Meet the Next President

Meet the Next President

by Bill Sammon

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ISBN-13: 9781451668995
Publisher: Threshold Editions
Publication date: 11/26/2016
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.70(d)

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Meet the Next President


By Bill Sammon

Threshold Editions

Copyright © 2007 Bill Sammon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416554899

1

MITT ROMNEY

Of all the people seeking the White House in 2008, none actually look as presidential as Mitt Romney. Tall, lantern-jawed, and blessed with a shock of raven hair (flecked gray at the temples, of course), the former Massachusetts governor seems to have been plucked directly from central casting for a starring role at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The presidential aura grows only stronger when he opens his mouth to speak. Upbeat, articulate, quick-witted, and self-deprecating, the rich Republican seems more like a movie-star president than even Fred Thompson, an actual movie star president who, in an odd twist, is now vying with Romney for the real-life presidency.

Even on paper, Romney has adopted precisely the correct positions to appeal to the conservative activists whose support he considers crucial. He is more conservative than John McCain on taxes, Rudy Giuliani on gay marriage, Mike Huckabee on immigration, and Fred Thompson on campaign finance. Like most other top GOP contenders, Romney supports the vigorous prosecution of the war on terror, including the establishment of a democracy in Iraq. And perhaps most important, from a conservative perspective, Romney calls himself staunchly pro-life.

There's just one problem. Romney usedto be staunchly pro-choice. Critics say he cravenly flip-flopped in order to have a shot at the presidency. But Romney insists he underwent a genuine change of heart on abortion while grappling with a related issue, stem cell research, in 2004. His ability to convince conservatives of the sincerity of that conversion will go a long way toward determining his electoral success.

But there is an even larger obstacle that could keep Romney from clinching the White House -- his religion. Mitt Romney belongs to the Mormon Church, which is considered a cult by many evangelical Christians, who are an influential voting bloc. Romney must assure these skeptical evangelicals, and ultimately all of America, that his faith does not disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land.

A HISTORY OF BELIEVERS

It is impossible to trace Mitt Romney's ancestry without also tracing the origin of the Mormon Church. Romney's great-great-grandfather, English architect Miles Archibald Romney, converted to Mormonism in 1837, just seven years after the church was founded in America by Joseph Smith, Jr. According to Mitt, Miles "was convinced by Mormon missionaries that the church of God had been restored to the earth by a young prophet in New York State." So, in 1841, Miles left his established practice in Dalton-in-Furness, a village 220 miles north-west of London, and sailed to America. As Mitt recounted in his 2004 memoir, Turnaround, Miles "joined with the 'saints' in Nauvoo, Illinois," a tiny town on the Mississippi River where Smith was establishing his fledgling church. Three years later, Smith was assassinated and his followers fled to Utah.

Miles had a son, Miles Park Romney, who grew up to marry Hannah Hood Hill, Mitt's great-grandmother, in 1862. Although polygamy was outlawed by President Lincoln two months after the wedding, the younger Miles ended up taking multiple wives. His defiance of U.S. law was urged by Brigham Young, who succeeded Smith as president of the Mormon Church. As an outlaw polygamist, Miles Park Romney was forced in 1885 to flee to Mexico, where he married his fifth wife. By then he was the father of at least seventeen children, including a fourteen-year-old boy named Gaskell, Mitt's grandfather, who had been born in Utah.

In 1895, while living in Mexico, Gaskell married fellow Utah native Anna Amelia Pratt. The wedding came five years after the Mormon Church reversed itself on polygamy by issuing a ban that continues to this day. Accordingly, Gaskell remained monogamous. He and his wife had seven children, including George, Mitt's father, who was born in 1907 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Five years later, as the Mexican Revolution plunged the nation into turmoil, the Romneys fled to the United States, eventually settling in Salt Lake City.

In 1931, George married his high-school sweetheart, Lenore LaFount, and within a decade the couple had two daughters, Lynn and Jane, as well as a son, Scott. Although Lenore was subsequently told by her doctor that a medical condition would prohibit further childbearing, she had another boy, Willard Mitt Romney, on March 12, 1947, nearly six years after Scott. The child was named after fellow Mormon J. Willard Marriott, a family friend who would go on to start a chain of hotels, and Milton "Mitt" Romney, George's cousin who had played quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the 1920s. George and Lenore doted on young Mitt, whom they considered their "miracle baby."

