Ten minutes into the momentum-reversing debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama in Denver, Tagg Romney, the candidate’s eldest son, received a hug from his mother.
“This is good,” Ann Romney whispered in his ear.
A new story line about the dynamics within the Romney campaign depicts Tagg and his mother wrenching control of Mitt’s once-faltering candidacy from paid strategists. But Tagg, who recounted the debate scene to a Republican well-wisher at an event in Bristow on Thursday, insists the conspiracy theories aren’t true.
Those stories, he said, are “more fairy tale than truth” and insisted there was “no palace coup. I have every confidence in all the guys and gals running the shop, and they know it.”
For now, it is Tagg who’s in the spotlight. It didn’t shine on him right away.
Recent news coverage of the Romney campaign has focused on the campaign’s travails and triumphs.
First came a Sept. 16 Politico story headlined “Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled,” an anecdote-packed evisceration of Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens. That was followed a week later by the Politico story “In the end, it’s Mitt,” which shifted blame off of Stevens and onto the candidate. After Romney pounded Obama in the debate in Denver, things started clicking for the Republican.
On Oct. 9, in a piece titled “Inside the campaign: The Romney rebellion,” Politico reported that Tagg and his mother prevailed over paid staff members in the run-up to the debate, advocating a “Let Mitt be Mitt” approach. Their influence had expanded, the story reported, compared with that of Stevens, who had been “fenced in.”
That new story line, with Tagg Romney reprising the role of Howard Wolfson and Stuart Stevens playing the part of Mark Penn in this year’s remake of the 2008 production “Let Hillary be Hillary,” has generated considerable interest in the 42-year-old Tagg.
A report in Buzzfeed, published the day after Politico’s family “intervention” story, also reported that Tagg led an “intervention.” The Buzzfeed story reported that the scion had started asserting himself in the summer during the selection of his father’s running mate. Tagg, the Web site reported, argued forcefully, along with his mother, for the selection of Wisconsin congressman and conservative darling Paul Ryan as running mate, over the objections of his father’s strategists. Soon after, according to Buzzfeed, he urged his father to untether himself from movement conservatives and talk about his record as a moderate governor in Massachusetts.
Whether he was a concerned son giving his flailing father some advice or making a play for power, Tagg — a venture capitalist and someone often mentioned as a potential candidate — now finds himself as a center of attention.
On Thursday, Tagg arrived in Bristow in a Romney-Ryan bus (“MORE JOBS. MORE TAKE-HOME PAY”) to a strip mall surrounded by Civil War battlefields. He wore the off-duty investor uniform of jeans, a blue button-front shirt under a darker blue zip-up sweater and charcoal blazer. (“I got it at the Olympics.”) He shook hands around the office, which was decorated with signs (“Believe in America,” “Young Americans for Romney”), an elephant-shaped pinata and a white screen for that evening’s vice presidential debate watch party. He then stood in the middle of a circle of supporters — some of whom had been discussing whether Obama is secretly a Muslim — and gave short remarks boosting his dad. He talked about being the father of newborn twins and how he had been given a larger role in the campaign than he had expected.
“I thought they’d have me on the road a day or two a week,” he said. “Well, it turns out they have me on the road seven days a week,”
His talk won warm applause, and he spent some time posing for pictures and chatting with supporters. A reporter profiling Tagg for a national magazine introduced himself and joked about having called everyone the candidate’s son had ever known. The reporter then mentioned the recent stories depicting Tagg as his father’s Svengali.
“I’ve been on the road constantly if you look at my Twitter feed,” Tagg said, a touch defensively. “I’ve only been at headquarters once in the last 10 weeks. The intervention was news to me.”
In an interview, he reiterated his peripheral role and praised Stevens, who, he said, was “really good at what he does. He led the charge on the debate prep. He clearly did a good job. He’s in charge of the paid media, and he travels around with my dad a lot.”
Asked why there was so much attention on Stevens, the eccentric media consultant who has become a divisive figure in and out of the campaign, Tagg said, “I don’t know. If you go back and read his bio, he’s like one of the most interesting people ever. He coached rugby in Switzerland. He’s written travel books. He took a model around in a convertible Thunderbird or Mustang around Europe to every three-star Michelin restaurant. He’s an interesting guy. He shows up to strategy meetings and he’s biked 38 miles to get there and it’s like — the guy is an interesting person to write about.”
The reputed architect of the new Romney campaign then boarded his bus for more events in Harrisonburg and the “Romney Victory Offices” of Lynchburg and Charlottesville.