Meet the Other Mitt Romney

New documentary offers an inside look at the failed presidential candidate

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Photo courtesy of Netflix

Mitt Romney in the Netflix documentary "Mitt."

“We’re messing his hair up!”

In the Manchester, N.H. classroom, repurposed for the evening as a candidate holding room, a beaming Ann Romney sing-songs as she tousles her husband’s hair with both hands in celebration of a debate win. It’s Mitt Romney like you’ve never seen him before: behind the scenes, unfiltered, human.

Fifteen months after the 2012 election, Mitt, a documentary which screened Friday at the Sundance Film Festival and will be available this week on Netflix, provides a historic view inside not one, but two, of Romney’s losing presidential campaigns through the lens of the candidate and his family. In that respect it is the inverse of the seminal 1992 campaign documentary War Room, which told the story of the Clinton campaign through its celebrity operatives. Mitt, in the words of director Greg Whiteley, is essentially “a bunch of scenes of Romney and his family hanging out.” His campaign was always skeptical of the project, and almost never agreed to be on camera.

“The campaign didn’t like me around,” he says. “Their argument was you’re carrying around a loaded gun. ‘We don’t know you at all.’ I think their concerns were perfectly valid.” Although that fear has since morphed into regret at a missed opportunity.

Filmed over six years by Whiteley, the film shows Mitt’s family discussing whether he should run for president in 2006 (“It would be a shame not to at least try,” says an emotional Tagg Romney, the eldest son. “And if you don’t win? We’ll still love you.”). Mitt picking up trash after his grandkids hours before a presidential debate. Mitt discussing  strategy with his sons and daughters-in-law.

The camera is there to capture the moment when Romney, ensconced in a swanky hotel suite with his family and closest aides a block away from his Election Night party in Boston, realized for the first time, that he wasn’t going to be president. “By the way, does someone have a number for the president,” he’s seen asking, with a nervous laugh. The pains of defeat are written on his face as he tells an aide he’s done with his Secret Service detail.

When the film’s trailer was posted on YouTube late last year, New York magazine posted a gif of Romney ironing a tux while wearing it before the 2012 Al Smith Dinner, the documentary’s funniest scene. That goofy, humanizing side of Mitt is everywhere in evidence throughout the film, but was utterly invisible to the American public throughout the campaign—and it cost him.

During what his campaign turned the “long slog” to the nomination, President Barack Obama‘s team was fast at work defining him as an out-of-touch, extraordinarily wealthy executive who gutted companies to line his and his partners’ pockets. Exit polls on election night 2012 showed that Obama won 80% of those who said the most important quality in a candidate was that he or she “cares about people.” Reporters who followed his campaign saw first-hand the two Romneys: the caring and affable family man and the robotic figure he’d become the moment the cameras turned on. Off the record, he’d throw out a hokey joke and a hearty laugh. On the record, he’d clam up.

It wasn’t like Romney’s campaign didn’t know there was a problem. It orchestrated the Republican convention to showcase their candidate’s human side. Its powerful closing night featured stories of businesses he saved and lives he changed, and a painstakingly crafted biographical video. But these were overshadowed by Clint Eastwood’s on-stage meltdown.

While pulling back the curtain, Mitt does little to redefine the man who may be best remembered for etching “47 percent” into the American political psyche. The candid family discussions and introspective scenes that are captured from the 2008 campaign are nowhere to be seen. An increasingly insular Romney campaign declined to give Whiteley access until the general election, and even then, it was curtailed.

Garrett Jackson, the young aide who spent the most time with Romney on the 2012 campaign as his ‘body man’ called the post-47 percent video perception of Romney “the most disheartening thing,” about the campaign. “Is he a baby kissing Bill Clinton, no,” Jackson said. “But he’s one of the most passionate and caring people. What people don’t get is how he truly and sincerely cares.”