"He was a great dad, and Mom was an extraordinary mom," Mitt Romney told me. "I mean, my mom read to me, as a little boy, she read from Idylls of the King by Tennyson. And we'd read that nightly. I think one of the reasons I became an English major was that my mom was so steeped in literature and English and I loved to write and loved to read, by virtue of that home education."

While young Mitt idolized his father, he acquired his love of practical jokes from his mother.

"My mom had a great sense of humor. My dad's sense of humor was severely lacking," Romney told me, chuckling at the memory. "He was incapable of telling a joke. And when the rest of the family was laughing, he'd get mad and tell us to stop laughing. I love laughing."

After moving from Detroit to the affluent suburb of Bloomfield Hills, George became chairman and CEO of the struggling American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1954. Deriding large cars as "gas-guzzling dinosaurs," George staked the company's future on the Rambler, a compact car. Sales skyrocketed, AMC flourished, and George was hailed as a turnaround artist, even making the cover of Time magazine. Young Mitt was mesmerized.

"I saw my father grab the reins of a failing car company," he recalled. "It was one of the most powerful experiences of my childhood watching him turn American Motors around."

By the early 1960s, George was dabbling in politics. He even found a way to involve his beloved son Mitt, who was enrolled at Cranbrook, an elite college preparatory school for boys in Bloomfield Hills.

"As a fourteen-year-old, I went up with my dad collecting signatures for something called Citizens for Michigan, which called for a new constitution for Michigan," Mitt told me. "And he would pull up in a softball field and give me the clipboard and say, 'Go get as many signatures as you can.' He'd sit in the car. And I wondered why he was sending me out for the signatures, but now I recognize it was the age-old ploy of teaching by getting your child to do. And I learned how to go out in the crowds and to gather signatures and to explain why a new constitution was needed in Michigan."

Warming to politics, George entered the Michigan gubernatorial race as a Republican in 1962. As usual, he took Mitt along for the ride.

"When he ran for governor the first time, I was fifteen," Mitt told me. "I went in a microbus, these little, we now call them minivans, but we drove all over Michigan, ultimately to all eighty-three of Michigan's counties. I'd go to the county fair, we'd set up a booth, I'd hand out brochures. Had a microphone and little speakers on top of the truck and we'd talk with people about why George Romney would be good for Michigan. So I know the state corner to corner, I've visited every county, and it's an extraordinarily beautiful and warm place."

George won the election and went on to serve three terms. Meanwhile, Mitt had fallen for a girl, Ann Davies, who attended Kingswood School, the all-girls counterpart to Cranbrook. Ann was just fifteen and Mitt was eighteen when they met at the birthday party of a mutual friend. For their first date, Mitt took Ann to the film The Sound of Music. Before long, Mitt was "completely, totally hooked" on Ann, he told me.

"I was fully in love with her, asked her if she'd marry me, she said she would, and we started making plans," he said.

But those plans entailed years of separation before any wedding could take place. In 1965, Mitt graduated from Cranbrook and headed to California to attend Stanford University. A year later, he interrupted his college career and moved to France to proselytize for his church. He got a lot of doors slammed in his face as he tried to convert the French to Mormonism.

"That was a very formative experience for me," Romney told me.

Having grown up in a world of privilege, he now found himself surviving on a shoestring budget.

"I lived very modestly in France," he told me. "At that time, I drew down one hundred dollars a month for everything -- health, housing, clothing, food, transportation. And I know it was a long time ago, but one hundred dollars was still not very much money. I lived in apartments that in some cases didn't have toilets. We had an in-house outhouse, if you will, a hole in the floor. You stepped on the footpads and pulled the chain for the bucket of water to empty it.

"When I lived in Paris, we were in an apartment that shared the toilet facility with three or four other apartments on our floor," he added. "We did have a toilet in Bordeaux, but we shared with the other apartment across the way. We showered in public showers. And that's not unusual for people in France. But it was unusual for a guy who'd grown up in the home of an automobile executive to live so modestly."

