Thoughts on “Mitt”02.01.14
Now available on Netflix is "Mitt" -- a remarkable documentary spanning 6 years -- from when Mitt Romney first started thinking about a potential presidential run to his eventual defeat in the 2012 election. Perhaps by now, I should no longer be surprised at the level of access some documentarians are able to get -- but it is remarkable that the campaign gave him seemingly unfettered access to so many personal moments during Romney's two campaigns.
--I remember seeing a perhaps 2006 / 2007 "60 Minutes" segment on Romney that they did -- sort of a sneak peak at a potential Presidential contender. My brother's father-in-law had mentioned it and what a juggernaut Romney could be. I watched it myself and totally agreed. He was smart, articulate, thoughtful -- and possessed a very strong family life and set of accomplishments. He was seemingly part of a new breed of Republicans -- fiscally conservative yet socially liberal with a strong track record in Massachusetts (including a ground breaking health care law that would become the basis of the Affordable Healthcare Act). At the time, I personally thought that his being a Mormon would be an almost insurmountable disadvantage (I don't think it's too much a stretch to say that evangelical Christians think very little of Mormonism -- with some deriding it as a cult) but that proved not to be the case. Frankly, I saw this man / candidate as one possessing very few obvious flaws and I thought the early portion of the documentary showed that well.
--I think the biggest flaw of Romney ultimately was his reputation of being a flip-flopper / willing to say anything to get elected or get support. The documentary tackles this with multiple scenes were Romney talks about this with great disgust (in a somewhat restrained manner.) What I wished -- was a deeper dive in this area. Did Romney completely disagree with the criticism? (as he seemingly suggested by saying that he's not the only candidate to ever change his mind on an issue) Because, frankly, it seems almost inconceivable to me that a man like Mitt Romney -- for all his dispassioned practicality -- that he would not see the merits in the criticism of his changing positions. I don't know if there was an unwillingness to engage in this issue head on because there was so much truth to it or if he simply was stymied in terms of understanding what to do -- but I wish the documentary delved more into his psyche and what was happening. The documentary briefly touches on Romney's 47% comment -- and Romney has never struck me as the type of person who would simply forget about people who didn't vote for him or disagreed with his positions. He may be practical but he's not vindictive or heartless. But I do believe that comment was borne out of something quite simplistic -- Romney's willingness to say whatever he needed to win the support he wanted at that moment. So in that moment, he's talking to a crowd where such a comment would be received well -- so he said it. But that's the problem -- because Romney's fiber is not built around something different -- I don't want to bring up morality as I think Romney is a moral person, but I think his views are so malleable based on what's politcally expedient at the time -- a comment like that could come out of Romney. Do I think it's disqualifying? No. But I do think that type of thinking / behavior was, ultimately, politically crippling.
--Watching this documentary, it's hard not to be struck by the sheer size of the Romney clan. He is literally surrounded by family -- young and old -- at all times. There are kids every where. You can clearly tell how much he loves his family and what a family man he is. As other reviewers have pointed out though -- it's fascinating that the family, largely, doesn't want him to run. They love their life and certainly don't think his becoming President will improve it. They view his running as more of a duty, so to speak, that he's in such a unique position, that it would almost be dishonorable or unnoble not to sacrifice and run. I personally think this also seriously hampered his campaign. People, especially U.S. citizens, want to vote for people who want the job. Who have a vision for the future. Who put their heart and soul forth (or at least say they will) because of their love of country and their fellow citizens. Not people who feel obligated to take the position because they're so qualified or can do a better job.
--You never know what's not included -- perhaps the filmmaker didn't have access to strategy meetings and what not. But I was struck by how little we saw of his political operatives. Surely the Romney clan wouldn't trust a documentarian to be around sensitive strategy sessions. That being said, it sure seemed like Romney drew so much of his guidance (or at least talked through a lot of his moments) with family members. Who are thoughtful. There's a moment where Romney repeats what his staffers told him to do for the second debate and maybe one of his sons says, "Listen to your staffers." Where were his staffers and how did they guide and mold him? I think there's a 3-4 hour documentary in here somewhere, as enjoyable as the 90 minute version was.
--For so many of us, we followed 538 every day. Every day. We knew these polls, we knew the predictions -- the election was not a mystery to us. The outcome was uncertain, but we certainly were informed about the ways the winds were blowing and I feel like a lot of us were very confident of an Obama victory for a few weeks before the election because of Nate Silver's work with 538. Romney -- and this has been documented elsewhere -- was seemingly blindsided by the loss on election day. They seemed to have felt quite confident throughout the day. (and, amazingly, he was quite serene/practical as the loss was at hand) Romney is a smart guy -- ran Bain Capital and was Governor of Massachusetts, etc. Did his staffers have no idea? What was the political machinery behind his campaign like? Did they not read 538 or did they just dismiss it out of hand? For all of Romney's missteps, that was one of the most surprising to me. For someone with such a strong business background, who claimed to run things by the numbers -- it seemed like he either wasn't doing that with his own campaign or was relying on other data that turned out to be quite wrong.
I think "Mitt" is a wonderful and highly enjoyable documentary. It's great that this type of material exists in the world and allows us to see the political process up close. To see the very human side of someone who almost became the most powerful person on Earth.