Today, two writers who work for the Boston Globe released a biography of Gov. Romney titled “The Real Romney”. I’ve known about this book in the work for quite some time, and I’ve worried that it will paint Gov. Romney in an unfair light since the Boston Globe has notoriously treated Gov. Romney quite toughly. However, other than the authors’ tired attempts to portray Gov. Romney as someone who will change/hide his opinions to suit whatever political position he aims to hold, the authors couldn’t seem to find anyone with intimate knowledge of Gov. Romney who had much of anything negative to say about him. At worst, people who know Mitt best have a neutral view of him, while the overwhelming majority of people quoted in this book speak glowingly about the man who may become the next President of the United States.
Here are what I found most memorable in the book “The Real Romney”:
Ch. 1 - Praying for a Miracle
Mitt’s mother Lenore gave up a three-year movie contract in Hollywood in order to marry George Romney (Mitt’s father). George Romney gave up his dream of a college degree and eventually a Harvard MBA in order to follow Lenore to California and deliver an ultimatum which led Lenore to turn down the movie contract and marry George.
The writers also go on in chapter 1 to describe George Romney as a visionary highlighting him bringing the 30 MPG vehicle called the Rambler to market while he was the head of American Motors. George Romney famously called the other car companies “gas-guzzling dinosaurs”. Before heading American Motors, George helped coordinate the military manufacturing operations in Detroit which led Detroit to be called “the arsenal of democracy” during World War II.
After having her first three children, Lenore Romney was not supposed to be able to become pregnant again and the delivery of Mitt was determined to be life-threatening. Mitt was considered a miracle birth. Willard Mitt Romney was named after a close family friend J. Willard Marriott, and also after George Romney’s cousin, Mitt, who was the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.
George Romney has many poignant quotes attributed to him, but the one Mitt and the rest of the Romney family chose to engrave on George’s tombstone reads, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” The authors of this book also quote George as saying, “Dream and dream big, and if you’ll dream big and if you’ll work hard and if you pray always, your dreams will come true.” On top of his numerous other impressive achievements, George Romney was named the industrial “man of the year”. The authors describe George Romney as someone who “shot from the hip” and they surmise that Mitt learned tact from his mother who was a perfect complement to George Romney. Lenore Romney was ahead of her time like her husband as one of only a few women to have a college degree at that time. While George and Lenore participated in many verbal battles, which Mitt has successfully purposed to exterminate from his and Ann’s marriage, George tried to bring Lenore a single rose every day signifying the deep love they had for each other.
After describing the marriage of George and Lenore, the chapter continues with the young Mitt Romney. One story the authors tell consists of Mitt dressing up like a police officer, putting a red siren on the top of his car, and pulling over his friends who were on a double date. The friends were in on the prank and had planted beer bottles in their trunk for Mitt to find once they were pulled over. Once Mitt discovered the beer bottles, he “arrests” his two friends leaving their dates stranded in the car as Mitt drives the boys to jail. They came back rather quickly and later remarked how foolish it was to have the son of the Governor impersonating a police officer. His friend is quoted calling Mitt “almost slapstick to a fault”.
The authors of this book provide another anecdote about Mitt’s first 2.5 mile race. The race started during halftime of a high school football game, and Mitt jumped out front early in the race. When the 2nd half had started, Mitt was the only participant to not yet finish. During the 3rd quarter, the crowd starts to see Mitt coming towards the finish line. He keeps falling down and getting back up because of terrible cramps. He finishes the race by crawling across the finish line to tremendous applause, but that embarrassing moment taught Mitt an important lesson. No one can accuse Mitt of starting this 2012 election too fast and crawling to the finish line. He has learned to pace himself, and this ad shows Mitt has also become a better runner.
Next, the authors turn to George Romney’s political career. When running for his first term as Governor of Michigan, President John F. Kennedy came to Michigan on behalf of George Romney’s opponent to try to defeat George Romney, but George Romney prevailed none-the-less.
As Governor, George Romney stood up to his church and defended civil rights. He famously said, “The rights of some must not be enjoyed by denying the rights of others.”
