Boston Globe political writers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman dug into the mystery that is Mitt Romney, and the result is their new book The Real Romney. Covering his spiritual leadership as a bishop within the Mormon Church, his days at Bain Capital where he went from business investor to jillionaire carcass picker, and his years as Massachusetts Governorship, the book’s sure to be an interesting read. A distillation of some of it is currently featured in Vanity Fair, and my reaction to it is: Really? Our Mitt Romney? I’m so surprised.
Even from the earliest, people remember Mitt as privileged and aloof. Son of George Romney, the president of American Motors, Governor of Michigan and confidante of Richard Nixon, Willard was confident, square and a citizen-king in his own bubble. Nothing and nobody seemed capable of getting near the progeny Romney. Except his wife, of course, who needs to pee right now so pull over, mister. Yes dear.
More surprising than his demeanor is the way he may have treated his own people, his Mormon charges. He’s not all that friendly or compassionate with his closest friends and neighbors. Especially when they’re women.
1983, Peggie Hayes was a struggling mother of one, devout Mormon and pregnant with her second child. She was also a good friend of Bishop Mitt Romney.
Then Romney called Hayes one winter day and said he wanted to come over and talk. He arrived at her apartment in Somerville, a dense, largely working-class city just north of Boston. They chitchatted for a few minutes. Then Romney said something about the church’s adoption agency. Hayes initially thought she must have misunderstood. But Romney’s intent became apparent: he was urging her to give up her soon-to-be-born son for adoption, saying that was what the church wanted.
Peggie couldn’t believe Mitt would ask this of her.
She told him she would never surrender her child . . “And then he says, ‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’ ” Hayes recalled. It was a serious threat. At that point Hayes still valued her place within the Mormon Church. “This is not playing around,” she said. “This is not like ‘You don’t get to take Communion.’ This is like ‘You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God.’ ”
Our Romney would do this? Gosh. He says it didn’t happen. Peggie says when Mitt later pulled another d*ck move, that’s when she’d had enough. Peggie left. Just imagine: snotty Mitt driving people out of his church because they weren’t good enough for him.
More: a married woman with five children got accidentally pregnant. She couldn’t handle another child but knew she wasn’t likely to get a church dispensation for abortion absent an emergency. Then she developed a dangerous blood clot in her pelvis. Two months pregnant, lying in a hospital bed, she got a surprise visit from the Bishop.
He told her about his nephew who had Down syndrome and what a blessing it had turned out to be for their family. “As your bishop,” she said he told her, “my concern is with the child.” The woman wrote, “Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium, and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!”
The woman told Romney, she wrote, that her stake president, a doctor, had already told her, “Of course, you should have this abortion and then recover from the blood clot and take care of the healthy children you already have.” Romney, she said, fired back, “I don’t believe you. He wouldn’t say that. I’m going to call him.” And then he left. The woman said that she went on to have the abortion and never regretted it. “What I do feel bad about,” she wrote, “is that at a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends, I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection.”
Judgment, criticism, and rejection? From our Mitt? Hard to believe. Especially when you remember how Gov. Mitt Romney was so thoroughly pro-choice a couple years or months or hours ago. It’s a mystery how the Romney so personally rigid ended up being a politician so flexible. Practically rubber.
Anyway, the people who knew the Massachusetts Governor personally said more of what you’d expect. Mittens was uptight, remote and mechanical.
. . a Democratic lawmaker recalls, “You remember Richard Nixon and the imperial presidency? Well, this was the imperial governor.” There were the ropes that often curtailed access to Romney and his chambers. The elevator settings restricted access to his office. The tape on the floor told people exactly where to stand during events. This was the controlled environment that Romney created. His orbit was his own. “We always would talk about how, among the legislators, he had no idea what our names were—none,” the lawmaker said, “because he was so far removed from the day-to-day operations of state government.”
. . but the public Romney championed gay rights and constructed a public healthcare system. Of course, that was the previous public version. Romney 3.0 opposes gay marriage, abortion and the minimal initiation of national healthcare. It’s a puzzle.
Or is it? You’ll have noticed that Mitt Romney, headstrong bishop and cocksure business tycoon, doesn’t resemble the Mitt Romney we know. The candidate is forever confusing everyone, changing his mind and leading from the invisible middle of the pack. He can’t get off a single sentence without several hems and haws. The comma is the only consistent part of his vocabulary. There may be a reason for that. That, too, might be a consistent part of his makeup:
“He was troubled when we didn’t invest fast enough; he was troubled when we made an investment,” said Bain partner Coleman Andrews . . Some partners suspected that Romney always had one eye on his political future. “I always wondered about Mitt, whether he was concerned about the blemishes from a business perspective or from a personal and political perspective,” one partner said years later. The partner concluded that it was the latter. Whereas most entrepreneurs accepted failure as an inherent part of the game, the partner said, Romney worried that a single flop would bring disgrace. Every calculation had to be made with care.
The real Mitt Romney may not be an amalgam of all these things. Instead, he might be one single thing: consumed by the desire to be president. He may have wanted it since the day he was born, and everything else has followed.
Unfortunately, he still doesn’t understand politics very well. He hasn’t been able to unlock the puzzle of satisfying political wants and needs without making mistakes. People have been slippery and unpredictable. They’re quite annoying.