‘Mitt’ Gets Real: Documentary Shows Another Side of Romney

Mitt Romney

Photo credit: The Associated Press

By Domenico Montanaro

January 17, 2014

“Mitt,” the documentary by Utah filmmaker Greg Whiteley about 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is worth watching for the simple fact that viewers get access to a Romney most have never seen.

The movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival Friday and is set to be released to the public next Friday through Netflix, lets viewers inside the guarded inner circle of the Romney family during critical moments of Romney’s presidential runs in 2008 and 2012. …

But what viewers do see of the man, who could have been president, is someone clear-eyed, self-deprecating, and the most realistic and rational person in the room – if rigid and formal, even in down time. The most casual he got would be most people’s business casual.

In addition to Romney taking an iron to himself to press down the cuff of a new shirt before the white-tie Al Smith dinner roast, there was more than one scene of him feeling the need to straighten up and go around picking up trash in his hotel room, even in a suit and while having a conversation about otherwise serious matters.

The film also showed Romney’s rigidity during a debate walk through in 2008. He was nearly arguing with the political director of the network putting on the debate, as Romney tried to wrap his head around the rules, with which he did not exactly agree.

Public vs. Private Romney

The divide between what the public saw of Romney during his two presidential runs and how he appears in private was clear in the documentary. In private in the movie, Romney was free with hugs for family, even rolling in the snow (with duct-taped gloves) and playing with his grandchildren (though he unflinchingly pushed one of them down a hill on a sled even though the child expressed reluctance and some fear).

Throughout the movie, though, Romney also displayed a healthy dose of self-doubt. Far from the automaton stereotype lampooned by Democrats, Romney showed himself in private to be humble, witty, sarcastic, and real; he was respectful of President Barack Obama, touting the president’s debating skills, while questioning his own. Before one of the debates, Romney even noted the awkwardness of having to be critical of a president. …

His self-doubt made it hard not to see him as vulnerable – like anyone else. …

‘I love the smell’ of burning leaves

On the campaign trail, Romney often had a hard time relating and making small talk, and that, too, came through in the movie. One scene summed up some of his awkwardness as a campaigner. It was Election Day 2012, and the campaign decided to make a couple of final stops — in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

At a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant in Cleveland, a man approached to say hello. Romney smiled, enthusiastically waved, walked over, and shook hands.

The man told him that on this fall day he had been “blowing leaves” and said Romney “brought the sunshine to Cleveland, Ohio.”

Romney replied by saying, “You’re blowing leaves today? Oh, it’s a good day when the sun’s shining. I love – the leaves when it’s – sun shine onto it. Now, when I was a boy we used to burn the leaves. They don’t do that anymore, of course.”

“No, no,” the man said.

Romney went on. “So, we used to put them in front of the street, you know, and burn them, and then smoke – I love the smell.”

Even after nearly five years of campaigning and previously being a governor, a job for which he also had to campaign and meet and talk to people, he still didn’t quite know how to make small talk with strangers.

It wasn’t just style where his deficiencies as a candidate came through in the movie. …

A family affair

Tagg is clearly the most into politics of any of the family members. It’s not impossible to see him running for public office in the future. …

In an early scene of the movie, the family was sitting around during Christmas in 2006 at their Park City, Utah, home trying to decide whether Romney should run. …

Tagg … strongly believes his father should run. “You have an opportunity now as a result of so many things that were beyond your control to run that it would be a shame not to at least try,” Tagg said, before adding, “I think you have a duty to your country and to God to see what comes of it.” …

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