But he was also the protector of everything that had to do with his youngest son’s welfare, and so he made Ann a priority in his schedule. He frequently escorted her to church. After one service, he happily wrote Mitt that Ann was wearing the engagement ring that Mitt had given her.
George provided regular friendship and advice to his future daughter-in-law. He patiently answered Ann’s questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which she was making plans to convert. “Ann worshipped George,” remembers Richard Eyre, a campaign aide to George who became close friends with Mitt. “Mitt was gone for two and a half years. Here is his father, soon a presidential candidate, looking after her.”
Nowadays, the candidate speaks about his beacon in the incandescent terms that sons reserve for idolized fathers.
“He’s the real deal,” Mitt Romney says, his use of the present tense indicative of how his late father’s legacy lives on for him.
The lessons handed down by the mentor included everything from a near-ascetic discipline to a low-key approach for defusing skeptics’ suspicions about their religion to the political principles that would shape the younger Romney’s life.
“He has been my greatest influence,” Romney says with a soft solemnity.
A popular Michigan governor, an evolving critic of the Vietnam War and a 1968 presidential candidate who led his Republican rivals in early polls until political catastrophe struck, George Romney often brought his youngest son along while campaigning. Former advisers admit to being stunned by how much Mitt looks like their old boss, marveling over the same square jaw and the thick, swept-back hair. But the memory of their relationship is complicated nowadays in Mitt Romney’s case, because his dad was a moderate with occasionally liberal fiscal positions, and Mitt Romney is trying to convince his Republican base that he likes none of those things.
At this moment, over the telephone, he is momentarily a son making the point that he is not his father’s clone. With some of his father’s old advisers arguing that he lacks his dad’s steadfast convictions, Mitt Romney tries to turn the force of their criticism to his advantage in a bit of political jujitsu. It speaks to his campaign’s pressures, and to his skeptics’ persistent doubts about his conservative bona fides, that Romney sometimes distances himself from his father’s political philosophy.