Willard Mitt Romney – MIchael Smith in the US
The Republican contender was born Willard (after family friend, hotel magnate J Willard Marriot) Mitt Romney in 1947, in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest child of George W Romney, Governor of Michigan, 1968 Republican Party Presidential candidate and one-time president of American Motors Corporation; and Lenore Romney, a Hollywood actress. He was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and attended the expensive Cranbrook School where he was a great hi-jinxer, on one occasion taking the lead in cutting off a younger student’s long, bleached-blond hair with scissors in an incident recollected as homophobic.
Romney attended Stanford University in 1965–1966 where he was part of a counter-protest against a group staging a sit-in in opposition to Vietnam draft tests. For his own part, his religion exempted him from the war and he went on a 30-month mission to France. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University in 1971. Under pressure from his father to get a real job, he attended Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School and received both a law degree and an MBA in 1975.
After the Bible, Romney has said his favourite book, embarrassingly, is Scientology-founder L Ron Hubbard’s ‘Battleship Earth’.
Europeans consider him a little strange. He once strapped the family dog to the roof of the car during a long journey and he tried to make a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during a presidential debate. David Letterman jokes that Romney looks like “a guy modelling briefs on a package of underwear … like a guy who goes to the restroom when the cheque comes”.
Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. Mormons no longer indulge bigamy but differences from mainstream Christianity include belief in an afterlife with three degrees of glory, with hell (often called spirit prison) being a temporary repository for the wicked between death and the resurrection.
Romney rarely talks about his Mormonism though clearly it is a central part of his story. The Republican Convention featured an elderly couple whose voices quavered with nerves and emotion, describing quietly how their son had died from cancer aged 14, and how the busy, successful Mitt Romney had devoted nights and weekends to visiting the young man, at one point drawing up his will so he could leave his skateboard to his best friend. But the Republicans are ambivalent about such Mormon largesse and did not attempt to get this tribute televised. More often we get non-nuggets such as that “Mitt maintains a healthy diet but at the same time he is also very fond of eating”. “After hearing Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side,” writes funny man David Brooks in the New York Times, “Romney decided to leave Mormonism and become Amish. He left the Amish faith because of its ban on hair products, and bounced around before settling back in college. There, he majored in music, rendering Mozart’s entire oeuvre in PowerPoint”.
Mitt Romney married Ann Davies in 1969 though they had met in elementary school when Mitt threw romantic pebbles at her. Apparently uncontroversially, Mitt proposed when she was 16. They have five sons, Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig – parodied by Brooks as Bip, Chip, Rip, Skip and Dip –now possessed of identical trophy wives. Uninterestingly he likes the Beatles – and the Eagles.
He does appear to have a nasty side, quite apart from his humourlessness. He has talked about how dirty the campaign is, when his campaign is every bit as filthy as Obama’s. In his home state of Michigan he made a birther crack about the president, suggesting he at least was a proper American (and Obama wasn’t).
Mitt Romney began his career in business. He worked for the management consulting firm Bain & Company before founding the investment firm, Bain Capital, in 1984. The company invested in businesses that were relocating jobs overseas and laid off many workers, though it did instigate American winners like stationer, Staples. He ran for the Massachusetts Senate in 1994 but was defeated by incumbent Edward Kennedy. Romney successfully took over the Salt Lake Organising Committee, rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics from financial and ethical collapse. He promptly and immodestly authored the book ‘Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games’ in 2004.
He was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003, governing (and here he’s in trouble with his Party) as a “competent moderate”. During Romney’s term, he oversaw the reduction of a $3 billion deficit. He also signed into law a healthcare reform programme to provide nearly universal health care for Massachusetts residents.
When Romney boasted in February that he had been a “severely conservative Republican governor” of “deep blue” Massachusetts, attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference scratched their heads. There was Romney, trying again to convince the Republicans’ conservative base that he was one of them, when his relatively moderate record as a Massachusetts politician says otherwise.
Romney made a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, losing to John McCain. In total Romney spent $110 million on his campaign, including $45 million of his own money.
From the start of the 2012 campaign, Romney emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He showed more mainstream Republican appeal than Tea Party-backed competitors such as Texas Governor Rick Perry. Indeed his relations with the Tea Party movement and Christian conservatives have never been familial, and remain more functional than warm. Overall, The Economist notes that “his campaign was broader, better organised and far better funded” than the others.
A vocal critic of President Barack Obama, Romney takes many standard Republican positions on taxes, the economy and the “War on Terror”. Romney’s critics charge him with changing his position on rather a number of key issues. For example when he was governor of liberal Massachusetts, he supported abortion, gun control, tackling climate change and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, backed up with generous subsidies for those who could not afford it. Now he opposes all those things. A year ago he favoured keeping income taxes at their current levels; now he wants to slash them for everybody, with the rate falling from 35% to 28% for the richest Americans. He used to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for those in the US illegally, but now he doesn’t. It has been joshed that his greatest ideological opponent is himself during the last Presidential election.