Whiteley says he didn’t set out to humanize Romney, nor does he think the film will dramatically alter anyone’s perception of him. “There are moments when we are all different when we are around our family and around our friends,” he told TIME. But in Romney’s case, that family identity is so different from the public one.

“Tagg, in particular felt strongly that ‘if people could know my dad the way I know my dad, then he would get elected,’” Whiteley explains.

An initial version of the film, cut in 2010, explored the candidate’s Mormon faith, but Romney aides, who worked hard in 2007 to diffuse the Mormon question, killed it. Several scenes in the documentary feature the Romneys in prayer, but at least one that included a family discussion about their beliefs is absent in the released version. Whiteley reflected that the Mormon issue wasn’t as central to the second campaign as it was the first, perhaps a sign of progress. “It felt like a bigger part of the campaign in 2008,” Whiteley says. Romney is seen referring to his public persona as the “flipping Mormon,” defined by his faith and shifting positions on the issues. In 2012, the filmmaker says, “It felt like a diversion.”

Whiteley’s one regret is that he couldn’t find a space for one scene, captured around July 4, 2007, after Romney returned to the family compound on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire after 45 straight days on the road campaigning. “They go out on this boat ride and everyone is kind of falling asleep,” Whiteley recalls. “Mitt is there driving this boat, and he had this very satisfied look on his face. You never want him to leave that boat. You just want him forever to stay right there. He just looks very content, and very happy, and safe.”

Mitt will be available on Netflix on Jan. 24, 2014 at 2 p.m. EST.

36 comments
DanBruce
DanBruce

The new movie should be marketed as a lose-weight diet aid. Watch it at mealtime and you will get so nauseous that you will be unable to eat.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Just leave the poor fellow be. Cant understand this fascination of repeating and repeating Romney failed bid for the Presidency. You do not do that with McCain why with Romney ? He is honorable God fearing and a decent fellow, truth teller with no corruption attached to his name, and who loves his country. More than you can say for the current resident at the White House.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Gore and Kerry also suffered from the plastic mechanical man syndrome.  Something presidential hopefuls might consider, especially if they come from privileged political backgrounds.  Seems to run in that population.  

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

To me, he is just another in a long line of failed presidential candidate.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I am thankful that the majority gave him the wedgie he deserved on election day.

Go away.

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

Media are still missing a big opportunity in not exploring the "47%" remark Mitt made and helped kill his campaign.

If I were an enterprising reporter, I would have started a big discussion about how the government continues to fund itself if nearly 50% of the people don't pay income taxes. Would have been a great debate question for both Romney and Mr. O., but most media did not want to go there.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

For those of you who think Obama was "One Big @ssed Mistake America" I want to point out that Romney as POTUS would have been much much worse for this nation generally speaking and We the People in particular. 

This article presents an interesting picture of two, or even three Romney's the man.  So insular were his "handlers" that one has to wonder who exactly was in charge of his presidential campaign.  It's abundantly clear now, as it was during the campaign, that Romney subordinated himself to his people instead of taking charge and directing the effort.  If this is the way he handled a political campaign one has to wonder who would be in charge at the White House.

The article mentions that Romney is really a very caring kind of guy.  No doubt he is on a personal level.  But he let the cat out of the bag with his 47% comment purportedly made during a private fund raiser.  This isn't something he would have said publicly for the obvious reasons.  Does Romney really think that 47% of the hardest working most productive people on the planet who grew up believing in the American dream are content to live off of government subsidies and benefits?  On the "dole?"  Seriously?

Let's also not forget how he defended "corporations are people."  Just where is his orientation and focus?  Obviously toward big business and the Too Big to Fail companies and investment firms and not toward We the People.  With the effects of the Great Recession still lingering for the working man and woman and with the Republican Party doing everything it can to stand on the brake pedal toward a full recovery one can easily believe that Romney would have aided and abetted those with whom he is most comfortable being around; the mystical "job creators."  He would have been subject to the whims of the GOP and Big Business as if he were a wind dummy spinning in the breeze.