When Mitt graduated from high school, George Romney gave a speech that many didn’t expect. He said, “Girlfriends will have more to do with shaping your life than probably anybody else…. If the girl you’re interested in doesn’t inspire you to greater effort than you would undertake without knowing her, then you’d better look around and get another.”
That quote is how the authors transition to writing about Ann and Mitt. When Mitt was in grade school, he remembers throwing rocks at Ann the first time he saw her. However, years later, Mitt saw Ann at a party and ended up swindling her date into letting Mitt drive Ann home. On their first date, Mitt and Ann saw The Sound of Music. On the night of Mitt’s senior prom, he asked Ann to marry him. They both knew that they wouldn’t be able to get married for years since Mitt was set to leave for Stanford in California after high school, but Ann still said yes.
Ch. 2 - Following the Call
This is the chapter that I do not possess enough knowledge about to know how accurate it is. The chapter begins by saying five portraits of prominent Romneys hang next to each other in Mitt’s house. Then, it gives a lot of details that I won’t focus on here. First, a portrait of Miles A. Romney who brought the Romney name to America from England. He was named the “master mechanic” of the town he lived in and put in charge of building a Mormon temple. However, before the temple could be completed, vandals burned it down.
Next, the portrait of Miles Park Romney, the son of Miles A. Romney, hangs in Mitt’s home. His life was filled with years of moving from place to place to escape religious persecution. He tended to blow off steam by playing parts in plays, and Hamlet was his favorite role. Miles Park and his father helped build the St. George grand white Mormon temple.
The third portrait is of Gaskell Romney, Mitt’s self-made grandfather, who built one of the finest homes in Salt Lake City.
The final two portraits are of George and then Mitt Romney.
Ch. 3 - Outside the Fray
Once at Stanford, it didn’t take long for Mitt to become a top conservative on campus. In one famous incident captured in this newspaper caption, Mitt led a protest against the hippie protestors. Two of the chants of Mitt’s anti-protest were “Down with mob rule!” and “Reason, no coercion!” Young Mitt also often referenced “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.
Also, while at Stanford, Mitt was out of money from visiting Ann back in Michigan on the weekends, so he had an auction for almost all of his clothes (including his treasured camel-hair overcoat) for money to buy another plane ticket back to Michigan. On another occasion, Mitt drove from California to Michigan and was such a sweaty mess when he arrived at Ann’s house that he jumped into the pool with all of his clothes on.
After his freshman year at Stanford, Mitt was called upon by his church to serve in France for a 30-month mission, Mitt almost refused to go for fear of losing Ann to another suitor while he was gone. However, Ann insisted that Mitt go, and while Mitt was in France, Mitt’s father helped convert Ann and later her younger brother Jim to the Mormon faith. He actually baptized both of them while Mitt was in France.
One situation that I had never heard of before was a story the authors told about George Romney participating in the blessing of a boy with polio who was miraculously healed. This just fed into the narrative of George Romney as a larger than life figure.
The chapter then focuses on George Romney’s 1968 run for the presidency. While George Romney was leading the polls against both republican Richard Nixon and current democratic president Lyndon Johnson, Detroit was engulfed in the 1967 race riots. It appears President Johnson was slow in sending troops to restore the peace in an attempt to make his potential 1968 election opponent look bad.
Then came the infamous brainwashing comment from George Romney about his visit to Vietnam. This comment occured in an otherwise uneventful interview the same day George Romney had spent a few hours searching for a grandchild that had gone missing at the state fair. The brainwashing comment wasn’t initially a big deal until the campaigns for both Richard Nixon and President Johnson highlighted it in attacks. Ironically, once Nixon got Romney out of the race, he adopted a policy of “Vietnamization” similar to what Romney had been advocating.
