Out of touch. Elite. Mormon. Flip-flopper.
Those descriptors sum up the national reputation of the man, Mitt Romney, even after $2 billion of campaign cash tried to define him as simply “president.”
I was one of the four original “Evangelicals for Mitt,” a group who supported — and tried to encourage our Christian brothers and sisters to support — Gov. Romney. We began working in 2006, started a website, sponsored conferences and generally talked to anyone who’d listen about why evangelicals should throw their support behind the only Mormon candidate. (This, even when there were evangelical options.)
One of the most dispiriting aspects of the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns is that people never “got” Governor Romney and his family. He was criticized by both the left and right.
Mike Huckabee — a Baptist preacher, no less — maligned him by slyly insinuating in a New York Times interview that Mormons believed Jesus and Satan were brothers. In “Game Change,” he was quoted as saying he didn’t think Gov. Romney “had a soul,” and he also characterized Gov. Romney’s suggestion to invest more in high-yield stocks as “Let them eat stocks.” (Politico wondered if Huckabee’s animosity toward Gov. Romney caused him to run the first spite-based presidential campaign in history.)
And that was from one of his Republican rivals.
Democrats were not kind either, accusing him of mistreating his beloved family pet Seamus and insinuating he caused the death of a woman who died from cancer.
Once stigmatized from both sides, it was hard to recapture the narrative. Even worse, Gov. Romney’s campaign team seemed reluctant to let America know about Mitt Romney the man versus Mitt Romney the candidate.
Last week, Netflix released a new trailer for a movie called “Mitt.” Is this another character assassination of Gov. Romney? Or, at long last, will it be a chance to see the real man without the spin of rivals or campaign staffers?
During the first campaign, I met documentary filmmaker Greg Whiteley when I traveled through South Carolina with Ann Romney on her gigantic campaign bus. He always had a camera, his MacBook Pro and the first iPhone I’d ever seen. “Just push this circle button if you ever get confused and want to get back to the home screen,” he told me as I explored his phone. I noticed he had Johnny Cash in his iTunes.
“Why are you here?” Whiteley asked me. He was perplexed why this presbyterian would be so passionate about the Mormon candidate. Through many of our conversations, the camera rolled.
Whiteley was not a political junkie. In fact, he didn’t seem to really care for politics at all.
“So, why are you here?” I asked.
“It just seems like a good story, doesn’t it?”
Whiteley, in his tennis shoes and t-shirts, seemed at odds with Gov. Romney’s buttoned-up staffers. In spite of their distaste for this independent filmmaker, Whiteley always seemed to be right there at crucial, important times.
He was there when the Romneys prayed, when they fought, when they cried. He was there when Gov. Romney decided to drop out of the race in 2008, and when he lost in 2012. He captured all the “real” that the campaign seemed hell-bent on keeping from voters.
Of course, it is a deeply bittersweet moment that — at long last — some portion of the country will get to see the faith, humility and virtue of the family we know and love.
It feels too “late.”
When the trailer was released, it was No. 1 on YouTube for the day — beating out Beyoncé — and profiled on NBC News. It was seen over a million times and caused the Washington Post to declare “Mitt Romney Could’ve Really Used this Documentary about Him in 2012:”
In the opening moments of the just-released trailer, Romney is hardly recognizable — he’s exhausted, crushed from his loss on election night. You almost think it’s an actor. But it’s not.
From there, the trailer paints a touching portrait of a man whose least presidential moments are the most memorable ones. Romney snuggled in a blanket under the seats on his campaign bus. Romney ironing his shirt cuffs — while wearing the shirt. Romney playing in the snow. Romney on his iPhone, the signature white Apple earbuds tucked in. His insecurities. His little victories. They’re all on display.
In 138 seconds, Whiteley’s trailer somehow manages to make Romney more of a real person than all the stumping he did.
I haven’t seen the movie yet. It will premiere at Sundance Film Festival Jan. 17, and you can watch the full-length version on Netflix Jan. 24.
This is the story Gov. Romney’s campaign staffers never wanted you to see — the real, unvarnished people behind the carefully cultivated image. I’m not sure if America will love the Romneys as portrayed in the new film, but at least people will finally have the chance to see them as they are.
I saw the trailer while riding in a cab in New York this week and instantly got teary.
Not so much for what the Romneys lost, but more for what we — as a nation — lost.