Mitt Romney’s Sons’ Low-Key Role in Campaign
In 2008 Romney’s sons played a starring role on the trail. Shushannah Walshe on their new low-key approach.
They’re handsome, articulate, cool under pressure, and utterly wholesome. But this time around, Mitt Romney’s sons—all five of them—appear to be avoiding the spotlight, especially compared to the starring role they played during their dad’s last presidential campaign.
Gone is the Five Brothers blog, which Tagg, Matt, Josh, Craig, and Ben updated with bloopers from the trail and personal tidbits, including their favorite bands and TV shows. The “Mitt Mobile,” an RV emblazoned with the words “Five Brothers Bus”—which became something of a campaign mascot in 2008—has yet to make an appearance. When Romney launched his campaign in New Hampshire earlier this summer, only two of his sons, Tagg and Josh, were there for the rollout.
Thanks to a combination of more frugal times and a distinctly different Republican field, the Romney boys are—so far, anyway—playing a much more low-key role in their dad’s campaign than they did leading up to the last election.
One reason? As Romney told ABC News’s John Berman in June: things are tighter this time around. “Last time we flew all the family in…chartered the private airplane. There are 27 of us now, things are a little leaner in America and a campaign has to be a little wiser and leaner, so we’re running a campaign with fewer people and we won’t be doing all the fancy stuff we did last time around,” Romney said. “And I want to make sure people understand why it is I’m running for president. This is about creating jobs, fixing our economy, cutting back on the scale of our government; it’s not about flashy sets and events.”
Along with the RV, which Josh drove to all 99 counties of Iowa during the primary campaign, the Romney campaign spent millions of dollars in Iowa last time, only to come in a disappointing second to Mike Huckabee. They aren’t making that mistake again, this time opting out of the Ames Straw Poll—though still campaigning at the Iowa State Fair. (It's worth noting, however, that with regard to his personal fortune, the same rules don’t apply: Romney just announced plans to quadruple the size of his $12 million California mansion, one of several homes he owns.)
Last time, Romney needed his family to help introduce his story; that’s not necessary now. And more important, the image of his seemingly picture-perfect clan next to the more complicated families of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain likely worked more in his favor in 2008. (Even if, back then, Mormonism was less visible in politics.) Romney’s sizable brood is also more the norm in this cycle’s campaign trail, from Rick Santorum’s seven kids to Michele Bachmann’s noteworthy five children and 23 foster children.
Romney’s sons—who range in age from 30 to 41 and live across the country—haven’t disappeared from the campaign trail entirely. Tagg, the eldest and most involved, tweets campaign news and updates from his personal Twitter account, and he’s penned blog posts on Romney’s official website. Tagg also took his eldest daughter to Fox News’s Republican debate in Ames, Iowa earlier this month, and they both accompanied Romney to the Iowa State Fair, sampling deep fried Oreos and tweeting photos of their patriarch on the stump. Matt, the second oldest, wrote a post on the campaign website earlier in the summer explaining why his dad is the best choice to “revitalize our economy.” They’ve both accompanied Romney on fundraising trips to Texas and New York. And back in February, Tagg told The Daily Beast that he and his mother were “the most vocal” about his father running again. But he hasn’t been acting as a surrogate for his dad, speaking to the press on his behalf, as he did in 2008. And the Romney campaign turned down a request to interview Tagg and his brothers for this story.
While the Five Brothers blog is no longer active, several of the Romney sons’ wives keep detailed personal blogs about their kids and family life. Instead of dispatches from Iowa and New Hampshire, the wives of Matt, Josh, and Craig post photos of cute, happy-looking kids, favorite snack foods, vacations, holidays, summer solstice parties, and recipes—all decidedly apolitical, but a rosy photo diary of their everyday lives in Utah and California.
The wives do occasionally blog about visits from the grandparents, Mitt and Ann. (Earlier this month, the grandkids helped their “papa” make ice cream on a family trip to New Hampshire.) They mention the candidate’s last campaign, too, in passing—and Craig’s wife posted a 2007 photo of her husband dressed up as his dad for Halloween. But their father-in-law’s two presidential runs aren’t the focus.
As Romney’s campaign heats up, it’s possible the sons may develop a bigger presence on the trail—given that they’ve been involved in their dad’s political career since his first, unsuccessful Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy in 1994. Ann Murphy, Romney’s first press secretary, fondly remembers the boys pitching in to help that campaign and bringing their friends along to volunteer. She said the boys were “big hits on the campaign trail.”
“When you had all five together, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, here come the Romney boys!’” Murphy, now a public relations consultant, said. “They were all totally involved in the campaign, which was so much fun, because they brought such youth and energy to the campaign every time they came to the campaign headquarters.”
Murphy added that the Romney sons could be helpful to their dad’s campaign: “I think they’re a big asset, of course, because it’s their family…people who want to see the kids, too,” Murphy said. “They always had that charisma, if you will. People like to talk to them.”
All five brothers attended Belmont Hill School, a private boys’ school across the street from the family home in Belmont, a suburb of Boston. And they all graduated from Brigham Young University, like their parents. Also like their dad, Tagg, Matt, and Josh graduated from Harvard Business School.
During Romney’s 2008 campaign, Tagg left his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers to work fulltime as a senior adviser for the campaign at headquarters in downtown Boston. Sally Canfield, policy director for that campaign, described him as an “extension” of his father. She told The Daily Beast that he was able to represent his father’s thoughts and wishes while he was out on the campaign trail. “He’s very common sense,” Canfield said. “He has a good sort of head for saying yes or no on something, or is that going to work, or how does this work or how does that work. He’s just a good guy to have, to be there to represent [his father] and not just the policy wonks.”
Still, the sons did bump into some controversy during the last campaign: at several events and in press interviews, Romney was asked why none of his sons had served in the military, despite his staunch support of the war in Iraq. When a woman asked this question in Iowa in August 2007, Romney was ridiculed for telling her, “One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected.”
Canfield said that at the time, the sons were “worried that they didn’t get it right” during the controversy. “I think that they were just concerned that they didn’t answer the questions as well as they could have. So, it all comes back to not wanting to—you don’t want to disappoint anybody,” Canfield said.
They also endured some lighthearted (and not-so-lighthearted) teasing that the large, smiling Romney clan was just “too perfect” and not relatable to the average American family—a criticism both the sons and their father have had to shrug and laugh off. From poking fun at their dad’s 1950s-style humor to his immovable hair, the sons have batted away these remarks with humor.
Indeed, the sons add a dose of charm and ease to their father's famously awkward image. During the last campaign, Matt notoriously and successfully prank-called his father, tricking him into believing he was the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Romney appears to be happiest on the trail when flanked by his wife and sons.
And Canfield thinks that, as the campaign heats up and Romney needs to be “everywhere at all times,” the sons’ responsibilities will expand. Although they’re tested and experienced advocates by now, with the added support will also undoubtedly come added scrutiny.