When Will We Get To Know The 'Real' Mitt Romney?
Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:03 am
With his big win in the Florida primary and an expected solid showing in Saturday's Nevada caucus, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is regaining his front-runner status for the Republican presidential nomination.
Despite his time as governor, his previous presidential run and quite a few years in the spotlight, a question still remains: Who is Mitt Romney?
To some, Romney personifies the corporate raider; the cold, calculating chief executive. But people who have worked with Romney speak much differently of him.
"He is the most capable person I've known," says Geoff Rehnert, a former colleague at Bain Capital. "He is a guy who wakes up at 6 in the morning and goes [until] midnight, and has tremendous energy, tremendous intellect and ability to focus on the detail — ability to go see the big picture."
But even among those who have known Romney, like Rehnert, very few can say they really know him well.
"He doesn't have a lot of idle time for hanging out," Rehnert says. "He's not a guy who lounges around, puts his feet up on the couch, and you know, kind of goes on cruise control while he sips a beer. The guy is going hard."
Romney The Man
Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman wanted to build a deeper profile of Romney. In their new book, The Real Romney, they explain why they believe he lacks a bit of the common touch.
Kranish tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that Romney grew up in a series of "bubbles" — from his upbringing in a wealthy neighborhood in Michigan, to his time as a Mormon missionary, and then on to Harvard and working in private equity. Kranish says these were all very insular and elite worlds.
"He did not run, for example, for the city council; he wasn't a mayor," Kranish says. "So he's not the sort of glad-handing politician with the common touch in that way. That's really not who he is. Now, running for president, he needs to show that he can connect."
In the book, the authors write:
"He has little patience for idle chatter or small talk, little interest in mingling at cocktail parties, at social functions or even in the crowded hallway."
Now, this seems like an impediment for someone who wants to be in politics. But it's not a new problem for Romney, Helman tells Raz, recalling Romney's stiffness on the campaign trail when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994. He lost that race to incumbent Ted Kennedy, but he still went on to have a political career when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
"Today ... he continues to make these comments that just suggest he does not know how to connect with people," Helman says.
Romney The Mormon
Much has been said of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and his leadership position within the church, but not by the man himself. Romney directs questions on doctrine to the church, and has often said that he is not a Mormon spokesperson, Kranish says.
But the Mormon church has been, and continues to be, central in Romney's life. As Kranish describes it, "it's not just a place you go on Sundays." It's your social life, and it informs your cultural values, he says — and it takes up a big percentage of your week.
"Yet, Mitt Romney clearly is uncomfortable talking about his faith in a really significant way," Kranish says. "And so I think one result of that is people feel they don't fully know him because he's not sharing this big part of himself."
Kranish says it feels unfair to hold Romney to a different standard than someone running for office who held a leadership position in a Catholic or Episcopalian church, for example. But he says that if Romney wins the nomination, his faith will be an issue.
"You can't understand him without understanding his faith, and yet, he more or less walls that off from view," he says. "I think it will be fascinating, assuming he is the nominee, to watch how that happens in the general election."
Romney The Politician
Though Romney doesn't talk much about his time as governor of Massachusetts while he's on the campaign trail, Kranish says Romney can point to some successes that show he can work with Democrats across the aisle if need be — most notably the health care legislation he passed in 2006.
"This was a major achievement that remains popular, and by most measures pretty successful in terms of achieving near-universal coverage [in Massachusetts]," he says.
Romney came in as an outsider when he became governor, and Kranish says he thinks that's how the former governor would approach the presidency if he were to win.
"[As] somebody who is not beholden to special interests or does not have long-term relationships with lobbyists or other lawmakers," Kranish says. "He comes in as the CEO: He's going to take charge, and he's going to lay out an agenda and push it through."
The picture painted of Romney in Kranish and Helman's book seems to be of a somewhat detached person — or at least someone who really only opens up to his closest friends. But does that really matter? Both Kranish and Helman say it matters a lot for someone hoping to be president.
"If you're very reserved and yet running for president, those two things tend to be a disconnect," Kranish says. "It's one of his greatest challenges."
Presidents find themselves in all sorts of situations where they have to be able to connect with people, and know what to say to them.
"I think it's critical that if he were to win, that he be able to figure that out," says Helman, "because I do think it's a critical part of leadership."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR News, it's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
Today, it's Nevada's turn, and the inevitability question is creeping back, as in is Mitt Romney the inevitable GOP nominee? But just who is Mitt Romney? That's our cover story today.
The former Massachusetts governor is expected to do very well in Nevada. And then the next big test comes at the end of the month when Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries, contests Romney is also favored to win.
In a few minutes, we'll get an update from Ari Shapiro, who is covering the Nevada caucuses. We'll also here the latest on the violence in Syria and today's UN resolution that was vetoed by Russia and China.
