Documentary film depicts Mitt Romney’s lack of confidence as his biggest political obstacle
Conservative columnist Byron York OFFERS A REVIEW of “Mitt,” a film about the Republican nominee’s failings in the presidential campaign of 2012:
[F]or viewers who follow politics closely, especially for Republicans who desperately wanted to defeat Barack Obama, there is a revelation in “Mitt” that is not just unexpected but deeply disheartening. At a critical moment in the campaign — the two weeks in October encompassing the first and second general election debates — the Romney portrayed in “Mitt” struggled with a nagging pessimism and defeatism, unable to draw confidence even from a decisive initial debate victory over President Obama. Deep down inside, the Romney seen onscreen in “Mitt” seems almost resigned to losing to Obama in those crucial showdowns…
It didn’t start well. Team Romney went into the first debate bruised and reeling from the controversy over Romney’s “47 percent” remarks. “Mitt” includes a scene from Romney’s debate preparation in which Sen. Rob Portman, playing the president, used the controversy to nail Romney in a quiet but devastating way. The “47 percent” statement was so damaging, Portman/Obama argued, not only because it was made behind closed doors — and thus represented Romney’s true feelings — but also because it was the foundation of Romney’s policy proposals. Romney didn’t have a very good answer.
On top of gloom about the fallout from “47 percent,” there was a general fear in the Romney camp about Obama’s debating skills. “We were really nervous, just thinking about President Obama,” son Josh Romney said. “He’s a great speaker and he has the mantle of the presidency.”
Then came the debate. Romney gave a dominating, near-perfect performance, while Obama struggled. The president didn’t even hit Romney on “47 percent.” It was a smashing victory, a big, big win for Romney.
Such a clear-cut triumph would seem a huge confidence-builder, but afterward, Romney seemed mostly concerned that Obama would come back and beat him badly the next time….
“He’ll be better next time,” Ann said, as always trying to build her husband’s confidence. “But you can be better next time, too.”
Romney wasn’t buying it. Instead, he went into an extended monologue on how his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was a better man than he will ever be. As he spoke, Romney held the notes he had made during the debate (candidates are not allowed to bring any notes with them to the stage, but are allowed to make them during the debate). Romney pointed out that in every debate he began by writing “Dad” at the top of the paper.
“That’s what I start with: ‘Dad,’” Romney explained. “I always think about Dad and about I am standing on his shoulders. I would not be there, there’s no way I would be able to be running for president, if Dad hadn’t done what Dad did. He’s the real deal …”
“You’re the real deal,” said one of Romney’s sons.
In the end, an over-coached and unsure Romney entered the debate hoping to play for a tie. “I look at it and say, hey, if we come out where people say he did a good job,” Romney says, “our guys say we won, their guys say they won. Fine.”
It turned out worse than that. Not only was Obama much better than the time before, but Romney hurt himself by mishandling his accusations concerning Obama’s response to the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. On top of it all, [moderator Candy] Crowley mishandled things herself, nervously backing up Obama in a dispute she shouldn’t have entered.
“How bad was it?” asked one Romney family member in the green room immediately after the debate, but before Romney himself had returned.
“It wasn’t good,” said another.
“Who briefed him on [Benghazi]?” one of the sons asked. “Someone got it wrong.”
When Romney arrived, the family tried to buck him up. “Obama did a lot better this time,” one said. “He did really well. You also did really well this time. It was not a win for him at all.”
Romney wasn’t buying it.
The film picks up on Election Day…That night, at his hotel suite, Romney was pessimistic after a string of early-state losses. When he heard the race was very close in Florida, he immediately saw bad news. “If it’s a squeaker in Florida — then Ohio, there’s just no way.”
…As defeat settled in, Romney discussed what to say in a concession speech — which, for all his natural pessimism, Romney had not considered ahead of time. And it was in that moment that some of Romney’s passion about the race finally came out, far from the view of voters and television cameras. Stevens suggested that the losing candidate should play an almost “pastoral” role, “soothing” the American people after a long and divisive campaign.
“I don’t think it is a time for soothing and everything’s fine,” said Romney…
Given what has come before it in the film — Romney’s defeatism in the debates — the scene leaves the impression that perhaps in his heart of hearts Romney never really believed he could win. That also seems the message of one of the last scenes of “Mitt,” the day after the election, when Romney addressed staff at his Boston campaign headquarters. The old lack of confidence came out again as Romney suggested he never felt comfortable in the race. He passed on something someone at headquarters had told him: “In some ways, we kind of had to steal the Republican nomination. Our party is Southern, evangelical and populist. And you’re Northern, and you’re Mormon, and you’re rich. And these do not match well with our party.”
A candidate who did not believe he could beat the president in debate, who always felt second-best to his father, who believed the country was moving away from him, and who didn’t even feel at home in his own party. The Romney campaign faced many uphill battles in the 2012 campaign. “Mitt” shows us that some of the most intense were in the candidate’s mind.