Ch. 4 - A Brush With Tragedy
Mitt Romney, at the age of 21 and while on his LDS mission in France, was behind the wheel of a stylish low-riding Citroën DS with the mission leader, his wife, and three others crammed into a car made for five people on a winding road in southwestern France when another car, driven by a speeding priest, driving a Mercedes, struck their car in a head-on collision. Gendarmes (police) who arrived on the scene initially assumed that Mitt was dead. Mitt was unconscious until some time later at the hospital. This photo of Mitt in the hospital after the accident shows him with a cast on his arm, and a black eye.
George Romney sent a doctor from the U.S. to France to take care of Mitt and let Mitt’s caretakers know about his allergy to penicillin. Mitt almost dies at the hospital, but survived without surgery as a testament to his youth and health.
Despite the fact that Mitt drove under the speed limit and the Catholic priest may have been under the influence of alcohol during the crash, no charges were pressed. Unfortunately, even though Mitt recovered, the wife of the mission leader died as a result of the accident, and her injured husband returned to the United States, leaving young Mitt Romney in charge of over 200 missionaries. Once in charge, Mitt helped accelerate the number of conversions credited to the mission.
This made me very painfully aware that life is fragile… and that what we do with our time is not for frivolity but for meaning. - Mitt Romney
Later in the French mission, Mitt was rear-ended in another car accident. Finally a moment Mitt dreaded more than car crashes arrived. Ann sent Mitt a letter saying she was seeing a basketball player at BYU. Mitt lost focus on the mission at hand and spent hours trying to put together the perfect letters to send back to Ann. When Mitt arrived back in the United States after his mission was over, he was picked up from the airport by his family and Ann. He told her that he felt like nothing had changed and that he still wanted to marry her and she said she felt the same way. Mitt ditched Stanford for BYU to be with Ann, and the man after whom Mitt had patterned his hairstyle, Edwin Jones, married Mitt and Ann four years to the day after their first date. Interestingly, Taggart was born on the 1-year wedding anniversary.
While at BYU, Mitt became the President of the Cougar club which had fund-raised with bake-sales and the like since its’ inception. Upon Mitt’s election in 1970, he pledged to raise at least $100,000 a year by directly soliciting alumni and their families for contributions. The Cougar club has been a major BYU booster ever since.
Mitt graduated with “highest honors” from BYU with an English degree, and he delivered a commencement address. Next, George and Mitt decided that Mitt would get a law degree and a MBA from Harvard simultaneously. Once that decision was made, Mitt and Ann moved to Massachusetts where Mitt used his father’s old briefcase.
The chapter then focuses on George Romney’s time in the Nixon Administration. President Nixon deceived George into thinking he supported George’s ideas on housing. Lenore, (Mitt’s mother) had her run for the U.S. Senate derailed by her support of integrated housing. Things got so tense between President Nixon and George Romney that Nixon ordered Romney to travel to Pennsylvania to asses the situation in Wilkes-Barre after a devastating flood through the television instead of in person or over the phone. While in Pennsylvania, a 63-year-old woman embarrassed George Romney by saying, “You don’t give a damn whether we live or die!” When returning to the White House, George Romney let loose on President Nixon in a hour-long meeting where he repeatedly tried to quit. The entire exchange was captured by Nixon’s secret recording device. President Nixon convinced Romney not to quit until after the re-election campaign was over at which time George delivered his resignation letter to President Nixon. In that letter, George Romney lamented that politicians cared too much about re-election to actually do the work of the people.
Back at Harvard, Mitt often attended parties and other social gatherings despite the fact that he didn’t drink coffee or consume alcohol. Other students found Mitt to be completely open and tolerant to everybody else.
Mitt Romney graduated from Harvard in 1975 with honors from the law school and was a Baker scholar at the business school. Just in case business didn’t work out for Mitt, he took and passed the bar exam in Michigan soon after graduation in 1975. During his time at Harvard, Mitt was heavily recruited by consulting firms, and Boston Consulting Group won his services. However, a company called Bain & Company began to eclipse BCG and Mitt wanted in.
