Now, he tells us
If Mitt Romney has any friends left, they had better not read this
My late mother-in-law had a thing for Mitt Romney. She had immigrated from Canada right after World War II, married a man who was the essence of Midwestern respectability, and settled down in suburban America to raise two children. The suburb was Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and the Kahler family looked like Norman Rockwell’s America. Except for their Mormonism, so did the Romneys, living in the same suburb and living the same American dream. George and Lenore Romney had five boys and the family was a living symbol of Motor City. George was a legendary auto executive who became Michigan’s governor, emerged on the national stage, and ran for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.
Mitt Romney was the second son, and he was destined for leadership. My mother-in-law, a stalwart Republican of impeccable taste, referred to Mitt as “a looker.” He looked like he should be president of something. When Mitt Romney clenched the 2012 Republican nomination, she was elated. She watched the returns in my office on election night and was simply unable to accept that Mitt had lost. I can only be thankful that Mom never had to read Romney: A Reckoning by journalist McKay Coppins. It turns out that Mitt is not who conservatives thought he was—or at least hoped he was.
The first thing you need to know about Romney: The Reckoning, is that Mitt wanted the book written, sat for hours of interviews with the author, invited Coppins to intimate family events, and gave him access to Romney’s own voluminous diaries. Evidently, Sen. Mitt Romney wanted the whole world to know his innermost thoughts and what he thought about an entire range of people, including his fellow Republicans. Put simply, his thoughts are weird and totally self-absorbed and he dislikes virtually all his Republican colleagues. Mitt Romney, it turns out, really likes Mitt Romney. He loves his family, adores his wife, Ann, idealizes his father, is a truly committed Mormon, and really wanted to be president of the United States. If you are a Republican he admires, you are certainly moderate or liberal and you are probably dead.
In case you wondered, Mitt Romney wants you to know he despises Donald Trump. “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney argued in 2016. What Romney does not want us to think about is that he had asked for and received Trump’s endorsement in 2012, even going to Trump Tower and making the ask in person. After a phone call with Trump during the campaign, Romney had mused in his diary: “Got to love him. Makes me laugh and makes me feel good, both. They just don’t make people like Donald Trump very often.” Later, when people asked why he had been willing to identify with Trump and with high-profile conservatives, Romney answered, “I need to get to 50.1 percent or more.” You just have to love a guy with principles.
After graduating from Brigham Young University and earning law and business degrees from Harvard, Romney had made a fortune measured in the hundreds of millions as a major figure in Bain Capital. He had followed his father into politics, challenging Sen. Ted Kennedy for his Senate seat from Massachusetts in 1994. He later went to Salt Lake City and was credited with saving the city’s 2002 Winter Olympic Games, using his management expertise. Fresh from that success he went back to Massachusetts and won election as the state’s governor, running as an establishment Republican.
He was hardly stalwart on controversial moral issues. He had been warned that he could only win the election if he identified as pro-choice. Given Mormon teachings (Romney had served as both a Mormon bishop and as stake president), this would seem to be a problem. So Romney looked for what Coppins calls “wiggle room” and, just like the Kennedys found “wiggle room” from the teachings of Roman Catholicism on the issue, Romney found a way to maneuver within Mormonism. He would support so-called “domestic partnerships” for same-sex couples. Later he would vote to legislate same-sex marriage. We could go on.
When he needed the support of evangelical Christians when he first sought the Republican nomination in 2008, Romney had to change his positions again, but he reveals himself to be a hollow man who just deeply wanted to be president. He agreed to meet with Christian leaders, but even as he sought their support and sent some leaders chairs with “There’s always room for you at our table,” he was repulsed by them. As Coppins notes, “One thing, however, was for sure: neither he nor Ann wanted any of these people anywhere near their table.”
Well, back at you, Mitt.
Much of the book deals with Romney’s decision to run for the United States Senate from Utah in 2018, chosen by retiring Republican titan and fellow Mormon, Orrin Hatch, and then his term in office. Romney, whose posturing on numerous issues and attacks on fellow Republicans would make a race for re-election a challenge, recently announced that he would not seek to hold the seat. It is presented as a bold and courageous decision but also as a concession to reality. Romney seems to hate the Republican Party and just about every Republican colleague. Increasingly, they hate him back. Republican leader Mitch McConnell prioritizes party over country. Sen. Ted Cruz is “scary” and “a demagogue.” The list goes on and on. Romney does like two Democrats, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. The Republicans he does like, other than George W. Bush (maybe?), are like the man who defeated Romney for the 2008 nomination, Sen. John McCain. As for living Republicans, not so much.
I am on the record hoping that Donald Trump is not the 2024 Republican nominee. But I do want to acknowledge one strange fact. In 2016 Donald Trump rode to the GOP nomination for president by arguing that the Republican leadership hated the conservative base, manipulated and loathed conservative Christians, gave lip service to conservative principles, and were elitists who never really believed much of what they said to the unwashed masses. Turns out, Romney: A Reckoning proves he was right on that score.
Mitt Romney now wants us to know who he is and what he really thinks, and he spilled his innermost thoughts to a biographer so that we would know who he is. Now, he tells us.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.