But first to Mitt Romney, the man who to some personifies the corporate radar, the cold, calculating chief executive, the person who occasionally says things like this...
MITT ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. Corporations are people, my friend.
RAZ: But there's another side to Mitt Romney, a side that people who know him say just doesn't seem to come out.
GARRET RASMUSSEN: He was sort of, like, the image of a boy scout, what a boy scout should be.
RAZ: That's Garret Rasmussen. He's a partner at the Orrick law firm and was a classmate of Romney's at Harvard Law School.
RASMUSSEN: You know, he's clean, he was well-dressed, he was earnest, he was polite, he was certainly entirely sincere and trustworthy and focused. So he wasn't the type of kid that we saw a lot of in colleges. And I attributed that mostly to, I guess, coming from Utah.
RAZ: Here's how Geoff Rehnert, a former colleague at Bain Capital, describes Romney.
GEOFF REHNERT: He's the most capable person I've known. He is a guy who wakes up at 6 a.m. and goes until midnight and has tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, ability to focus on the detail, ability to go see the big picture. And he's able to work with very bright, very capable people to get them to pull together in the same direction for a common purpose.
RAZ: Helen Sievers feels much the same way. She worked with Romney when he was put in charge of the Boston-area Mormon churches.
HELEN SIEVERS: I thought he was quite innovative in the way he worked with the large group of congregations, because some were quite wealthy and had a lot of talent in them, and some of them had a lot of new converts, and especially low-income people, ethnic groups. And I think he did a really innovative job of figuring out how to distribute talent and leadership and build up the capacities of the weaker congregations.
RAZ: Helen Sievers, by the way, is not planning to vote for Mitt Romney if he is the nominee. She's a Democrat, but she still respects him as a leader. But even among those who have known Romney, like Geoff Rehnert, very few can say they really know him well.
REHNERT: He's got a lot on his plate. He doesn't have a lot of idle time for hanging out. You know, he's not a guy who lounges around, puts his feet up on the couch and, you know, goes on cruise control while he, you know, sips a beer. The guy is going hard. He's a, you know, when he was at Bain Capital, he was building a great organization that was the leader in its industry even though none of us had been in the industry, so we had to figure it out.
At the same time, he had five young sons he was helping raise and had, you know, enormous personal commitments to his church and his community. The guy gives a lot of himself. So he's just a very, very unusual person who was raised with a set of values and work ethic and has an energy level that keeps him in motion all the time.
RAZ: The Boston Globe reporters Scott Helman and Michael Kranish wanted to build a deeper profile of Romney. They recently released their book. It's called "The Real Romney." And in it, they explain why they believe Romney lacks a bit of the common touch.
MICHAEL KRANISH: Well, you know, he grew up in a series of bubbles. He grew up in a very wealthy community in Michigan. He was a Mormon missionary, went to Brigham Young University for the last three years of his college. And then he went to Harvard Business School and Law School and then in private equity. These are all very insular, elite worlds. He did not run, for example, for the city council. He wasn't a mayor.
So he's not the sort of glad-handing politician with the common touch in that way. That's really not who he is. He's not a bomb thrower. Now running for president, he needs to show that he can connect. And he certainly had some problems over the years in doing that. And it really is one of the greatest challenges that he faces still.
RAZ: In the book, you guys write: He has little patience for idle chatter or small talk. Little interest in mingling at cocktail parties, at social functions or even in the crowded hallway. That seems like a little bit of an impediment for somebody who wants to be in politics, isn't it?
SCOTT HELMAN: Absolutely. I was thinking the other day of one of the Republican governor's events that I was down in Florida with Haley Barbour, the Mississippi - former Mississippi governor...
RAZ: A guy who loves small talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HELMAN: A guy who loves small talk. He's walking around with a drink in his hand, and he's chatting with everybody in sight, rubbing elbows, how you doing. Mitt Romney is the absolute opposite of that. I mean, he could not be anymore different than that type of politician. And you're right, it is a huge impediment. And what's interesting is if you look back over his career, he's had this problem the whole way.
In 1994, he was very stiff on the campaign trail. And today, even as we're talking, he continues to make these comments that just suggest that he doesn't know how to connect with people. And he has to figure out that common touch if he's the nominee.
RAZ: Who are his friends? Who are the people that consider themselves to be close friends of Mitt Romney? What do they tell you about him?
KRANISH: He has a very small circle of people who he relies on. That would include his family. He's very close to his advisers, people who've been with him for years. He has had people who worked with him as governor and in campaigns and current campaign. When he went to be governor, he took people from his business and had them work with him in the governor's office. So there's a certain distance that he maintains outside of that very small circle.
RAZ: Is he somebody who always saw himself as a future politician? And did he operate that way as a young man?