Ch. 5 - Family Man, Church Man
The chapter begins with the account of a car accident that left two boys paralyzed. This family was not financially equipped to handle the needed changes to their home or to purchase a specialized van that would be necessary to transport the boys. The father received a call before Christmas that year from Mitt asking if the family would be home on Christmas Eve. Mitt, Ann, and their sons showed up on Christmas Eve with a massive stereo system for one of the paralyzed boys, and a VCR and check for the other. The Romney boys helped set up the stereo, and Mitt offered to pay for the college education for the two paralyzed boys. In the end, the 5K fundraiser, golf outing fundraiser, and several others Mitt participated in meant that the paralyzed boys would have no problem paying for college. Mitt sent one of the boys an engraved desk clock upon his graduation from Bentley after ten years in school.
The chapter then goes on to describe the average week in the Romney home. Sundays were for church, reflection, volunteer work, family dinner, and watching New England Patriots during the NFL season. Monday was family night where Mitt would often tell animal stories and the boys would act out the parts. Tuesday was community night with basketball games and cookouts. Friday was date night for Mitt and Ann. Finally, Saturdays were filled with chores.
Ann Romney finished her Bachelor’s degree in French, became active in the United Way, and worked with inner city youth. Mitt called Ann the CFO (Chief Family Officer), and she was helpful in overseeing three of the Romney boys in becoming Eagle Scouts. Once, Ann left the sunroof open on Mitt’s car, but Mitt didn’t blow up saying instead “I know who prepares my meals.”
Next, the chapter describes each of Mitt’s five sons, we discover Ann’s favorite flower is the lilac, and the authors try to make Mitt look bad about the Seamus dog story. Here is where the authors start to lose some credibility as they contradict themselves. Earlier in the book, Mitt is described as someone who loved to talk with anyone and everyone for hours at social gatherings. Now, the authors curiously describe Mitt as someone who hates such social interactions.
Despite immense and growing wealth and his home purchases/renovations, Mitt was known as frugal to the core. Mitt continued to drive his dented Chevy Caprice Classic nicknamed the Gray Grunt for years. He also wore winter gloves patched with duct tape.
I also found it interesting that Mitt was part of the Mormon Church leadership in Massachusetts when the church reversed their position on race in 1978 which caused Mitt so much joy that he parked on the side of the road and wept when he found out. When Mitt led the Cambridge Ward, the almost completed Belmont chapel burned providing Mitt another opportunity to display his remarkable leadership during a crises.
Mitt reportedly is an expert at doing the moonwalk.
The authors provide several more instances of Romney’s charity and good deeds such as removing a hornet’s nest for a man who broke his foot attempting to remove it himself, leading a group of people into a burning house in order to save some precious items for a family, and helping students financially get through college.
The chapter concludes with a series of hit jobs by women angry about counsel they received from Mitt while he was in a position of leadership in his church. One claims Mitt told her to give up her unborn child for adoption which Mitt denies. Another was angry that Mitt advised her not to have an abortion, and finally a women claims Mitt told her he didn’t know why she was a Mormon.
Ch. 6 - The Money Maker
The chapter begins with Mitt negotiating with Bill Bain about Mr. Bain’s idea that Mitt become the head of a new company to be called Bain Capital. The authors describe some ups and downs of the company, and they attempt to compare Mitt to the fictional Gordon Gekko.
Next, the authors try to accuse Mitt of obstructing justice by doing a deal with Drexel Burnham Lambert but then admit that Mitt’s deal had no impact on the case cited.
While reading this chapter, I was struck by how similar some of these Bain attacks were to the already discredited attacks by Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC.
Mitt was brought back to Bain & Company to save it, and during that turnaround job, Mitt reportedly got into a very heated verbal fight with Goldman Sachs. Mitt’s turnaround was ultimately successful, and the authors say that turnaround was one of Mitt’s most impressive displays of executive talent and toughness.
Interestingly, Mitt’s opponent in the 2002 race for Massachusetts Governor, Shannon O’Brien, said “There is a mess in corporate America, and its name is Mitt Romney.” That attack didn’t work in that race, and it won’t work in 2012.
