SPEED READ

01.21.12

8 Highlights From the New Biography ‘The Real Romney’

Mitt had a near-death experience. He once impersonated a police officer. He took a hard line as a Mormon bishop. The Daily Beast speed-reads the new biography by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman.

Businessman, governor, and sometime Republican frontrunner—Mitt Romney’s legacy is yet to be defined. In The Real Romney, two veteran Boston Globe reporters introduce readers to the man who co-founded Bain Capital, passed sweeping healthcare legislation as governor of Massachusetts, and struggled to reassure voters about his Mormon faith. Drawing on previously unavailable materials and five years of interviews and reporting, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman paint a compelling portrait of the man who still may win the 2012 Republican nomination.

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From leveraged buyouts to disappointments in the 2008 campaign, the Daily Beast speed-reads The Real Romney to bring you the best parts.

Impersonating a Police Officer

Mitt Romney wasn’t the best student in high school and was prone to pranks. In one instance, he dressed in a police uniform, put a red “cherry top” on his car, and then pulled over a car carrying two of his two friends and their dates. Unbeknownst to the ladies, Romney and his friends had previously planted beers in the trunk of the car, giving him reason to arrest his two cohorts. He then drove off, leaving the girls in stranded in the car. For this reason, Graham MacDonald, one of the friends involved in the prank, has difficulty understanding the popular conception of Romney. “I am surprised when I read about him being stiff and humorless,” he says. “That is the opposite of the image I have of him. He was almost slapstick to a fault.”  

Forever in the Honeymoon Phase

The suave and sophisticated Romney proposed to his wife, Ann, at his high school prom. She responded with a tentative yes. Romney continued the romantic evening by running out of gas on the way home. But he was deeply in love with Ann and while at Stanford, he frequently traveled from California to Michigan to visit her. When his father cut his allowance to make him focus on his studies, a friend recalls that Mitt “auctioned off his clothing and bought a ticket to see Ann.” To this day, Ann maintains the couple has only argued once (and then without raising their voices).  

Mitt Almost Died!

After his freshman year in college, Romney relocated to France to do missionary work on behalf of the Mormon Church. At one point, while driving back to Paris with a group of missionaries, he was involved in a serious car accident when another motorist slammed into his car, almost head on. One of the passengers in the car died from her injuries and a police officer declared Romney dead on the scene. In fact, he awoke from a coma days later. Romney’s memory of the incident is hazy. He said, “It happened so quickly that, as I recall, there was no braking and no honking. I remember sort of being hood to hood. And then pretty much the next thing I recall was waking up in the hospital.” 

Meddling and Threats as Bishop

When the Romneys moved to Massachusetts in 1971, where Mitt studied at Harvard’s law and business schools, they settled in the affluent town of Belmont and immersed themselves in its fast-growing Mormon community. As Romney’s career at Bain Capital took off in the ‘80s, so too did his leadership roles in the Mormon community. He became bishop of Belmont’s Mormon ward, and while most of the community adored their church’s charming, devout leader, others were met with disappointment when they needed his support. Peggie Hayes, who had joined the church as a teenager and babysat for the Romney’s, was appalled when—several years later—Mitt threatened that if she didn’t give up her unborn child for adoption (the baby was conceived out of wedlock), she would be “excommunicated” from the church. Romney later denied the threat, but Hayes said his message was clear: “Give up your son, or give up your God.” 

Equivocal on Bain Job Creation

While running for senator, governor, and president, Romney has often touted his job-creating credentials from his Bain Capital days. His go-to is citing the well-known companies in which he and his partners invested, such as Staples. There’s no denying his Staples investment helped launch what ultimately became a major enterprise—from 24 stores and 1,100 employees at the company’s initial public offering to 2,200 stores and 89,000 employees a decade later. But these gains were offset by losses in small businesses—an inevitability that Romney has crudely acknowledged, calling Staples “a classic ‘category killer,’ like Toys ‘R’ Us.” When Romney was grilled during his 1994 Senate campaign about one particular job creation claim—that he helped create 10,000 jobs at various companies (in his first presidential campaign, he puffed up the claim to “tens of thousands of jobs”)—his response was more equivocal. “That’s why I’m always very careful to use the words ‘help create.’ Bain Capital, or Mitt Romney, ‘helped create’ over 10,000 jobs. I don’t take credit for the jobs at Staples. I helped create the jobs at Staples.”  

Romney made personal loans, which his staff later said would not be repaid, totaling $45 million to his campaign.

Enacts Sweepings Healthcare Reform in Massachusetts 

In 2005, with his policy team aware that their boss was becoming a true presence on the national stage, Governor Romney began to push hard for healthcare reform. That a Republican should champion healthcare–which was associated with the Left even before the Obamacare fracas–wasn’t unheard of. The Heritage Foundation had endorsed it in the 1990s. Romney decided to push the plan, and through 2005 and into 2006, he put his full political weight behind it. On April 12, 2006, at a Faneuil Hall ceremony, Romney signed the bill into law. “I have to admit that I’m very, very proud of having been part of this process,” Romney said. He was looking ahead to a 2008 presidential campaign, blissfully unaware of the hot-button issue healthcare would soon become. Yet, like any good businessman, he’d begun to hedge his bets. “I have no way of guessing whether it’s going to be a help or a hindrance down the road,” he said. “Time will tell.”

Funds Campaign With $45 Million

After courting Christian conservatives, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, Romney and his team began to devise a plan that they hoped would secure them the 2008 Republican nomination. Campaign headquarters, an impressive renovated furniture store in Boston’s North End, was dubbed “Romney World,” and staffers there worked through the campaign’s first crisis–finding a campaign manager after longtime Romney master strategist Mike Murphy stepped down. Romney formally announced his candidacy on February 12, 2007. The campaign became an expensive affair, and when fundraising didn’t do enough to pad the war chest, Romney made personal loans, which his staff later said would not be repaid, totaling $45 million to his campaign.  

Makes Speech on Mormonism

Though the suggestion had been made to Romney early in his planning for a presidential bid that he would have to confront questions about his Mormon faith head on before a national audience, he put off the issue as long as he could. What he needed, Romney had been told, was a speech like John F. Kennedy’s 1960 address in Houston that would put to bed once and for all the question of a conflict between faith and politics. On December 6, 2007, Romney took advantage of an invitation to speak at George H.W. Bush’s presidential library to try to do just that. The speech brought the audience to its feet, but Romney enjoyed only a dim afterglow. The timing of the speech coincided with Mike Huckabee’s rise in the polls and, compounded with overspending on operations in Iowa, the Romney campaign began to show serious fault lines.