James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012: Hello Mitt Romney, GOP Presidential Candidate

by James M. Lindsay
April 11, 2011

Mitt Romney shakes hands after speaking to an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington on February 11, 2011. (Larry Downing/courtesy Reuters)

The United States has had a president named Millard. Could we soon have a president named “Willard”? We will if Willard “Mitt” Romney has his way. Operating on the basis of the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Romney announced today that he has formed a presidential exploratory committee. In 2008, he spent $110 million, including $45 million of his own money, and won eleven primaries and caucuses, accumulating 280 delegates before dropping out. That comes to $393,000 spent for every delegate won. Presidential elections are expensive!

The Basics
• Full Name: Willard Mitt Romney
• Date of Birth: March, 12, 1947
• Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan
• Religion: Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
• Marital Status: Married (Ann Romney)
• Children: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, Craig
• Alma Mater: BA Brigham Young, MBA Harvard, JD Harvard
• Political Offices Held: Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, lost 1994 Senate election in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy

What Supporters Say. Support for Romney this time around already started coming in with the pledge of an endorsement if he decides to go for the nomination from Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nevada). In Las Vegas on March 22, Heck expressed his confidence in Romney:

I am not one to hedge my bets. When I think I have a winner, I am going to stick with a winner.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics and a self-described Democrat, was impressed with the leadership Romney displayed in managing the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. In 2007 he said:

I believe a large part of governing is being a great businessman. We haven’t had a great businessman as president of the United States for a long, long time.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, praised Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts:

For four years, Governor Romney has been right there beside us, providing leadership on key issues – whether it was politically expedient to do so or not.

Romney already has won a key endorsement in the swing state of Florida. Back in March, state Senator John Thrasher, who previously served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, endorsed Romney:

If Governor Romney decides to run for President in 2012, I will absolutely be supporting him and helping him in Florida. He would be a great GOP nominee.

What Critics Say. If it is true that those who know you the longest know you the best, Romney has a problem on his hands. Slate.com founder and POLITICO.com columnist Michael Kinsley went to high school with Romney. Kinsley says of his old classmate:

We’re all for transparency these days, and if anything is transparently clear about American politics, it is that Mitt Romney will do or say anything to become president. The best guess is that at heart he is an old-fashioned, business-oriented Republican. But there’s no knowing for sure. He may have no sincere beliefs at all.

Romney also doesn’t get a lot of love from at least one prominent Massachusetts politician, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry. After Romney called the New START Treaty “Obama’s Worst Foreign Policy Mistake” on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, Kerry responded with a withering op-ed of his own that dismantled Romney’s arguments. Kerry didn’t pull any punches:

Even in these polarized times, anyone seeking the presidency should know that the security of the United States is too important to be treated as fodder for political posturing. Sadly, former governor Mitt Romney failed that test in arguing that ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia would be a mistake. He disregarded the views of the best foreign policy thinkers of the past half-century, but more important, he ignored the facts.

Just to make sure that no one missed his point, Kerry closed his op-ed by warning that “the nation’s security is more important than scoring cheap political points.” Ouch!

Stories You Will Hear More About. Willard” was a great horror movie, or at least it seemed that way to twelve-year-old boys back in 1971 who didn’t have a phobia about rats. But it’s not the reason that Romney dropped “Willard” and started going by “Mitt.” He ditched the name “Willard” when he was in kindergarten in the early 1950s.

Politics runs in Romney’s blood. His father was George Wilcken Romney, a three-term governor of Michigan. The elder Romney had hoped to be president as well, and he was the early frontrunner to win the Republican Party nomination in 1968. But he sank his chances with his rambling and at times jumbled speaking style. (Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes said that “watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football.”) He was hurt most by his attempt in August 1967 to explain why he was edging away from supporting the Vietnam War even though two years earlier he had said it was “morally right and necessary:”

When I came back from Vietnam [in 1965], I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam.

The “brainwashing” remark appalled Republican voters, especially as it came only a few years after the release of the film The Manchurian Candidate. The remark prompted a devastating barb by Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who said that in Romney’s case, “a light rinse would have been sufficient.” Richard Nixon won the Republican nomination and the presidency. George Romney had to settle for serving as Nixon’s secretary for Housing and Urban Development.