Following that quote, Mitt is credited with saving the deal of Bain buying Domino’s by talking about cars with Domino’s CEO Tom Monaghan, Mitt is given credit for his foresight into the future dot com bubble, and the story of Robert Gay’s lost daughter is told.
The top 10 deals during Mitt’s 15 years at Bain Capital invested $260 million and reaped nearly $3 billion in return. During that time, the top income tax rate was 39.6%. Since Mitt has invested his after tax money and pays 15% in capital gains taxes, Mitt has likely paid over 50% in taxes on the money he has earned despite what the media is reporting. The chapter ends by saying Mitt decided he had made enough money, and that it was now his duty to serve the country that has provided him with such opportunity.
Ch. 7 - Taking on an Icon
Ann talked Mitt into taking on Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Senate race. Mitt initially didn’t want to get into the race, but that fact doesn’t stop the authors from asserting that Mitt has spent his entire life setting up a run for the presidency. When Mitt starting running for Senate, Ann remarked they they didn’t know a single republican activist in Massachusetts. Plus, Mitt had several GOP contenders to beat in the primary before he could begin the election against Ted Kennedy. Mitt also privately predicted he had a 5% chance of beating Ted Kennedy.
During the primary, a female GOP rival called Mitt an empty suit which caused Ann Romney to fire back, “How would she know? When was the last time she checked?”
During the nominating convention, George Romney spoke to as many GOP delegates as he could which helped Mitt end up with 68% of the vote on the first ballot knocking all but one of Mitt’s potential GOP challengers off of the ballot. Lakian was Mitt’s challenger, but the Kennedy-Romney race had already begun.
Mitt won the primary, and the Kennedy attacks on Mitt seemed very similar to the Newt Gingrich Super PAC attacks. That race taught Mitt the lesson to not hold your fire when under attack. Even though it may have cost him the race, Mitt doesn’t regret refusing to go after Ted Kennedy over Chappaquiddick.
Mitt was on the executive board of the Boy Scouts.
The authors also admit that after all of their research, they discovered that Mitt never supported same-sex marriage. They also discovered that Lenore Romney was more pro-life than Mitt’s critics will admit. Even Massachusetts Citizens for Life endorsed Mitt in that 1994 election.
While Mitt was defending himself against Ted Kennedy’s religious attacks in a news conference, George Romney burst into the crowd exclaiming his displeasure at what Ted Kennedy was doing. George also later said Mitt was better than him because Mitt had a better education, turned around several companies while George had only turned around one, and Mitt had made more money. Once the 1994 election was over, Mitt went back to Bain Capital.
Ch. 8 - The Torch is Lit
In 1996, Mitt spent $50,000 in newspaper ads attacking Steve Forbes’ flat tax saying that it hurt the poor and middle class. Mitt was steamed about President Clinton’s affair. Mitt also almost worked on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Right after Ann was diagnosed with M.S., Mitt was asked to turn around the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The committee looked over Jon Huntsman Jr. in order to pick Mitt, and Huntsman remained bitter for years even leading him to endorse John McCain in the 2008 primaries despite the fact that McCain was the harshest opponent of the games in Congress. Once the games were over, Dick Ebersol said, “The list of people who could have pulled it off began and ended with Mitt Romney.”
Ken Bullock from Utah tries to smear Mitt later in the chapter, but Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson defends Mitt. When some wanted to cancel the games after 9/11, Mitt inspired those involved with the games in a legendary fashion. The authors call the Olympics Mitt’s biggest turnaround yet.
I’d encourage anyone wanting to know more about the games to read “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games“.
Ch. 9 - The CEO Governor
Two days after Mitt landed in Massachusetts after saving the Olympics, the sitting GOP governor, Jane Swift, decided not to run for a first full-term because Mitt had become so popular. Mitt even was named as one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.
In the 2002 election, Mitt was proactive in defining himself instead of allowing his democrat opponent to do it for him. Adding even more proof to the fact that Mitt has always been against gay marriage, Ann and Tagg signed a ballot petition to ban gay marriage in 2002.
