I watched Mitt the other night. The documentary focuses on Romney’s interaction with his family during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. It reinforces what we already knew about him: he’s a loving father and husband, very smart, and a fundamentally decent, modest, and public-spirited man. Beyond that, a few things struck me:
1) He’s so natural with his family, but as soon as he steps beyond that magic circle a certain awkwardness creeps in. Almost the entire movie is him with his family so it stands out when we see him greeting a father and son at a fast-food restaurant near the end, and there’s just something a touch off about it.
2) He’s not a political animal. This may seem odd to say of someone who was elected governor and won his party’s nomination, but he doesn’t seem a real student of politics. It’s difficult to imagine watching a documentary about, say, Haley Barbour, that didn’t have Haley imparting some shrewd insight about the practice of politics within about five minutes. Romney is analytically acute, but doesn’t relish the game.
3) Ann took it all very hard. They say being a spouse can be tougher than being the candidate, and Ann is evidence of that. She is so upset at times that it is hard to watch.
4) Romney is a stickler for propriety and rules. At one point in 2008, Romney comes into the room and relates how an advisor to one of his opponents said he’d like to shoot him in the groin. Shocked at the rudeness of it, Romney exclaims, “Can you imagine?”
There’s a long segment before one of the 2008 New Hampshire debates when an organizer explains that candidates will be able to interact during the debate, and Romney (who was taken by surprise by this rule) animatedly tells him that this will mean chaos on stage. (This is the debate where everyone ganged up on Romney to kill him; he then turned in a strong performance in the immediate subsequent New Hampshire debate).
5) He is a neat freak. The afternoon of the Denver debate in 2012, with everyone around him stressed out and worried, he goes outside on the hotel balcony to pick up some rubbish and deposit it outside the room in the hallway for proper disposal. On election night, as it becomes clear that Obama is going to win, he notices trash on the floor and springs from his chair to pick it up and throw it in the wastebasket.
The biggest take-away, though, is that all politicians tend to say that they can handle a loss because they have the love of their families, but in Romney’s case it is clearly true. Mitt is a portrait of a man with a first-class temperament and a first-class family.