BOSTON — It was well past midnight and Mitt Romney wanted to talk. The political scion had traveled from Boston to Washington for an event at which he hoped to meet then-President Ronald Reagan, but a sudden cancellation relegated his tuxedo to his Marriott hotel room. With the White House just down the block, Romney confided to a Bain and Co. colleague the trajectory sketched out for him by his father.
“Dad says, first you go into business and you make a lot of money, you give the church half of it, and then you go into public service,” Romney said, according to his Bain colleague and Marriott roommate Patrick Graham. “And then you become president of the United States.”
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Romney has followed his father’s road map. By the early 1990s, he had matured from his days as a privileged youth to build a family, a fortune, and a flock as the leader of his church in the Boston area. He also grew receptive to encouragement from family members and others who considered him born and bred to replace less-perfect men in power. They wanted Romney to take on Ted Kennedy in 1994.
Romney’s decision to become a candidate set him out on a path riddled with bumps and detours, ideological turns, successes that veered him toward Washington and failures that knocked him off track. Along the way, Romney has demonstrated that the cardinal directions on his compass do not indicate a political left or right. The true north he has relentlessly pursued is a personal success measured by the approval of others. The fulfillment of dreams from his father — a former Michigan governor and would-be president — and the political destiny invoked by his wife, Ann, intensified Romney’s ambition.
As a fledgling candidate for the Senate, Romney prepared for his race against Kennedy by demonstrating elasticity on key positions. He showed a reluctance to discuss his religion, a reliance on fundraising brawn to intimidate potential opponents and a tendency to appeal to arbiters when placed under pressure. It was a contest that he told some family members he never thought he would win. But when he had a shot at winning he failed to listen to his gut — and his father — to beat back attacks on his business record. He blamed his loss on the tactics of his campaign staff, the bias of the media and the electorate’s inability to appreciate what he had to offer. He then retreated to the places where he felt most at home — business, family, the church.
“He thought it was done,” said Tagg Romney, his oldest son. “We all did.”
But Romney came back, again and again and again, leading to his current uncharted moment. It is a final stretch that much resembles his first cautious step into the political arena.
GOP’s state of ‘disaster’
There was no obvious on-ramp into Republican Massachusetts politics in the 1980s. The party had been relegated to irrelevance, and the candidates left something to be desired. In the 1986 race for governor, one Republican candidate who claimed to have served in Vietnam had only visited the country. Another had a reputation for working nude in his office. The party’s ultimate nominee was a write-in candidate.