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.

57 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.

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.

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.  

jmac
jmac

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

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.

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.  

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

@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. 

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

@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.

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.

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

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

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.

MatthewRains
MatthewRains

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

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

@MatthewRains 

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

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.