Mitt Romney grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which TWE can attest from first-hand experience is a beautiful and well-heeled suburb of Detroit. He graduated first in his class from Brigham Young University (after transferring out of Stanford University), and then moved to what is now his home state of Massachusetts in 1971 to attend Harvard’s law and business schools. Yes, Romney’s time at Harvard overlapped that of George W. Bush. The two shared one class. Romney later said, “If I knew where he was gonna go, I would have been on him like white on rice.”

Romney made his name and fortune at Bain & Company, which was then at the vanguard of the consulting industry. He went on to lead Bain’s venture-capital practice, and he is known for his wise investment in an office supply startup called Staples.

Romney met his wife, Ann Davies, while the two were in elementary school. Romney proposed before the couple had even finished high school. Romney recalls:

At the senior prom, as we danced a little bit, we went outside of the school and I turned to her and said, “Ann, would you marry me?” And she said, “Yes.”

The couple waited a few years and married when Romney was twenty-two and Ann was nineteen, after Romney worked as a Mormon missionary and Romney’s father personally converted his son’s fiancé to Mormonism. The couple had five children—all boys—and their family is still growing; they recently welcomed their sixteenth grandchild.

The couple talks openly about the continued strength of their marriage—and their kids chime in too. Tagg Romney recalls that on long family road trips, his father had a strict policy of only stopping for bathroom breaks when they coincided with refueling breaks. However, for Ann, Tagg remembers, Romney made exceptions:

As soon as my mom says, “I think I need to go to the bathroom,” he pulls over instantly, and doesn’t complain. “Anything for you, Ann.”

Tagg adds:

When they were dating, he felt like she was way better than him, and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way, thinks, “I’m so lucky I’ve got her.” So he puts her on a pedestal.

Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998; Mitt Romney recalls watching his wife fail a series of neurological tests as the worst day of his life. After a difficult two years of struggling with the disease, Ann found unusual relief from the disease by combining traditional and alternative treatments with a new hobby—horseback riding. Ann’s therapy was centered in Utah, where she worked with horses and a reflexologist. In impressively auspicious timing, Romney was asked to head up Salt Lake City’s Olympics in 1999, just as the Romneys had begun to spend more of their time in the state to help with Ann’s therapy. Ann now speaks of her diagnosis as one of the defining crises of her life and praises her husband as vital to her impressive resilience in the face of a debilitating disease:

I had to dig deep with the help of my husband who really pulled me through and gave me courage to go on.

The Romney family once had an Irish setter named Seamus. The family was devoted to the dog, so much so that they took him with them on a twelve-hour drive to Canada. Their choice of how to transport Seamus was, however, a bit different. Rather than joining the Romney family inside the car, Seamus huddled in a dog carrier strapped to the roof of the car. Romney outfitted the dog carrier with a windshield to make Seamus’s ride more pleasant. When Romney pulled out of the 2008 nominating contest, the New York Times’ Gail Collins titled her column “The Revenge of Seamus,” and lamented that for her, Romney’s decision meant that

Worst of all, I’m going to have to get through the rest of the year without ever again referring to the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of the car.

You can count on Ms. Collins to mention Seamus often if Romney’s campaign takes off.

Romney earned a reputation as a “turnaround artist” for his work as chief executive of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Utah’s governor asked Romney to take the job after Salt Lake City’s organizing committee was accused of sending lavish gifts to International Olympics executives in order to woo the revenue-generating games. Romney accepted the offer in part because of his sentimental ties to the home of his alma mater and because he was ready for a new challenge after a failed bid to defeat Sen. Ted Kenney (D-Mass.). The games were a big success, and they helped re-launch Romney’s faltering political career. William Hybl, then president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said of the games:

Through an extraordinary effort by Mitt Romney and the staff he put together, they not only avoided a very difficult time for the Olympics, but put on the greatest Winter Games I have ever seen.