Romney shifted to the right to run for president in 2008, and he has stayed there since. But he still calibrates himself at times. At a Republican debate in January, he softened his opposition to the 2011 DREAM Act – legislation that provides a path to citizenship for some young undocumented immigrants. When Newt Gingrich generously said he would allow legal status for illegals who join the military, Romney said he would, too.
The Economist notes: Romney “has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. In some areas, notably social policy and foreign affairs, the result is that he is now committed to needlessly extreme or dangerous courses that he may not actually believe in but will find hard to drop; in others, especially to do with the economy, the lack of details means that some attractive-sounding headline policies prove meaningless (and possibly dangerous) on closer inspection. Behind all this sits the worrying idea of a man who does not really know his own mind”.
A New York Times/CBS News poll found that only 27 percent of Americans think Romney “says what he believes” versus 62 percent who think he “says what people want to hear.” Mr. Obama scored 46 percent on “says what he believes” and 51 percent on “says what people want to hear.”
On economics, Romney says (in the language beloved of Powerpointers) the “basic foundation and premises of my plan are: No. 1, we don’t reduce taxes or the share of taxes paid by the highest-income individuals. The highest-income individuals will get to pay the same share of taxes they pay today. No. 2, we won’t raise taxes on middle-income families. Middle-income families will not pay a greater share of the taxes either. So those are the beginning principles and the most fundamental principles… We anticipate seeing two effects. One is that there will be by virtue of limiting deductions and exemptions additional revenue, despite the fact that the rate has come down. And No. 3, there will be additional growth”. Pre-empting criticism he goes on: “And I know that many in the modelling community do not want to assume growth with changes in tax policy [such as that lowering capital gains taxes increases their take]. I do”. He, somewhat vaguely, says he would work out which deductions to cut with Congress – on a collaborative basis. “I know our Democrat friends would love to have me specify one or two so they could amass the special interest to fight that effort”.
Mr Romney seems to be a willing slave to conventional capitalism. He recently told Time Magazine, “As I look at government, in some respects because people in government don’t recognise that they are in a competition with governments of other nations, they tend to think there isn’t a need to change the way things have been done”. Mr Romney opposed Obama’s bailout of General Motors and the Chrysler Group in 2008 as “tragic”, writing an opinion piece in the New York Times, under the headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” that if the industry was bailed out, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye”. He appears to have been wrong, a bad call for a venture capitalist as well as for a politician. He has a Donald Trump complex: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me”, when talking about health care. “You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me’”.
His grasp of foreign affairs is, unsurprisingly, precarious. Romney has manfully threatened to label China as a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency, risking a trade war with one of America’s largest trading partners. Some of his policies are anti-immigration. During the primaries, Romney said he’d support crackdowns that would lead immigrants to “self-deport”.
He has tried to lure American Jews with near-racist talk about Arabs and belligerence against Iran. Meanwhile Romney charges Mr Obama with such failings as coddling Russia at the expense of NATO allies such as Poland, blinking in the face of unfair Chinese trade practices, playing politics with troop numbers in Afghanistan and above all lecturing and undermining Israel’s leaders to the delight of its enemies.
In June Mr Romney told an evangelical Christian group that his approach to Israel would be “by and large…the opposite” of Mr Obama’s.
On Afghanistan his policy is broadly similar though he has emphasised differences, such as when the military commanders suggested they needed 40,000 surge troops to carry out their mission: “I would not have decided to give 30,000 instead. So those differences, 30,000 instead of 40,000; a public announcement of the withdrawal date as opposed to a private goal; withdrawing troops in September as opposed to December from the surge; and overseeing a fair and uncorrupted election, those are differences that would have been part of my plan for Afghanistan. I think the President’s decisions put our mission there at greater risk than had we pursued the course I would have preferred”. His recent trip to London was a diplomatic catastrophe after he was rude about their Olympic preparations.
The Obama campaign has focused on the silver spoon which fed Mitt Romney and also on his failure to release tax returns for more than the last two years. Romney, whose much-scrutinised fortune is estimated at $250 million, says Americans will “just have to take my word” that he is in compliance with tax law. In 2002, when he was standing for governor of Massachusetts, he testified to a state panel that he fulfilled residency requirements by paying taxes in Massachusetts while residing in Utah. The claim was later shown to be false.
Strategists decided to leaven Romney’s woodenness at the recent Republican Convention. Mrs Romney’s surprise speech was meant to cast her robotic husband in a soft and likeable light. She talked “from her heart” of her 43-year marriage, of deep love. She outlined her experience of multiple sclerosis and of breast cancer. Of bellicose children. She described her man who, waking up every day, determined to solve the problems that others say cannot be solved. “This man will not fail,” she gushed stagily. “This man will not let us down”.
The American public has only twice in the past 80 years chosen to replace presidents running for re-election – in 1980 and 1992. The challengers, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were unembarrassed to make their own positive, forward-looking case. History says Mitt Romney is simply too vacant to make it in 2012.