the family, win or lose. Each of the sons and their families would be asked to assist, and volunteer their time, taking time off work to attend and even speak at events. I don’t believe Craig (or Matt) harbors any intent to enter politics, but I’ve since seen their pictures in the press introducing their dad in locations over 3,000 miles from home.
Both Matt and Craig leave their own kids behind to make a campaign appearance for a few hours, after which they hop back on a plane (likely flying coach, like the one time I happened to be on Southwest with Mitt) to head back home. And the family knew the sons and the grandkids would possibly be exposed to pointed questions or comments about their father and grandfather (if not outright insults). It comes with the territory, but would be a sacrifice made as a family.
Why Is Mitt Running?
In light of the great personal and family sacrifice, why would Mitt run? As we all know, since Obama was elected, things haven’t gone so well. The economy never really did turn around completely, and the nation’s unemployment numbers fell through the floor. To hear Ann tell it, as she did at a fundraiser a couple months ago, she saw the news one day and turned to Mitt and said “You’ve got to run again.” That’s what gelled the decision. I’m not sure Mitt would have run otherwise.
I really believe Mitt’s running out of a sense of duty and a belief he can fix this country, and not to check a box. To hear it told, he’s peaceful, regardless of the result. He has been successful in the past turning businesses around. His experience in Massachusetts was similar; he was elected to fix a state with a large deficit, and did so without raising tax rates. He did it with the Olympic games with an army of volunteers, turning a potential disaster into the first successful games post 9/11. He knows he can turn around our government, and wants to help. He could just disappear into the background, enjoy life and his grandchildren and find contentment. But he’s motivated to serve. In my mind, this is precisely the person I want in the White House: not someone who seeks power, but someone who wants to serve others.
Mitt Tells the Truth
Mitt recently said that even if he were to lose, his future looks bright. Part of that is because he knows he’ll be fine even if he’s not elected. I’ve heard Matt say that win or lose, Mitt and the family will still be happy. So Mitt does not need to say anything he doesn’t really mean. I could go into the details of the alleged flip-flops by Mitt, but that topic has been well addressed by other posts on this site (hint: while there’s been one genuine change of heart, on abortion, in the right direction, if you look at the facts he’s been very consistent). It would be easier to change with the political tide and reverse directions, but despite the heat Mitt is taking, and took in 2008, he has stuck by his guns. On Massachusetts health care, for example, he’s been told by many on the right to disavow what he accomplished and say it was all a big mistake. Newt has done that a few times (remember the Nancy Pelosi ad that Newt now brushes off). But Mitt doesn’t do that. He doesn’t think that. He thinks it was a state solution, and the voters of that state still like it. It’s up to them to change it if they want, but Mitt has been very clear and consistent that Obama’s “Affordable Care Act” is a huge mistake and not the template for success at the Federal level, and he would overturn it day one through a variety of means.
Does Mitt flip-flop? Does he pander? Not at all. To people that know him, that narrative rings very untrue. He doesn’t need to pander, and his actions show his consistency. In fact, the family knows him as a man of strong integrity. It’s just politics as usual to try and paint the guy you don’t like with any negative label you can, and to repeat the big lie enough times that it starts to stick.
Even Outside Politics, Mitt’s Motivated by the Right Reasons
Much has been said about Mitt’s private sector success. But my observations of him and his family indicate he’s a very frugal man. You must remember that Mitt’s father, George, while having his share of success, was not college-educated and worked his way up the ranks to become president of American Motors. It’s told that George was a great man, and that Mitt admired him very much.
So Mitt learned the value of hard work. His son Matt, who is one of the most frugal people I know, told CNN that his dad would often “bark” at the boys to shut the refrigerator door or to turn off electricity or water to avoid waste. The family tells the story of the eldest son, Tagg, losing an anchor to their boat underwater, but rather than just buying a new one, Mitt took Tagg to look for the anchor (underwater!). Could they have afforded a new one? Probably, but Mitt wanted to teach Tagg a lesson: we don’t waste. Craig also tells of the sons being asked to dig holes one day and fill them the next, so they’d understand the value of hard work.
Stories of Mitt selflessly helping others also abound: having his company drop everything when a co-worker’s daughter was lost in New York (and finding her); jumping to the aid of women being harassed; serving for years as a volunteer “bishop” (pastor) in his congregation while having a full-time job; taking on the scandal-plagued Salt Lake Olympics when there was very little to be personally gained. He’s been married to one woman for over 42 years. He raised 5 exemplary sons, who all volunteered two years of their lives in unpaid religious service and are all now happily married. Seeing and hearing all this, I’m perplexed when I hear snide remarks made about Mitt changing positions for political reasons, or, as Newt accused, that Mitt is a liar. That is inconsistent with the Mitt I’ve seen, and I believe that accusation says more about the accuser than the accused.
Mitt is one Heck of a Manager
I’m a securities lawyer by training. As a result, I’ve had the chance to watch some good CEOs in action. They know how to motivate people. They know how to formulate a vision, communicate that vision and get people to follow them. When people talk about Mitt’s “ground game” in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states, this is what they mean. Mitt’s got people helping him. And they’re excited to do it. They set goals. They work hard and are inspired. As I finish this post, I’m sitting in New Hampshire headquarters where there were probably 50 volunteers working on a goal of making 16,000 phone calls today. Take as well the example the story in Politico that it was Mitt’s having shadow counters in key locations that allowed his campaign to identify discrepancies in vote tallies in Iowa, ultimately resulting in Mitt’s victory. And without exception, anyone who knows Mitt well loves him.
Good CEOs also run a tight ship. Contingencies are planned for. Tasks are identified and people assigned to do them, and held accountable. Mitt’s comment about Lucy in the chocolate factory is very telling: I think it was as much heartfelt sentiment as it was a joke: it was Newt’s lack of organization in Virginia that cost him getting on the ballot. Mitt said about that incident that when things are coming quickly, you’ve got to get organized. The President of the United States is the CEO of the world’s largest organization, and is entrusted with the security and freedom of the United States, and in fact much of the world. You’ve got to have someone with good CEO skills to do that job, to avoid the Lucy in the chocolate factory scenario. I’ve now volunteered in two campaigns, and seen the preparation for and consistency in the debates. From what I’ve seen and heard of his experiences leading his family, the Olympics, Massachusetts, his congregations and more, Mitt runs a very tight ship, and keeps surprises to a minimum. That inspires trust. Newt is notorious for his poor leadership skills, and for unpleasant surprises. Our current President went from a community organizer to state legislator to US Senator to his current job, and we see the results of his lack of executive experience: no foreign policy, “leading from behind,” unemployment over 8% for 35 months and more. Senator Santorum is of the same cloth in my mind: a legislator with a propensity to identify problems and increase the size of government, rather than being the person that has to actually implement the solution.
Where this Leaves Me
Again I’m not a Romney family insider, but I’ve enjoyed my limited time spent with the extended Romney family. They’re good people. They’re true to their faith. They love each other. Family is of utmost importance. When it comes to politics, Mitt does not have some pathological need to check a box on his resume by being president. He fixes things, and knows he has the skills to put our government and economy back on track. He has no need to change positions for political reasons, and hasn’t (life would be much easier for Mitt if he didn’t have so much integrity). Some people say that Mitt Romney seems too good to be true. But from everything I’ve seen, he really is that good.