The revelation that Mitt Romney’s top gubernatorial staffers bought their office computer hard drives and his administration wiped out its e-mails before his term ended as Massachusetts governor in 2007 is the coda on his efforts to lay the groundwork for his 2008 White House campaign and his 2012 reprise.
In truth, Romney has been running for president almost since he returned to the state from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City and announced his campaign for governor.
And the payoff for that sustained, multifaceted effort - next year’s Republican presidential nomination - is now within his grasp, all appearances aside.
Recall that Romney was sworn in as governor in January 2003 and, by 2004, was already running for vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association. By claiming that office in 2005, he was, by tradition, in line to ascend to the group’s chairmanship in 2006 - a high-profile midterm election year.
Romney then took advantage of that perch to travel the country, building the contacts, developing the chits, and constructing the fund-raising network that melded into his 2007-2008 presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, as the Globe has reported and The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted, by 2005, Romney was beginning the ideological shifts that positioned him for a conservative presidential campaign. (To his detriment, they also prompted questions about his core personal and governing philosophy that dog him to this day.)
That same year, Romney made an eyebrow-raising announcement: he would not seek reelection in 2006, saying “there was very little to do for a second term that I could realistically accomplish.”
Nonetheless, Romney was the subject of a glossy video presentation at the 2006 Republican State Convention.
While patriotic music played and a narrator spoke in rich tones, the screen filled with images from his time as governor and friends, colleagues, and Romney himself cited his accomplishments and his personal strengths.
It turns out the photographs had been taken throughout Romney’s term by a $36,000-per-year state photographer. They were then bought by his campaign committee for $100 and used in the video.
The same image bank served as the backbone of his early 2008 presidential campaign materials.
Today, the Globe reported that as Governor Deval Patrick and his administration are peppered with public records requests from the media for documents relating to Romney’s only stint in elective office, they cannot find electronic ones because the virtual paper trail was eliminated before his predecessor left office.
“All told, 11 Romney administration aides bought 17 hard drives from the governor’s office, paying $65 for each one, according to copies of canceled checks they wrote and members of the current administration,” the Globe reported.
It also reported that the Romney administration’s e-mails were all wiped from a computer server.
A Romney spokeswoman said the aides did nothing wrong and complied with executive branch practices, while Secretary of State William Galvin said the state Records Conservation Board approved some record destruction.
The Romney spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, accused Patrick of doing the Obama administration’s “dirty work” by publicizing the moves because he is close friends and a political ally of his fellow Democrat.
Yet eliminating electronic records of potentially embarrassing conversations and decisions appears to be just one part of the Romney team’s efforts to prepare for its future campaigns.
As Steve LeBlanc of The Associated Press documented in 2007, Romney issued no pardons or commutations while serving as governor, despite some seemingly benign pleas.
In one of them, Anthony Circosta, a decorated Iraq war veteran, requested a pardon so he could pursue a career as a police officer.
His background was marred because, as a 13 year old, he was convicted of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun.
The shot that did not break the other child’s skin.
Nonetheless, Circosta’s plea was among the 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons that all were denied during Romney’s four years in office.
In so doing, Romney avoided any potential future embarrassments by parolees or convicts such as those that dogged former Governor Michael S. Dukakis during his 1988 presidential campaign or former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee during his 2008 White House bid.
Romney even boasted about his clean record on the stump during that campaign.
“Governor Romney’s view is that it would take a compelling set of circumstances to set aside the punishment and guilt resulting from a criminal trial,” aide Eric Fehrnstrom said in 2007. “The power to pardon should only be used in extraordinary circumstances.”
Circosta, who LeBlanc noted “worked his way through college, joined the Army National Guard, and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq’s deadly Sunni triangle,” did not meet that threshold.
Today, Romney stands as the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, the one candidate who has avoided the highs and lows that have plagued rivals such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and, now, Newt Gingrich.
He casts himself not just as a non-politician, but also as someone lacking the aspiration that usually drives career political figures.
But through a series of deliberate actions spanning years, Romney has worked to minimize exposure over his past and maximize the prospects for his future.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.