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Scot Lehigh

Mitt Romney: Image and reality


We all know there won’t be much real news out of Tampa this week. Still, with Republicans engaged in energetic image-making — and Democrats just as intent on image-shaking — voters will have a lot to sort through as the Republican National Convention progresses. So herewith, a guide to evaluating some of the assertions that are likely to be made in Tampa.

Mitt is a fine family man.

Voters have thought that about other candidates only to learn the contrary later (hello, JFK; hi, John Edwards). And we’ve certainly seen other endearing and supposedly enduring romances break up, as with Al and Tipper Gore. Yet I’ll say this categorically: If Mitt and Ann aren’t the real thing, then true love doesn’t exist in this all-too-cruel world.


He’s a reluctant politician.

Romney loves to portray himself as someone called to public service almost against his will, either by Ann or the voters or, in the case of the Winter Games, a dire situation that demanded a public-spirited savior. But as important as the idea of the shining knight — well, mega-manager — riding to the rescue is to Romney’s psyche, it’s mostly a myth. Scion of a political family, Mitt is an ambitious guy who long wanted a public career. He knew a successful Winter Olympics would burnish his resume, and while in that role, he was eyeing a political re-entry in either Utah or Massachusetts. (One reason I’m an Ann fan is that when Mitt came back from Utah, fresh off his Winter Games triumph, and pretended he was merely considering the exhortations of admirers who wanted him to run, his more candid half acknowledged that her husband had already essentially made up his mind to go for governor.)

Although plastic in public, Romney is witty, winning, and wonderful in private.


Romney goes into the Republican convention with the Walter Mondale/Al Gore problem. Stiff and buttoned up in public, all three are said to be fun and funny in private. Mondale never succeeded in showing his supposedly easy-going alter ego. Gore tried to loosen up with some much-talked-about convention-stage PDA with Tipper. (Please, Mitt, no.) Private Mitt is certainly more likable than Public Mitt, though one can overstate the point. Polite, pleasant, and quick to put people at ease is probably the most accurate description. Among his own top aides, he was generally considered a good boss, one who attracted talent and inspired loyalty. (Interestingly, for a man so circumspect in his public utterances, he can be gossipy in private.)

One caveat here: Although he’s tight with wing-man Bob White, Romney has never been known for having a wide circle of good friends. In that regard, he’s a bit of a loner, not unlike Barack Obama himself. Or, to use a comparison Republicans will find more congenial, Ronald Reagan. Which brings us to our next category.

Romney is a Reaganite.

With Reagan the patron saint of today’s GOP, you’ll likely hear Romney invoke the Gipper. But the would-be Mipper is, at best, a latter-day Reagan acolyte. By his own admission, Romney didn’t support Reagan during his time in office. Nor has he long held Reagan-like convictions. Which is why close observers consider his belated devotion to Reagan a conversion of convenience.

Mitt’s an accomplished manager.

True — and, as governor, particularly good in crises when executive action could rule the day.


A taxophobic Romney battled Beacon Hill’s big spending to balance the budget.

Romney likes the narrative that he tackled a budget problem created by overspending and fixed it without new taxes. In fact, the cause of the fiscal crisis he confronted wasn’t overspending but rather a precipitous collapse of state revenues. And though Romney initially claimed to have found $2 billion in waste, he later as much as admitted that was a large exaggeration by A) retreating on the $2 billion claim itself and B) allowing that he had indulged in “a broad definition of waste and inefficiency.” Further, the assertion that he solved the problem without new taxes is a matter of semantics. About a third of his first budget-balancing plan — some $750 million — came in new revenues from fee hikes and so-called corporate loophole-closings that were tax hikes by another name.

And, finally, Romney’s latest claim:

“You get what you see. I am who I am.”

This statement could theoretically be called true, but only if, as per William Blake, one could hold infinity in the palm of his hand. Or, to put it less poetically, if one’s observational parameters were limited to a second or two. Or, hell, enough with the diplomacy. Let’s be blunt: Honestly, Mitt, who do you think you’re fooling? Certainly no one with a memory that extends beyond 10 minutes.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at Follow him on twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.