Romney has deep pockets. He estimated back in 2007 that his personal wealth stood at around $200 million. One benefit of having deep pockets is that you can buy very nice things. Romney has done just that. Among other things, he owns an eleven-acre estate in New Hampshire. The Concord Monitor reported back in 2005 that:

It is anchored by a 5,400-square-foot, six-bedroom contemporary dwelling and also boasts a 2,700-square-foot boathouse and a 2,600-square-foot stable, which has been outfitted with modern guest quarters. With ample frontage and a western view onto the lake, the property is worth more than $10 million today, said Hughes, president of Prudential Spencer-Hughes Real Estate.

To help protect himself against charges that he is not one of the people, Romney has taken to showing up Nascar races, wearing Bass Pro Shops shirts, and getting his hair cut in a strip mall. (Aides posted a picture of their soon-to-be candidate in the barber’s chair on Twitter.)

Romney reveres President Dwight Eisenhower so much that he and Ann asked their grandchildren to call them “Ike” and “Mamie.” Romney explained in an interview a few years ago:

Not only was Eisenhower one of my favorite presidents; when we became grandparents, you get to choose what the kids will call you. Some call you Papa. I chose Ike. I’m Ike, and Ann is Mamie.

Unfortunately for Ike’s biggest fan, only his oldest grandchild calls him Ike. The other grandchildren call him “Papa.”

Romney in His Own Words. Although the “Ike” nickname didn’t stick, Romney’s admiration for our thirty-fourth president is still strong. He explains that his respect for Eisenhower originates in his belief that a leader’s character can be just as important as his or her policies:

I believe people who are in a position of visibility and leadership affect the character of young people and individuals who look to them as leaders. And in some respects just as important as their policies and positions is their character and their substance. What for me makes people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and John Adams and George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan such extraordinary leaders is that they had integrity through and through. What they were on the inside and what they said on the outside was harmonious. There are a lot of people like that. I think that if people try to live a very different personal life not consistent with the role they’ve assumed as a governor or a senator or a president, we lose something as a nation.

Many would say, ‘Dwight Eisenhower—what did he do?’ I would say he did the interstate highway system, and he took on communism, and so forth, but let’s put that aside for a moment. He also was a person whose leadership during World War II made him someone the entire nation revered and respected. And there’s nothing wrong with having heroes in positions of prominence.

Romney is not above cracking jokes–even at his own expense. Back in 2005, then-Governor Romney opened a speech in his home state of Massachusetts by taking jabs about his ambitions for higher office in stride:

Well, it’s great to be here in Iowa this morning—whoops, wrong speech…Seriously, it’s good to be here in Massachusetts. I’m visiting for a few days.

In the same speech, when addressing issues related to gay marriage, Romney, a Mormon, joked:

I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.

The odds are good that Romney’s campaign handlers will be reminding him that he is seeking to become president and not a contestant on ”Last Comic Standing.”

After he lost a 1994 Senate race to Ted Kennedy, Romney told his brother:

I never want to run for something again unless I can win.

The Campaign Book. Romney outlined his 2012 presidential ambitions in No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Time called it his “attempt to position himself as the business-savvy candidate economic conservatives can coalesce behind.” He admonishes Obama for apologizing for American greatness:

Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined. There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama’s words are like kindling to them.

Foreign Policy Views. Romney’s foreign policy views might be best described as middle-of-the-road internationalism. He favors America’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is reflexively pro-free trade, and he trumpets American exceptionalism. But foreign policy doesn’t look to be his political passion or a top priority of his campaign. His critics inside and outside the GOP point to his opposition to the New START Treaty as evidence that where he stands on any foreign policy position depends first and foremost on how it will serve his political interests.

Romney began 2011 by touring the greater Middle East. His stops included Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. During a February appearance on “Good Morning America,” he said that despite a “rocky” start in responding to the crisis in Egypt, the Obama administration had corrected its course and urged Obama to be even firmer in pressing Mubarak to “step out of the way.” He elaborated:

I think what the United States has to do is make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom and we also have to communicate–as I think the administration has.

Romney has been parsing his words on Libya. In a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on March 21, Romney prefaced all his remarks on Libya by telling the host:

I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there and the mission that they’ve been given.