In the 2002 election, Mitt debuted a sophisticated “microtargeting” program that helped identify supporters with great accuracy. Mitt also ran this ad:
When Mitt was down by 10 percent in the polls, Mitt tricked O’Brien into having more debates which helped lead to Mitt winning the election by 5 percent.
Once elected, Mitt wasn’t trusted by his legislature at first, but he ended up earning their trust. Next, the authors manipulate statistics to imply that Mitt raised property taxes when the truth was simply that spending decreased while Mitt was Governor and other tax cuts caused the percentage of taxes collected from property taxes to rise even though the actual tax rate didn’t.
One democratic lawmaker absurdly remarks that Mitt didn’t know his name.
Between 2001 and 2003, the state lost 6% of its’ jobs. Mitt left office with jobs returning to the state, but the authors claim it wasn’t a success even though the pipeline of companies coming to Massachusetts had increased from 13 to 288.
Mitt was embarrassed by the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Mitt sanitized the judicial selection process. Also, Mitt’s efforts in 2004 to help Massachusetts republicans likely saved the career of Scott Brown who is now in Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat.
Embryonic stem cell research finally caused Mitt to complete his conversion to the pro-life cause despite the possibility that the research could lead to cures such as M.S.
Next, the authors accuse Mitt of flip-flopping without providing adequate examples or explanations to back up their biased claims.
The episode of Mitt leading the charge against gay-marriage is told. Just when the authors try to paint Mitt as someone who cared more about being President than Massachusetts, they undermine their own argument by their next chapter on health care.
Ch. 10 - Health Care Revolutionary
Thomas Stemberg, from Staples who’s board Mitt sat on for 16 years, convinced Mitt to tackle health care. The authors remark that Mitt Romney succeeded where Dukakis and Hillary Clinton failed.
Romney vetoed eight sections of the law and the authors cynically assume Mitt only did it for political reasons knowing his vetoes would be over-ridden.
I found it interesting that Cecil B. DeMille organized the signing ceremony. Popularity of the health care plan has only risen with time in Massachusetts even though Deval Patrick has mishandled the law.
The authors end the chapter lamenting that although Mitt was incredibly efficient as Governor, he somehow should’ve accomplished even more.
Ch. 11 - A Right Turn on the Presidential Trail
Doug Gross tried to convince Mitt that he couldn’t win Iowa as a Mormon and that Mitt would have trouble relating to average Americans. Gross still ended up chairing Mitt’s Iowa campaign because Mitt’s other attributes were so impressive.
Mike Murphy, who helped on Mitt’s 2002 campaign, chose not to work for any campaign in 2008 because he had also served on John McCain’s 2000 campaign. The authors seem to conclude losing Mike Murphy when McCain jumped in the race created a vacuum that the campaign never recovered from. I would prefer that people read this extensive summary of the 2008 campaign if they want a more accurate description of what happened. It more accurately describes what went wrong and how close to the nomination Mitt was.
The authors also describe Bob Jones III’s endorsement of Mitt a bit hollow which I disagree with.
Just like in the Kennedy race, Mitt refused to go as negative on Mike Huckabee as some of his staff wanted to. Mitt’s staff created an ad crushing Huckabee over his clemency of Maurice Clemmons, but Mitt refused to run it.
The chapter ends with John McCain apologizing to Mitt after the Reagan Library Debate before Super Tuesday. The authors surmise that Mitt endorsed McCain and worked so hard for him in order to become the VP.
Ch. 12 - Back Into the Fire
Sen. McCain says he was wrong about Mitt being stiff. He now finds Mitt a very talkative, entertaining guy with a lot of experiences.
Mitt admits that voters didn’t know what his strengths were in 2008 and that his 2012 campaign will display amazing message discipline in order to ensure voters know Mitt is a Mr. Fix-it who can turn around the U.S. economy. He says everything he campaigned on in 2008 is still true, but his main focus is the economy.
J.W. Marriott Jr. credits Mitt with saving the company and says Mitt can save the country.
The book ends with Mitt telling a voter at a New Hampshire townhall “If you want to raise taxes, that’s easy to do, just vote for a Democrat.”