He's probably a very nice guy.  He's probably a very sincere person in his own element.  But I have to thank the Good Lord he didn't win the last presidential election. 


jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde Rene - did you read the article?   The film is pro-Romney.  The article is not an attack on Romney.  

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@ReneDemonteverde 

Just leave President Obama be.  Cant understand this fascination of repeating and repeating right wing lies about Obama.  You did not do that with W. Bush why with Obama?  He is honorable God fearing and a descent fellow, truth teller with no corruption attached to his name, and who loves his country.  More than you can say about you and the right wing fascists.  

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@lordofthefly    

Misconceptions and Realities About Who Pays Taxes


Close to half of U.S. households currently do not owe federal income tax.  The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that 46 percent of households will owe no federal income tax for 2011. [1]   A widely cited figure is a Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that 51 percent of households paid no federal income tax in 2009.[2]   (The TPC figure for 2009 also is 51 percent.) [3]

These figures are sometimes cited as evidence that low- and moderate-income families do not pay sufficient taxes.  Yet these figures, their significance, and their policy implications are widely misunderstood.


http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3505



AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@lordofthefly

Good idea.  And, if the media were to actually open such an investigation it would include the effects of Wealth Inequality which is eroding the middle class and adding to the ranks of the 47%'er's.  This is something I'm sure would not look favorably on Romney and his fellow 1%'er's. 

MatthewRains
MatthewRains

As if there is something more human about clamming up on camera more than off the camera.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@AlphaJuliette As the former Governor of Montana, a Democratic one at that said except of the fact that Obama is the first black man to be elected President he cant think of any achievement Obama had done. Or any of his promise he kept. Except the negative ones of course.

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

@AlphaJuliette 

I said this in a comment above, but the question that should have been asked about the 47% comment was: how does the government make up the difference if nearly 50% of Americans do not pay income taxes. If you look at where the government gets its revenues, individual incomes taxes are a huge chunk. How does The Gov male up that shortfall?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac@ReneDemonteverdeThat is precisely what I meant. Nobody care about the two losers Gore and Kerry. After they got beat adios. Same with McCain. Just leave the fellow be. Anyway let us just leave it at that.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@formerlyjames@ReneDemonteverdeCant leave Obama be. He is destroying the country with his incompetence and corruption. Cant leave Obama be for the sake of the future generations. Cant leave Obama be as he is dragging this country towards a failed ideology called socialism. Cant leave Obama be as after five years of mismanagement the has yet to show anything of value that he had done. And another few years more this country would be in the dregs.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Paul,nnto

I look at this information from the viewpoint of Wealth Inequality and how it's eroding the middle class.  The 1%'er's will eventually become the 1/2%'er's while the 47%'er's will become the 51%'er's.

It's a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed.  Congress does have a role to play.  But the real solution, in my humble opinion, should come from the private sector.  Companies should take care of those who take care of them.

This is more an issue of shared American Values and how Corporate greed is adversely affecting the American Dream.

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

@MatthewRains 

Yeah, leadership is all about the camera. I totally agree. Where would Obama and the Kardashian chicks be without the cameras?

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

I can readily see the point and possibly the accuracy of that comment Miss Rene. 

I don't think Obama was really the right choice in 2008.  But the context back then was that President Bush lead this country to two global conflicts, did not pay for them which adversely affected the federal budget and was the "man on watch" so to speak when the Great Depression began.  Our image overseas was one of a global bully who would do anything it wanted no matter what the consequences.  Obama represented a new start.  Someone outside the established political arena that we could hopefully expect some real positive change.  The common perception was that we, as a nation, needed a course change.