Back in the States, Mitt's father decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination. Although he had been born in Mexico, his parents had never relinquished their U.S. citizenship, which allowed George to meet the Constitution's "natural born citizen" requirement for the presidency.

George's campaign got off to a strong start, but he committed a major gaffe in August 1967 that would ultimately doom his campaign. He remarked to a Detroit broadcaster that he had turned against the Vietnam War after being subjected to a "brainwashing." The comment triggered widespread criticism, forcing George to pull out of the race in February 1968. His consolation prize was to be appointed secretary of housing and urban development by the victorious President Nixon.

A few months later, twenty-one-year-old Mitt was involved in a horrific car crash in France. A Mercedes driven by a Catholic priest crossed the center line and slammed head-on into the Citroën driven by Mitt. The impact killed a woman in Mitt's car.

"I was also pronounced dead," he recalled in Turnaround. "One of the gendarmes at the scene found me lying unconscious on the side and wrote 'Il est mort' on my passport before moving on. The erroneous accident report was picked up by a news service that broadcast the report in the United States. My parents and Ann, my then-girlfriend and future wife, learned that I had expired."

Refusing to believe the news, Mitt's father, George, called a friend in Paris, Sargent Shriver, the U.S. ambassador to France, who was able to ascertain that his son had indeed survived. Although Mitt was hospitalized with a broken arm and bruised forehead, he made a full recovery. He even began to take a more active role in the mission.

TURNAROUND ARTIST

In December 1968, Mitt returned to the States and renewed his offer of marriage to Ann, who again accepted. The wedding took place in March 1969. After exchanging vows in a civil ceremony in Michigan, the bride and groom flew to Salt Lake City and were married again, or "sealed," in the Mormon temple. Ann had converted to Mormonism while Mitt was in France, but her parents, as non-Mormons, were not allowed inside the temple.

Mitt stayed in Utah, having transferred from Stanford to Brigham Young University, the Mormon college, to resume his undergraduate studies as an English major. In 1970, Ann gave birth to their first son. That same year, Mitt's mother, Lenore, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Michigan.

In 1971, after graduating from Brigham Young, Romney moved to Boston to attend graduate school at Harvard, from which he emerged in 1975 with degrees in law and business administration. By now the father of three young sons, he quickly turned to making his fortune.

Romney was recruited by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and worked there two years before moving to Bain & Company, a rival consulting firm founded by a BCG alumnus, Bill Bain. The new company specialized in turning around troubled enterprises. Romney and other consultants would begin each turnaround with a "strategic audit," which entailed immersing themselves in reams of data and analyzing it in ways the clients had not previously considered. Reforms were then implemented, usually restoring the companies to profitability.

Romney, now the father of five sons, was persuaded by Bill Bain to expand the Bain empire in 1983 by launching a venture capital start-up. The sister firm was dubbed Bain Capital and began investing heavily in promising young enterprises, such as Staples office supplies and Domino's pizza. When these ventures became runaway successes, Romney and his partners grew enormously wealthy. It was obvious that Romney's skills as a consultant carried over into the world of venture capital.

"My responsibilities were as a leader, but also as an analytical thinker," he told me. "My job entailed gathering data, interpreting it, analyzing it and finding creative solutions to problems, both as an investor and as a consultant."

Although Bain Capital was flourishing under Romney's leadership, the original Bain & Company eventually fell on hard times. In 1990, Bill Bain persuaded Romney to leave Bain Capital in order to lead a turnaround of the mothership. Romney succeeded and then returned to Bain Capital in 1991. He would not stay long.

"In 1993, something almost irrational happened," he wrote in Turnaround. "I began thinking about making a run against Senator Ted Kennedy."

Romney indeed mounted a run and came closer than any other Republican to unseating the liberal icon in 1994.

"For a moment, just after I won the primary election, I was even tied or slightly ahead in the polls. But then Kennedy came back strong," Romney wrote in Turnaround. "His ads reinforced people's misperceptions about me as money-grubbing businessman. He injected my Mormonism into the campaign in a highly visible way. Our polls showed that my faith was a significant negative in largely Catholic Massachusetts."

Mindful that Massachusetts was also largely pro-choice, Romney broke with the Republican Party over the issue of abortion.

"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country," