“Whatever side you’re on, see another side,” promises the new documentary “MITT.” It doesn’t disappoint. Filmmaker Greg Whiteley’s unprecedented access to Mitt Romney and his family captures a fascinatingly personal view of the man that was invisible to the public eye while he was in the spotlight.
TPM caught an early viewing of the movie, which will premiere Friday, Jan. 24 on Netflix. Whiteley is a Romney family friend who trailed them from the early stages of his 2008 campaign until the dust settled on election night in 2012. The movie includes footage of everything from the Romneys’ dinner conversations to debate prep against President Barack Obama.
Though the film leaves some questions unanswered, it offers up five interesting revelations about the Republicans’ failed 2012 presidential candidate.
1. It’s true: Mitt Romney did not prepare a concession speech until well into election night when it was clear he was going to lose, and probably lose badly. In the opening scene of the movie, Romney, his family and campaign aides sat in a living room, the TVs turned off, with his sons tracking the election results on their laptops. The family patriarch was getting crushed by the president, and an adviser said he was probably going to lose Ohio. “So what do you think you say in a concession speech?” Romney said, looking around the room. Silence.
2. The film humanizes Romney in a way that his family, friends, advisers and party failed to do when it mattered. Whatever people thought of the man before, they might come away liking him at least a bit more after watching “MITT.” The film portrays him as a selfless, loving father and husband who’s down-to-earth, self-effacing and even funny! When an adviser told him he was winning the popular vote on election night, he wryly reminded him that that was only because the numbers from California hadn’t come in yet.
In another scene, he waxed poetic about how he was born into privilege. “I’m standing on [my father’s] shoulders… He’s the real deal,” he said. “I started where he ended up. I started off with money and education and Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School.” Romney showed a level of self-awareness that millions of Americans probably didn’t know he was capable of — an amazing contrast to the sneering plutocrat who was caught on video telling donors that 47 percent of Americans were incorrigible moochers.
3. The movie inadvertently bolsters one of the most devastating critiques of Romney’s candidacy from Republican and Democratic opponents: that there wasn’t much conviction driving his quest for the White House other than his belief that he would be a great president. One could interpret this lack of ideological passion as evidence of open-mindedness and pragmatism, but many voters interpreted it as opportunistic shape-shifting.
For all his laments that the country was on the wrong track, the closest Romney got to a policy prognosis was that taxes on businesses were too high. “They don’t know how hard it is for businesses to succeed,” he said, presumably referring to Obama and his party. It was a strange driving force given that U.S. taxes — including corporate taxes — have been at a 60-year low when measured as a share of the economy. Nor was Romney seen in the film showing any passion for the rest of the platform he campaigned on, like repealing Obamacare, rolling back abortion rights and balancing the budget.
4. Romney and his sons were very aware of — and concerned about — Obama’s political talents. “We’re really nervous just thinking about President Obama — he’s a great speaker and he has the mantle of the presidency,” said Josh Romney just before the first debate.
“He’s a very good debater. He’s a lot better than the other guys,” said Mitt Romney. “When I get intense it looks like I’m angry and mad, and my eyes are in caves anyway.” After the first debate, which Romney won handily in the polls, he didn’t get his hopes up. “Sitting presidents,” he reminded his inner circle, “get crushed in the first debate … and then they come back prepared.”
On the evening of the second debate, Romney paced the living room. “I’m just a little concerned they’ve spent five days in debate prep.” His sons expressed support, but reminded him that the president would perform better this time. “I’m really glad it’s you and not me,” one of them laughed. Before going on stage, Romney fidgeted and wouldn’t stop adjusting his tie. “Will you still love me when it’s over?” he said to his wife Ann, before a reinvigorated Obama came storming back.
5. During the 2008 presidential contest, Romney struggled mightily with the image of him as a flip-flopper. “The flipping Mormon,” he joked while looking at the newspapers, conceding that John McCain had successfully tarred him. He agonized about becoming a punchline. “There’s literally nothing I can do. Do we put on my website what my positions are? Do we answer the flipping charges?” he asked. “It’s so damaging to me. Is there any way — it’s like trying to convince people that Dan Quayle is smart. You’re not going to convince people that Dan Quayle is smart. … And maybe I’ve gotta live with that. ‘Oh you’re flippin’ everything.’ In which case I think I’m a flawed candidate.”
Notably, he expressed befuddlement with the premise, as he perceived it, that leaders shouldn’t be able to alter their views and adapt to the changing world around them.
Questions ‘MITT’ Doesn’t Answer
Disappointingly, “MITT” doesn’t solve some of the biggest mysteries surrounding Romney’s 2012 campaign. Many wondered how he grappled with the 47 percent video — a seminal moment of the campaign that the film just about acknowledges before moving on. But did Romney mean what he said or was he just telling fat cat donors what he thought they wanted to hear? Was he mortified when it came out or did he think the media blew it out of proportion?
The second mystery is whether the ostensibly steely-eyed CEO candidate was really as clueless about his poor standing in the contest as his senior advisers portrayed him to be. Maybe his campaign projected a false sense of confidence, as losing campaigns often do. Romney never acknowledged that he was down in just about every public poll, so viewers were left in the dark. One could venture a guess because he and his family seemed fairly cognizant of their uphill battle. In the final weeks of the campaign, Tagg Romney compared his father to Rocky. On election night, when his advisers told him the roads had been cleared for him as if he were president, Romney responded dryly, “Queen for a day.”
Finally, Paul Ryan — who could conceivably grace the presidential stage again in 2016 — was virtually nonexistent in the film. He wasn’t even mentioned until near the end, when he showed up on election day for high-fives and small talk on the airplane. “MITT” didn’t offer the slightest glimpse into what role the cryptic vice presidential nominee — a young and ambitious Republican star with extraordinary media savvy — played in the Romney campaign, or what his strengths or weaknesses were, or how he reacted to unfolding events.
Other Fun ‘MITT’ Moments
–After witnessing his father’s embarrassing Benghazi fib in the second debate, Josh Romney was visibly upset and wanted someone to go down for it. “That was not good,” he said. “Who briefed him on that? I just don’t know who briefed him on that but someone got it wrong.”
–During a Los Angeles fundraiser ahead of the 2008 campaign, Romney joked to prospective donors that he would be seen as “a loser for life” if he became the GOP nominee and lost, planting an “L” sign on his forehead as the crowd laughed. “Mike Dukakis — he can’t get a job mowing lawns,” he said, and the audience ate it up. “We just brutalize whoever loses.”
–During the 2008 primaries, Romney appeared convinced that Obama’s ascent in the Democratic contest would boost his chance of winning the Republican nomination. “You’re not going to beat Barack Obama with another long-term [politician],” he said in the campaign car after tussling with John McCain in a GOP debate. “Barack Obama has changed our race — has changed our prospects.”
–After McCain snagged Florida in 2008, a fatalistic Romney said he’d rather drop out than go to fundraisers and pretend his candidacy was still alive. “I can’t fake it,” he sighed.
Watch the official trailer, via Netflix: