When Mitt Romney ran for president, his critics painted him as a flipflopper on policy issues and a wooden figure whose tremendous wealth put him out of touch with ordinary Americans.
I’d agree with that critique. But after watching the 2014 documentary “Mitt,” I have to say my view of Romney has softened substantially.
It’s not that I’ve gone back and decided he was right after all on health care, gun laws and climate change. No, it’s nothing like that.
Rather, it’s having had the opportunity to glimpse his private, personal side in unscripted moments spanning six years, I can better appreciate the tremendous strain and sacrifice involved in running for the nation’s highest office.
In this 90-minute Netflix documentary produced and directed by Greg Whiteley, the pressures on Romney and his family are conveyed in scenes shot in their home, in hotel rooms, on the road and in the air, and on numerous campaign stops.
We see the former governor of Massachusetts in his bathrobe, eating takeout from a plastic takeout container, riding in the back of a van, sleeping on the floor of an airplane, playing with his grandchildren in the snow.
We see him in prayer with his wife and children, consulting with his family about whether he should run back in 2008, and asking for their suggestions on what to say in his 2012 concession speech.
There’s a surprisingly intimate feel to the film, one that made me view Romney with greater respect for his willingness to go all in, not just once but twice, out of a belief that he could steer the country in a direction he thought was the right course.
Frankly, “Mitt” is a refreshing change from the sleazy tactics and schoolyard taunts we’ve seen from Trump, Cruz and other wannabes who’ve since dropped out of the Republican presidential campaign.
We are so used to seeing politicians as one-dimensional creatures who stick to rehearsed lines and strive to keep up a facade that it comes as a welcome change to see the mask come off.
“Mitt” isn’t so much about campaign strategy as it is about portraying the man as a flesh-and-blood individual. We see Romney dealing with doubt and disappointment as well as the frustration of being typecast.
“You’re not going to convince people Dan Quayle is smart. You’re not going to convince people Gerald Ford isn’t a stumble-bum. I guess I’m destined to be the flipping Mormon,” he says.
Later, he muses that he had to “steal” the 2012 nomination. “Our party is Southern, evangelist and populist and (I’m) Northern, Mormon and rich.”
Without a doubt, the film’s most tender moments come when Romney and his wife Ann are alone. He asks for her advice before high-stakes debates. She pats his arm. He leans into her embrace. She gives her unequivocal support despite dealing with her own challenge: multiple sclerosis.
It’s interesting to speculate how a similar film would have portrayed Barack Obama or John McCain — or how it might portray this year’s crop of candidates. Getting a better feel for who these people really are would help voters make an informed choice.
In that vein, I tip my hat to Whiteley, a 46-year-old, Emmy-nominated filmmaker who, like Romney, is Mormon. He’s succeeded in presenting a public figure in a new light and without making a blatantly partisan film.
Regardless of what you think of Romney and his politics, this is a film worth watching if you want to gain a deeper appreciation of the stresses in running for the White House.