There’s really no way to explain what it’s like to watch your parent run for president. Those of us who’ve been through it are members of a very small, bizarre club.
Those of us who’ve been through it multiple times, who’ve watched our parents be rejected by the American public more than once? We make up a weird, lonely island of political misfit toys. I’m on it. So are the Romneys. And when I think about what they might go through again, if their father runs a third time, I shudder.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Mitt Romney. I like his wife and children. But take it from someone who knows — being the direct spawn of a presidential nominee is arduous and excruciatingly public. It’s an experience that will always hold a very special place in my heart, but I wouldn’t put myself or my family through it again for anything in the world. And it’s inconceivable to me that anyone else would either — especially after losing as your party’s most recent nominee.
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The first time my father ran for president, I was 14 years old.
As a freshman in high school, I was excited but blissfully naive to the gravity of the situation. I got to leave school and join my dad while he campaigned in New Hampshire. I remember riding around in the “Straight Talk Express” with reporters — some who became household names (looking at you, Jake Tapper). I heard Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go,” my father’s campaign song, blasted more times than I could count at each rally.
I also remember the harder, darker moments — Karl Rove’s notorious whisper campaigns about my adopted sister Bridget. Having my hypothetical abortion discussed on television and in newspapers because of my father’s response to a reporter’s question about what he would do if I became pregnant. I couldn’t focus in school and started performing badly in my classes because it seemed like every five seconds, someone would bring up my father. For the first time in my life, I was treated differently by both my classmates and teachers.
The experience strengthened my patriotism and love of America. But it was also terrifying. Ultimately, politicians and their families don’t belong to themselves. They belong to the media, and they’re often eviscerated and torn apart. Anything and everything you have done or will do will be held against you, scrutinized, and possibly held up for late-night fodder. Your clothes, your more colorful extended family members, the way you talk, if you’re too edgy, if you aren’t edgy enough, what music you listen to, where you live, who you hang out with.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, cannot be used for ammo by the other side.
The Romneys know this. They know the negatives, they know that anything can and will be used against them. This time, they’ll contend with an added insult — this is their father’s third attempt.
I thought I was more prepared the second time around. I was 22 and had just graduated from Columbia University. I knew what to expect from the press and the voters. But no one is ever truly 100 percent prepared. There will always be outside variables you don’t have control over, and no one makes it to the White House without a few good juicy media scandals. To this day, some people who meet my mother for the first time comment that she’s not “the ice princess” the media painted her out to be. Narratives like those never truly go away even after elections pass.
Honestly, though, the hardest part was the physical moment on stage on election night watching my father lose and concede the White House to President Obama. It felt like standing in front of a metaphorical firing range as a family but instead of guns there were cameras.
It all feels terribly personal. It is not just a rejection of your personal beliefs on the direction of your country that your parent personifies, it is a rejection of your entire family unit. You, your brothers, your sisters, the way you look, act and the entirety of how your family is made up is rejected in place of something else deemed all together better and more fitting to the American public. The days and weeks that follow felt like the aftermath of complete and total heartbreak.
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When you believe in someone you love, and believe that they can change history and make your country a stronger, better place, it trumps everything else. But this is the trade-off. When your parent runs for president, no family member gets out of it without a few battle scars.
And the experience stays with you. Every job I have, every date I go on, every time someone recognizes my last name, people bring up my father’s campaign. It’s still, so many years later, a constant in my life.
The experience I had campaigning with my father and watching him almost become president was equally exhilarating and dejecting. I’m sure that’s true for the Romney family as well. So I’m perplexed as to why they are considering doing it all over again. Yes, I’m sure they believe in him in the same intense way I believe in my father but why put your family through it again so soon? Especially given that this time will most likely be harder than the last, not easier and a lot of people in the party are looking for new, fresh blood to inspire voters. The Romney family may be looking for a fresh start, but it’s not something they’ll find on the campaign trail again.