That said, Romney slammed the inconsistencies in Obama’s Libya policy:

He calls for the removal of Muammar Gaddafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and the United Nations.

Romney argues that such inconsistencies in Obama’s foreign policy and his inability to “construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy” stems from Obama’s

fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism. In the president’s world, all nations have common interests, the lines between good and evil are blurred, America’s history merits apology. And without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced.

Romney hasn’t said whether the inconsistency should be addressed by increasing the U.S. commitment in Libya or by scaling back the goals of U.S. policy.

For what it’s worth, Romney was born the very day that President Harry Truman went before a joint session of Congress and announced what would become known as the Truman Doctrine. Truman told Congress that it would be “the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

Target Audience. Romney wants to establish himself as the electable and inevitable Republican nominee. His natural audience is Republicans who worry first and foremost about maintaining a pro-business climate. Romney can and will tout his private sector success as evidence that he knows what it will take to put the American economy back on its feet. His hope is that this message will outweigh the concerns that social conservatives and evangelicals (two overlapping but not identical groups) have about him.

Major Strengths. Romney brings three strengths to the campaign: name recognition, a big bank account, and experience in both business and government. Unlike Herman Cain or Buddy Roemer, Romney doesn’t have to spend time introducing himself to Republican voters. He just needs to convince them to vote for him.

Romney’s personal wealth and network of wealthy donors will be an asset in a primary that is likely to be a drawn-out affair. He raised a lot of money when he ran in 2008, and he will need to do the same thing this time around. Romney is telling supporters that he needs at least $50 million to win the Republican contest in 2012. A big campaign war chest doesn’t guarantee victory, as Romney knows all too well, but it certainly helps.

Jobs will likely be topic number one through at least the early nomination contests, and Romney can play up his job-creating experience and credentials both as a business leader and as a governor. He has compared his entrepreneurial skills with Obama’s:

I like President Obama but he doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created.

In a speech in New Hampshire earlier this year, Romney again drew on this experience, telling the crowd:

I spent my career in the private sector. I know how jobs are created and how jobs are lost.

One vulnerability Romney has on the job-creation front is that his former consulting firm often helped corporations outsource jobs overseas. A more populist Republican contender could needle Romney on that score.

Unlike most of his Republican rivals, Romney can claim based on his experience as governor that he knows how to translate what he learned in the private sector into effective government.

Major Weaknesses. Romney has three weaknesses: his ideological “flexibility”; his support for requiring people to buy health insurance; and his Mormon faith. Let’s take them in order.

First, many Republicans believe that Romney will tell voters whatever he thinks they want to hear. When running for office in Massachusetts, Romney favored abortion and gay rights. Both those positions went out the window when he entered the 2008 campaign. His ideological flexibility prompted Jill Hazelbaker, spokeswoman for the 2008 McCain campaign, to say of Romney:

The only thing he’s ever changed are his positions on every issue.

Second, Republicans hate “Obamacare.” So it doesn’t help Romney that Obamacare is modeled on the health-care reform package he pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. Time summarized the problem he faces:

In the early months of the campaign, no issue is likely to dominate [discussions of Romney's beliefs] more than that of the similarities between Romney’s health-reform plan in Massachusetts, which included a mandate that nearly all citizens buy health insurance, and the national plan pushed by Obama and despised by the GOP rank and file. Squaring this circle won’t be easy. In a mid-November conference call with campaign donors, Romney argued that his reform did not raise taxes while Obama’s did. It was a nuanced distinction, given the federal assistance that Romney depended on to pay for his state’s plan…Romney also repeated the claim he has made as far back as 2007: there is a big difference between a state-level mandate to purchase health insurance and a national one, which he considers both unconstitutional and unwise.

To fight these critics, Romney has explained that health reform should take place on the state, not national, level. In March, he wrote in the National Review:

If I were president, on Day One I would issue an executive order paving the way for Obamacare waivers to all 50 states. The executive order would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services and all relevant federal officials to return the maximum possible authority to the states to innovate and design health-care solutions that work best for them.

