One of the preconditions to filming behind the scenes of Willard Mitt Romney’s life during his two presidential campaigns was that the documentary content could not be released until after the 2012 election.
Ironically, had Netflix viewers of “Mitt” caught a glimpse of director Greg Whiteley’s perspective of the genuine, humble family man instead of the heartless, robotic businessman that he was often portrayed, Romney may have stolen Barack Obama’s second term.
Out of duty to God and country, the former Massachusetts governor decided to embark on a presidential campaign in 2006, but not before first consulting his adult children.
Over the Christmas vacation, Mitt and his wife, Ann, sat down with three of their five sons, and their wives, to discuss the potential impact on the kids’ lives if Mitt were to pursue the Oval Office.
Mitt’s family, aware of their father’s pure intentions to run for Commander-in-Chief and, despite the immense work they know will goes into a campaign, support their father and mother.
As the family weighs-in on the decision, the view sees a side of Mitt that was not highlighted during his two presidential campaigns.
“The thing that scares me most is that you”ll come out [announce] and that message will be lost, people will either think it’s too good to be true, or… its just kind of a facade. I feel like if people get to really know who you are, it can be a successful campaign,” said Craig Romney.
The branding of a candidate
Prior to his announcement to run, many younger voters were not aware of Mitt’s background. His father, George Romney, was born in Mexico, and rose to be the CEO of American Motors before becoming the Governor of Michigan and creating the political family that Mitt was born into.
True start-up stories like these are anecdotes that Mitt has since been criticized for leaving out during his rally speeches. Instead, to many, he gave off the vibe of an out-of-touch millionaire who could not relate to lower- and middle-class America.
Before Mitt was able to efficiently brand himself in the run-up to the 2008 Republican primary, his top competitor Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) labeled him as a “flip-flopper” on issues.
“I’m the ‘flipping Mormon,’” he said about the way he’d been portrayed in the media.
In a “dining room style” debate with four other GOP candidates, Mitt finally deemed himself the candidate of change, when he said he brought change to the private sector over 25 years, to the Olympics and to Massachusetts.
McCain ironically agreed, “You are the candidate of change,” a notable piece of foreshadowing that would ultimately be the theme word that brought victory to McCain’s opponent, President Obama, later that year.
By the end of the first failed attempt, Mitt’s wife Ann, his emotional crutch and stronghold, is exhausted and vows not to pursue a run for presidency again.
Fast forward four years to a 2012 Washington that has not necessarily changed, as previously promised by the Democratic president.
Mitt takes the stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. He accepts his party’s nomination, after being dubbed “the next guy in line” following McCain’s strike-out in 2008.
Who you are when the press is gone
Behind closed doors, in hotel suites and waiting rooms that sometimes felt sterile, Mitt and his family brought hope and life to the empty spaces. The people closest to him knew his character was not a facade. Genuine support from staffers, aides and family members made the campaign motto “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” — an appropriate and passionate theme.
Yet in other scenes, the tension and pressure came through as close aides and family members sat with the couple as he prepared for each of the three presidential debates.
In the hotel rooms where many of the documentary’s scenes unfold, Mitt’s true personality emerged. It’s unexpected when, at multiple points in the film, Mitt is caught picking up papers on the ground or garbage on the balcony that everyone else has ignored.
As part of the filming agreement, Whiteley was not allowed to sit in on political meetings that involved the campaign team and chose not to attend every fundraiser (note: he missed the infamous “47 percent” luncheon). Still, he captured unusually human moments, including when Mitt ironed his tuxedo sleeve while wearing it and slept on the floor of an airplane during an overnight flight.
Though unable to watch every moment of the campaign unfold, we get an insider’s perspective through Whiteley’s access. The audience fits in as the Romney’s 23rd grandchild, watching from the center of it all but not fully aware of the strategy and planning that went into the process.
Down to what matters
In front of crowds and in privacy with Mitt, Ann was a stunning partner. She held herself with dignity and class, while appearing flawless amidst times of depression and loss. The movie documents her diagnosis and struggle through multiple sclerosis. Ann is giving in body and spirit. She voices genuine concern for what she explained as ignorance that the White House has exhibited to those will continue to truly suffer around the country.
“They don’t get it, they’re all lawyers,” said Ann.
Tagg Romney sticks by his father’s side and to the promise he made him six years ago when asked if he would support a run for president, “If you don’t win, we’ll still love you. The country may think of you as a laughingstock… we’ll know the truth, and that’s okay.”
And with that loyalty, Mitt concedes the presidential race but moves forward, blanketed by the love of his family.