In what is either an odd case of post-election remorse or a true reflection of a man retroactively acknowledging he didn’t want the thing he worked so hard for, Mitt Romney’s son, Tagg, has revealed that his father “had no desire to run for president,” a stunning admission that must come as some surprise to those who voted for him and the donors who funded his campaign.
According to a Boston Globe article of this week which comprehensively analyzes and dissects the failed Romney presidential campaign, the general list of mistakes that ultimately took the candidate down are familiar ones: the hubris of campaign operatives who dismissed polling data as “skewed,” an organizing strategy that missed the mark, particularly with a poorly staffed, financed and structured ground game; technical problems in maximizing social media, including elections apps that were delivered too late or that granddaddy of tech failures, the crash ORCA (the GOP’s answer to Obama’s Narwhal networking program), which came at the most catastrophic moment possible, Election day, leaving the campaign staff without access to critical information. Add to that the infamous “47%” debacle and the weakness of his last two debates, and it’s not difficult to see the roadmap for failure.
But perhaps at the core of this failure was the inability of the campaign to humanize the candidate; to make Mitt Romney not only seem relatable, but likeable. The difficulty in accomplishing that goal, particularly in hindsight, seems linked to Romney’s reluctance to open himself up, to expose his more vulnerable personality; to tell his stories of good works and kind deeds. Instead, he became defined by others (including the fierce negative advertising of the Obama campaign), by his own words, often clumsy and misguided, and by his mysterious religion. But mostly he was defined by his lack of personal candor in matters both personal and political. Those closest to him, particularly his wife, Ann, and their son, Tagg, felt a deep frustration at their stymied efforts to convince Romney to reveal more of his humanity.
Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, drew up a list of 12 people whose lives had been helped by his father in ways that were publicly unknown but had been deeply personal and significant, such as assisting a dying teenager in writing a will or quietly helping families in financial need. Such compelling vignettes would have been welcome material in almost any other campaign. But Romney’s strategists worried that stressing his personal side would backfire, and a rift opened between some in Romney’s circle and his strategists that lasted until the convention. More than being reticent, Romney was at first far from sold on a second presidential run. Haunted by his 2008 loss, he initially told his family he would not do it. While candidates often try to portray themselves as reluctant, Tagg insisted his father’s stance was genuine.
“He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run,” said Tagg, who worked with his mother, Ann, to persuade his father to seek the presidency. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.” [Emphasis added. Source]
Which makes it difficult to understand why both he and his party banked everything they had on him. Why, if they were going to put aside his reluctance and move forward in spite of it, they didn’t then insist on putting more context into the candidate. It would be expected for anyone, but particularly useful for a notoriously private man like Romney. Since most people have the awareness that a public figure is never just the image found on the pages of a newspaper or splattered across the media, it would likely have made a difference. There is always a story behind every man or woman who goes into public service, a deeper narrative to their beliefs and politics; whatever it is that compels them – be it party, religion, personal conviction – and that story is what intrigues an electorate and inspires votes. That story was needed to translate Mitt Romney to the country and, according to his son and closest advisers, that’s where the campaign fell short.
Despite the encouragement of his wife and sons to connect to the electorate by sharing anecdotes of people he had helped, situations in which he showed his heart; despite Ann’s declaration at the Republican Convention that, “If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they’ve lived their life,” the campaign, and the candidate, remained reticent. There were concerns about exposing too much of his religion, a topic always fraught with potential backlash, or taking any focus away from the issues they felt were his strong-suit: the problems with the economy, the matter of continuing foreign wars, and, towards the end of the campaign, the explosive events in Benghazi, which Romney attempted to capitalize on, particularly – and erroneously – in the second debate.
But ultimately it seems the “likability card” is what got him. After the election results were in, polling showed exactly how much:
The majority of voters preferred Romney’s visions, values, and leadership. But he had clearly failed to address the problem that Romney’s own family worried about from the start. Obama beat Romney by an astonishing 81 to 18 percent margin on the question of which candidate “cares about people like me.” [Source]
For a man who had “no desire to run” but did anyway; for a candidate who would have been “ecstatic to step aside” had someone else come forward, for a father and husband who had to be talked into running by his wife and children, there must be particular pain in moving forward – even against one’s will and personal preference – only to discover that no amount of money can buy likability; no campaign message can convey the full measure of man’s compassion. That has to come from the man himself. And Romney lost because he failed to convince the majority of the electorate that he cared about people like them.