KRANISH: We - I think so. I mean, I heard him say I never imagined myself running for president, but a lot of people say he always imagines himself running for president. His father had run unsuccessfully, and he wanted to succeed where his father failed.
There's an anecdote in the book where he's a young teenager. He's at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan and his father's governor. And it's after midnight and he comes in, and according to this story that was told at the time, Mitt suggesting to his father how he might want to handle some recalcitrant legislators. Like I said earlier, he didn't run for the smaller offices, he was always looking pretty high, if not the presidency, one of the top offices beneath that.
RAZ: So let me ask you guys about the faith issue because, of course, we have to assume that this is going to be looked at more and more over the course of the campaign, especially if Romney becomes the nominee. But I wonder, if Mitt Romney were a, say, a devout Catholic or a devout Episcopalian or other mainline protestant denomination and he held an equally important role, would we be asking those questions?
KRANISH: I think that's an excellent question. And the answer from my perspective is I don't know. I mean, it is hard to make comparisons across faith because positions are different. It's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. I mean, for example, in the Mormon church, Mitt Romney was a bishop and then he was a state president. That's sort of like akin to being a pastor and then being the head of a Catholic diocese, to continue with that analogy.
And I mean, by definition, if you're a Mormon lay leader, you're a lay leader. So you're not a paid clergyman, you're a businessman, you're a professor, you're a teacher who happens to take on this role. So, in some sense, it feels unfair to sort of hold him to a different standard. But I think you're right that he's going to be confronted with all these questions about what does faith means to him and how it forms his values and typically how he's dealt with these things is to say: If you want to know about doctrine or anything that gets into that, go ask the church. I'm not a spokesman for my church.
RAZ: How central is the Mormon church in his life?
KRANISH: It is such a big part of his life and has been for sometime. I mean, you have to remember when you grew up in a very observant Mormon household, it's not just where you go on Sundays. It's your social life, and it informs your cultural values. And you have all these events during the week, so it's such a big percentage, even time wise of the way you spend your week. And yet, you know, Mitt Romney clearly is uncomfortable talking about his faith in a really significant way. And so I think one result of that is people feel like they don't fully know him because he's not sharing this big part of himself.
RAZ: And yet he is a major figure in the church, right?
KRANISH: He held very important leadership roles before he got into politics. His family was very important in the history of Mormonism, the spread of Mormonism in the 19th century. So, absolutely. I mean, you can't understand him without understanding his faith. And yet, he more or less walls that off from view. And I think it will be fascinating, assuming he's the nominee, to watch how that happens in the general election.
RAZ: What does his time as governor tell us about the kind of president he would be?
KRANISH: It's fascinating. He doesn't talk about it at all, but he can point to certainly some successes in working with a Democratic legislature. I realize that we might not have a Democratic Congress if he were to win. But he has shown to be able to work with the other side, most notably on health care. This is a major achievement that remains popular and, by most measures, pretty successful in terms of achieving near-universal coverage here.
So I think he would come in as he did as governor. He would come in as an outsider, somebody who is not beholden to, you know, special interests or does not have long-term relationships with lobbyists or other lawmakers. He might not even know their names. He comes in as the CEO. He's going to take charge, and he's going to lay out an agenda and, you know, push it through.
RAZ: It seems like the picture that you - that comes out about Mitt Romney from this book is somebody who is fairly detached, either detached or he only really shows himself to one or two people, maybe his wife and his kids. And I wonder, does it matter? I mean, does a president have to be, you know, have to bare their soul? I mean, of course, President Obama wrote this memoir, which is excellent and touching and introspective. But I wonder, I mean, does a - do you think that matters?
KRANISH: I think it matters when you're running for president. For example, one of his key supporters, Chris Christie, said recently that Mitt Romney is, quote, "very reserved and needs to work on connecting with people." If you're very reserved and yet running for president, those two things seem to be a disconnect. It's one of his greatest challenges. And that sometimes when he makes comments that people perceive as gas about, you know, he's not worried poor people. Clearly he is, but he just couldn't state it in a way that makes sense to the regular person.
RAZ: Scott Helman?
HELMAN: I think it matters as president, too, because if you think about all these intangibles that come up, I mean, whether it's - you're meeting with a foreign leader over some delicate situation or, you know, you're talking to the mother who just lost a kid in Iraq or Afghanistan, there are all kinds of situations where you have to be able to connect with people and have that sort of emotional intelligence to be able to judge people and to know what to say and to know not what to say. So I think it's critical that if he were to win, that he be able to figure that out, because I do think it's a critical part of leadership.
RAZ: That's Scott Helman. He's the author of "The Real Romney." We also spoke with Michael Kranish, his co-author. Both of them are reporters for The Boston Globe. Michael Kranish, Scott Helman, thank you.
KRANISH: Thank you.
HELMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.