In private, especially among political types, Mitt Romney is amiable but reserved. His eldest son, Tagg, however, is amiable and outgoing, and he relishes the role of casual adviser. When Romney invited a group of reporters to his home in July 2010, it was Tagg who took the guests on a boat tour of Lake Winnipesaukee, regaling them with family stories. Romney stayed on shore, grilling cheeseburgers and relaxing with Ann. He knew his son enjoyed chatting with the Beltway insiders, and he has always trusted Tagg’s judgment.
More than two years later, Tagg continues to work as an unofficial strategist and conduit for his father. Whether it’s backstage at the debates or during Sunday-evening phone calls, Tagg is in constant contact with the Republican nominee. On paper, he doesn’t have a title beyond “surrogate,” but outside of Ann Romney, there is no one in the family who has greater influence and sway. After Romney selected Paul Ryan as veep, he tapped Tagg — not a campaign employee — to break the news to the short-list contenders.
“Tagg is reflective of his father, and I think people see that,” says former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a Romney adviser. “He also has the energy to fill in for his father,” which he does on a near-daily basis. Tagg is a principal at Solamere Capital, a private-equity firm, and he frequently works with his business partner, Spencer Zwick, to keep in touch with major donors. (Zwick is the campaign’s finance director.) On the political side, Tagg often chats with Peter Flaherty, his father’s longtime adviser, and Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager.
Tagg’s position in Romney World is singular because he doesn’t reside in a specific camp. Instead, he blends three Romney circles: the political team, the family, and the finance team. He is friendly with top political advisers such as Stuart Stevens and Ed Gillespie, and in interactions with low-level staffers, he is upbeat and professional. But behind the scenes, when Tagg is alone with his father and mother, he doesn’t speak for any of them. His loyalty lies only with the family, and his father listens closely to his son’s unvarnished observations.
For much of his life, Tagg, age 42, has been his father’s biggest supporter, as well as his most candid critic. At age 12, he went from idolizing his father to deciding, “in a fit of adolescent rebellion, that his father was a nerd,” Tagg recently recalled, according to the New York Times. “I think it broke his heart because he had been my hero, and all of a sudden, I didn’t want anything to do with him,” Tagg said. Ever since, he and his father have had a close bond, but Tagg has never shied away from voicing his opinion.
When Romney first ran for office, against Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, Tagg had a smaller role. He graduated from Brigham Young University only a few months before the election, and Romney’s father, former Michigan governor George Romney, was still alive and influential in his son’s campaign. After Romney lost, Tagg largely avoided politics. He attended Harvard Business School, worked in the pharmaceutical business and later in marketing for Reebok and the Los Angeles Dodgers.