Third, evangelicals, a crucial constituency in the Republican primaries, are skeptical of if not downright hostile to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Indeed, a 2007 Pew poll found that one in four Americans say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon. The Washington Monthly discussed how being Mormon could hurt Romney with evangelicals:

Just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of evangelicalism in the modern Republican Party, it is nearly impossible to overemphasize the problem evangelicals have with Mormonism. Evangelicals don’t have the same vague anti-[Mormon] prejudice that some Americans do. For them it’s a doctrinal thing, based on very specific theological disputes that can’t be overcome by personality or charm or even shared positions on social issues. Romney’s journalistic boosters either don’t understand these doctrinal issues or try to sidestep them. But ignoring them won’t make them go away. To evangelicals, Mormonism isn’t just another religion. It’s a cult.

Romney may be helped by a nation-wide television campaign the Mormon Church has launched to reassure Americans about the faith. The commercials “show regular people talking about their lives and hobbies before announcing near the end of the spots that they are Mormons.” It may also help that “The Book of Mormon,” a new Broadway musical comedy, is getting glowing reviews. The New York Times calls it “old-fashioned, pleasure giving,” and the Washington Post calls it an “extraordinarily well-crafted musical assault on all things holy.” (This isn’t to say that The Book of Mormon isn’t foul-mouthed and blasphemous. It was written, after all, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys who brought America “South Park.”)

Romney in Depth. In an article entitled, “Mitt Romney Readies A Different Kind of Campaign,” Time explains how he ran his campaign last time “like IBM” and this time he “wants to be like JetBlue.” A 2005 profile in the Atlantic entitled “The Holy Cow! Candidate” highlights his achievements of attaining the governorship of the typically blue state of Massachusetts, lessons and political connections attained from his father, and his notable background in business. Back in 2010 while promoting his book, Romney talked with David Letterman, who remembered the days when Romney’s own father had been governor of Michigan:

Click here to view this video on YouTube.
Odds for Winning the Nomination. A March Gallup poll gives Romney the support of 15 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. Those numbers may not sound impressive, but only one other candidate—Mike Huckabee with 19 percent—scored higher. And Huckabee may not be running. A recent Pew poll found that Tea Party supporters are more likely to support Romney than either Palin or Huckabee. But while Romney, like his father, begins as a frontrunner, his support may be “a mile wide and an inch deep.” 1800 Sports gives Romney +400 betting odds, placing him behind only Sarah Palin.

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  • Posted by Billy Mays

    Two years into his governorship, in February 2005, Romney announced his opposition to stem cell research. Then, to the dismay of his pro-choice supporters, he vetoed a July 2005 bill making available Plan B or “morning after” contraception. Also that year, in an op-ed for the Boston Globe, he declared himself pro-life.

    Romney says he changed his mind in November 2004, when he met with a scientist from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Romney claimed in a June 2006 interview that the researcher had told him: “‘Look, you don’t have to think about this stem cell research as a moral issue, because we kill the embryos after 14 days.’” Romney went on to say that both he and his chief of staff had an epiphany, recognizing that embryonic stem cell research cheapened respect for human life. However, the scientist with whom Romney had met, Dr. Douglas Melton, disputed Romney’s story. A spokesman for the institute confirmed Dr. Melton’s account, saying, “The words ‘kill’ and ‘killing’ are not in Dr. Melton’s professional vocabulary, a vocabulary used to discuss finding cures for diseases in order to save lives.”

    Was Romney an unseasoned politician who changed his views upon deep reflection? Stockman, of Republican Majority for Choice, thinks not. “He was a grown man in 2002 and very thoughtful and introspective,” Stockman says, “so the fact that he says he hadn’t thought through these issues seems very odd.” Melissa Kogut, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts’s executive director, says, “It is conventional wisdom that candidates in Massachusetts need to be pro-choice to win. He ran as pro-choice. As he began exploring the run for president, he changed. No matter where you stand on this issue, you should question where he stands.” Angus McQuilken of Planned Parenthood says, “When a candidate or elected official can move so easily from one position to the opposite overnight, it leaves voters wondering whether he has any core values.”

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