Folks, I watched “Mitt.” After eyeing the Netflix trailer last month, I know I said I would find something better to do than watch two-hours of “whine and Romneys.” Now having seen the film in its entirety, I can confidently say that Greg Whiteley’s 90-minute documentary is like watching an extraordinary therapy session for the very wealthy, large and loving Romney family. By the end, I was weary of the incessant complaining of a truly blessed family.
But running for the nomination for president and the presidency itself are soul-crushing exercises. Win or lose, no one emerges from the process emotionally unscathed, and you can’t help but feel for the afflicted. That’s why political junkies from both sides of the aisle will be riveted by the behind-the-scenes discussions and raw emotions at critical points in Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. There are three moments in particular that were as revealing as they were compelling.
[Lost in] Translation: “Is it worth it?”
During the 2008 run for the GOP nomination, Whiteley asked Josh Romney if he ever said to himself that “this isn’t worth it.” The middle son of five boys admits that he is so trained to give a media-friendly answer. Whiteley pleads with him not to do that but instead to give the media answer and then translate it to how he really feels. That it all plays out on camera shows how much theater is involved in campaigns.
Whiteley: Do you ever think, well, is this worth it?
Josh: You know, I just think the opportunity for someone like my dad to come in and run the country and the challenges we face in this country right now to have someone with my dad’s experience, his knowledge and his vision for America. Someone that can come in and do this, you know, it’s worth whatever it takes for us to get my dad into office.
Translation, this is so awful. [Laughter] It’s so hard. I mean you always hear about, they talk and they say, “Oh, why can’t we just get someone good to run for president?” And this is why. This is why you don’t get good people running for president. I mean what, what better guy is there than my dad? You know, he’s made. … Is he perfect? I mean, absolutely not. He’s made mistakes. He’s done all sorts of things wrong. But, for goodness’ sakes, I mean here’s a brilliant guy who’s had his experience turning things around, which is what we need in this country. I mean, it’s like, this is the guy for the moment. And we’re in this and you just get beat up constantly….Oh, Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper. He’s this, he’s that. And it’s [you] kinda go, ‘“Man, is this worth it?”….This is awful. So, that’s the translation.
All political junkies know the reverence Mitt Romney has for his late father, George. The elder Romney was governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate who was clearly loved by his son. But we get the full flavor of it when he is asked why “DAD” is written on his podium notes for the first debate with President Obama.
That’s what I start with: ‘Dad.’….I always think about Dad and about I am standing on his shoulders. I would not be there, there’s no way I would be able to be running for president, if Dad hadn’t done what Dad did. He’s the real deal. … The guy was born in Mexico. He didn’t have a college degree. He became head of a car company and became a governor.
It would have never entered my mind to be in politics. This guy, how can you go from his beginnings to think, I can be head of a car company, I can run for governor, I can run for president? That gap — for me, I started where he ended up. I started off with money and education and a Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School. For me, it’s moving that far. For him, it was like that.
For Romney, that gap was nonexistent. For Romney’s father, the gap was arms apart, as he demonstrated. That the candidate is aware and thankful that he was born on third base thanks to the hard work of his father was an endearing and human moment for a man with a reputation for emotional robotics.
Election Night 2012
The last 22 minutes take you from boisterous crowds at election eve rallies through the agony of defeat in a hotel suite on Election Night. It is here that you realize that despite all the complaints, pessimism and low expectations, Romney and his family were confident that this time was their time.
“My time on the stage is over, guys,” Romney says as he, his family and campaign adviser haggle over what he should say in the concession speech he is writing on his iPad. “I’m happy for the time I had there, but my time is over.” Romney looks exasperated as chief campaign strategist Stuart Stevens tells him he should take on a “pastoral role” to “sooth[e] people.”
“Yeah, okay,” Romney said. “I don’t think this is a time for soothing and everything’s fine. This is a time for, ‘This is serious, guys. This is really serious.’ To get up and soothe is not my inclination.”
Having lost out on the White House twice in a row, Romney’s flash of anger and impatience with the advice is understandable. But for a man who wasn’t interested in soothing people, the defeated Republican struck the right balance between disappointed defiance and letting go in his 593-word concession speech.
This election is over, but our principles endure. I believe the principles upon which this nation was founded are the only sure guide to a resurgent economy and to renewed greatness. Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.
The last scene is perhaps the most powerful and memorable of the entire documentary. Mitt joins Ann in the living room. He sits in a chair with his back to the camera looking outside. The camera pans over to her sitting on the edge of an ottoman. Ann looks at Mitt. A kind of grief is etched on her face. Shoulders hunched a bit, she lets out two sighs, the first one bigger than the other. They are at once an expression of disappointment and relief.
“It’s too much,” said a visibly exhausted Ann Romney at the end of her husband’s quest for the 2008 nomination. That soul-crushing experience was even harder four years later. But it was mercifully over.
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