WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Mitt Romney padded out of his lakefront house Monday in bare feet, shorts, and a rumpled blue golf shirt. He was deeply tanned and his hair was wet, as though he had just taken a dip in Lake Winnipesaukee. Grandchildren zoomed around him on scooters.
As his party gathered in Cleveland for the start of the 2016 Republican National Convention, Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, did not appear to be ruing his decision to spend the week relaxing by the water with 36 members of his family in “America’s Oldest Summer Resort.”
“Just going to be here all week,” Romney said, stepping out of his sprawling house to greet two reporters who briefly intruded on his mid-summer idyll away from all the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump. “It’s wonderful to be with the grandkids.”
Then he politely told the visitors to get lost.
“Sorry guys,” he said, with a “ha-ha” chuckle, declining to answer any questions about the convention in Cleveland. “Got nothing more for you.”
Some in town — where Romney is occasionally spotted jogging or buying ice cream at Bailey’s Bubble — said they could not blame the former governor of Massachusetts for choosing to spend the week in Wolfeboro instead of Cleveland.
After all, his party is gearing up to nominate a man whom Romney has denounced as a “fraud” and a “phony” and who has repeatedly belittled him as a “choker” and a “loser.”
Gail Yoder, who was visiting from Allentown, Pa., said she admires Romney for taking a principled stand by staying put in Wolfeboro instead of going to Cleveland to back a nominee who is so divisive.
“Good for him,” she said, as she enjoyed a dripping cone of raspberry chip ice cream.
“Everyone has to express themselves in their own way. I’m not going to vote for either one of them. I’m just disgusted with both.”
Besides, one could argue that Wolfeboro in July has some distinct advantages over Cleveland.
After all, one is a quaint New England village of fewer than 3,000 residents that offers casual lakeside dining on lobsters and oysters, or breezy jaunts on the Winnipesaukee Belle, a replica 19th century paddleboat.
The other is a sweltering Midwestern industrial center packed with protesters, police, and partisans, where the local delicacy is a “Polish boy” sandwich stuffed with kielbasa, cole slaw, and barbecue sauce.
Bill McGinn, a tree service worker who lives a block from Romney, said the former governor was undoubtedly making the right call by opting for Wolfeboro this week.
“It’s one of the best towns in America,” he said. “We’ve got Bailey’s Bubble, the best ice cream store. And we’ve got a town hall that we just redid. We’re a very family-oriented town. We’ve got Brewster Academy up the block. A lot of NBA players come from there. And the taxes are awesome up here.”
Romney is not the only former GOP star who’s shunning Cleveland. Both former presidents Bush, as well as the 2008 nominee, John McCain, are skipping the convention.
Still, this week represents a particularly dramatic shift for Romney, who just four years ago was preparing to accept the Republican nomination at the convention in Tampa.
This year, he has repeatedly criticized the presumptive nominee and helped to lead the so-called “Never Trump” movement, which sought to draft a challenger who could derail the bombastic New York City real estate mogul.
Given that history, Richard Pareti, a summer resident who supports Trump, said he could not fault Romney for shunning Trump in Cleveland.
“I voted for Mitt Romney and I wanted him to be president, but he’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Pareti said, as he pulled out his phone to show a video he had taken of Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie here in 2012. “And I’m fine with it. He’s a very credible man.”
Jim Benjamin, a Lowell gas company worker who was vacationing in Wolfeboro, said he was of two minds on Romney’s decision. From a political standpoint, he said he felt that Romney should be in Cleveland, helping to unite the party and elect Trump.
“He doesn’t have to give him full support,” Benjamin said, as he gazed out on the boaters zipping across the lake. “But give him a little support, anyway, instead of staying here.”
But asked if he would rather spend the week jammed into the Quicken Loans Arena with thousands of delegates in Cleveland or by the water in Wolfeboro, he did not hesitate.
“By the lake, for sure,” he said.
“They say it’s going to be 90 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I’m going to get the Jet Ski out.”