BOSTON — This election season, as one Republican presidential candidate after another has flamed out or been embarrassed by various gaffes, some political watchers have noted that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is looking like the luckiest guy around.
Still, the Republican Party doesn’t seem all that excited about him. Some political watchers point to his poll numbers, which they say are strong, but not dominant or rising. But a new book, “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,” argues there is more to Romney than most of us see.
The author, Ron Scott, is Romney’s distant cousin. He sat down with Morning Edition‘s Bob Oakes to talk about the perception of Romney versus Scott’s own take on the reality.
Bob Oakes: You begin the book with a 2008 quote from Jack Connors, leading and legendary Boston businessman. He says, “There’s no question that [Romney] has the creative business brain, good looks, and impressive leadership capabilities. But there’s no heart, like the Tin Man.” You know Romney personally, did you write the book to refute this idea?
Ron Scott: The Tin Man idea? In a sense, yeah. The original working title of the book was “Mitt Romney: The Heart of the Tin Man.” And my feeling was that, while what Jack said, I understand that, superficially Mitt does come off as being fairly stiff and heartless, I knew that beneath that surface there was more of an empathetic person there and he had shown that over the course of his life. I wanted to get at that.
Let me ask about that in this way — loyalty. Loyalty to close friends and associates. You talk in the book about an episode in July 1996 when Romney actually shut down Bain Capital, the big investment firm that he ran in Boston, for three days to essentially take the company to New York City to search for the missing teenage daughter of a co-worker.
I think he also enlisted the support of a bunch of “heartless people on Wall Street” to leave their businesses for the day to search for that particular girl. So yeah, that’s indicative of the kind of heart that he does have.
Let’s talk about how Romney’s Mormon faith fits in to all this. You write that we’re a country that likes our candidates to be rebels with flawed characters — people we want to have a beer with. You describe Romney as a Boy Scout, whose faith literally prohibits him from being able to have that beer. Is Romney punished by voters for being too good a guy?
Probably, and I think that we’ll see more of this as the campaign unfolds and as we get in to the general election. They’re looking for people who are flawed and who have flaws that they’ve overcome and challenges they’ve overcome. And at least superficially, Mitt comes across as being too squeaky clean. So people are understandably looking for, well, where’s the real Mitt?
I think his dad got to it back in ’94 when he was running against Sen. [Edward] Kennedy. His dad had said, “you need to stop listening to the handlers around you and be yourself.” Mitt being the kind of businessman that he is, that his father was not, had always been very data driven, so I think it was very difficult for him to not listen to the advice he was getting from handlers and relax and be the person that he is.
You write a lot about how his faith drives him as a candidate. As you say, the emphasis that Mormonism puts on leadership, children are taught to “live your life in such a way that you could be president if called upon.” Do you think that Romney feels that it’s his calling to be the next president of the United States?
I was talking to a cousin the other day, who I did not know he was a missionary companion of Mitt Romney’s in France, who said he was running for president even then. So the answer to the question is, he definitely believes that he’s been called to serve and that there’s more to life than making lots of money, which he’s made lots of money, but beyond that there are things that ought to be done.
And I’m sure that his father before he left this earth was loading the next generation responsibility on to his shoulders just like the Kennedys had that loaded on to their shoulders by their father and passed it on to the next generation.
Let’s talk about Romney’s position on abortion, which has changed quite dramatically over the years. As you say in the book, he got in trouble about this all the way back in his first political run in 1994 when he came out and said he was personally opposed but willing to let others decide for themselves. He said this was consistent with the church, but some members of the church strongly disagree, other voters just simply didn’t believe him. I want to ask you where you think Mitt really stands on abortion, as you see it.
This is risky territory.
Why? What do you mean?
Well it’s risky in the sense of trying to divine where he is now relative to where he was in 1993, which was a correct church position — that just because the laws allow you to do certain things doesn’t mean that you should do them, but you ought to allow people to make the choice for themselves.
I think he’s changed a little bit from that standpoint and I think he’s got some organization to do on, “where do I currently sit with regard to abortion, stem cell research, in vitro fertilization processes,” which require embryos to be disposed of in some way, embryos that aren’t used, and to find some consistency between all those inter-related issues. I don’t think he’s done that clearly yet.
Are you troubled at all that we’re still and you’re not quite yet sure of where Romney stands on one of the most influential issues of the day?
I actually don’t think it’s going to be influential this time around. It’s a highly visible issue, because it speaks to all of us, but is it going to be a driver in this particular campaign? And I think the answer to that question is no. And I think we’re in a period where we’re addressing old issues with new science and new ideas and you make the decisions based on what’s current.
Do you think Romney considers himself or sees himself as a flip-flopper?
I have no idea. I’m certain he’s read about it, and he knows that others do as well, and I know it’s a sensitive topic for him. It became an issue when they were talking about, “where do you stand on health care?” And I think the takeaway is, “if I change my position on how I feel about universal health care, people will once again accuse me of being a flop-flopper. And I’m not going there. They’d just kill me.” Plus, the program is a good program in his mind, I think.