I don't think he was the right candidate because he just didn't have the level of experience or understanding necessary to fill the job as needed.  It was abundantly apparent that his first year + was spent largely with On the Job Training.  And he was given a huge bag of worms to boot.  With that said I do think he was the right choice in 2012 as Romney would have made the Great Depression worse, in my opinion, in that he would cater more to big business and the investment companies that he would to small business and We the People.  He really is detached from what most of us deal with day to day.  He too would not have been a good choice.  And, just like Obama, I just don't think he has the political understanding that anyone who attains that office needs in order to deal with that political body known as Congress.

Going forward someone like Christie would represent a good choice in that he is politically savvy and has been governor of a state which gives him the experience needed to stop into the lead role for the nation.  Any governor would be so equipped to take on the job of POTUS.

OrangeSunshine
OrangeSunshine

To answer your question: The People are not the only things taxed. Businesses are taxed and pay fines to the gov. (if they screw up).  The gov. collects $ in many different ways.  They also gain interest on investments and the like.

Everything said about Romney here is true.  Sure, he's God fearing family man -and- a ruthless bottom-line driven businessman.  It was his philosophy that was roundly rejected by The People.  A man who invented the Bain Capital method of 'private equity' is someone to watch out for..  Or as Matt Taibbi said during the 2012 campaign: "He's Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR .. . "

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@ReneDemonteverde

I see.  Leave Romney alone, but not Obama.  Socialism.  Dragging the country.  You just prove my point.  Rant on, Herr Rene.    Obama is our president and Romney is not.  

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

Romney speculation? Yes, of course.

Obama reality?  One cannot condemn Obama all by himself.  He has had to deal with a very hostile obstructionist agenda by the far right conservatives who have blocked just about anything and everything with his name on it.  No one can accomplish anything in such an arena.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

I more wonder about the jobs that the alleged "jobs creators" are creating as the GOP protects them while We the People are still struggling to recover more than 5 years after the Great Recession.  Romney would have doubled down on their success, recovery and profits.

Wealth Inequality is adding to the ranks of the 47%er's and shrinking the ranks of the 1%'er's.  There is more than enough money to spread around.  But what are the corporations doing with it?  For many they are sitting on it waiting.  Part of what they are waiting for is some kind of leadership to emerge from the most dysfunctional and unproductive Congress in US history.  That is not a failure of President Obama.  And, while the Wealth Inequality continues to divide this nation into the haves and the have not's the GOP is steadfastly protecting the "jobs creators."

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

I more wonder about the jobs that the alleged "jobs creators" are creating as the GOP protects them while We the People are still struggling to recover more than 5 years after the Great Recession.  Romney would have doubled down on their success, recovery and profits.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

Aww.....and here I thought we were having a good overall conversation Miss Rene.  That was uncalled for. 

I like your perspectives, you present them well, and your online etiquette is such that it invites considerate conversation.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

No comparison?  Sure there is. Everyone has their area of expertise where they can accel and contribute.

Politically speaking Romney would have been bad for this country, in my humble opinion.  Privately, he may be much better suited as you are saying.  A good example is President Carter.  He wasn't a very good president or politico.  But in the private sector he has more than earned his humanitarian legacy.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@lordofthefly @MatthewRains Obama can survive in the entertainment industry more than Kim. He sings like Al Green and has an attractive exterior. It is the interior  that is the problem.

Nothing inside.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@ReneDemonteverde

The context of the Bush wars was the perception of the entire nation just after 9/11.  Who was going to vote against them in that context?  So, basically, Bush "led" us into those two wars, one of which is still very hot.  By the time 2008 rolled around the electorate and the country was ready for a course change.  Enter Obama who represented that possibility.

I don't mislead anyone Miss Rene.  Context is everything and one simply cannot build a totally complete picture on these discussion boards.  Some things need to be understood.  For example, my comment that Bush lead this country into two wars.  Those who remember their history will understand. 

The same thing applies to Romney's statement about the 47%'er's.  The context being a private fund raiser where the media wasn't invited. Rightly or wrongly the perception based on that statement is that Romney didn't care about 47% of We the People. Is that something a "caring individual" would actually make as he seeks the highest office?  Take it from there.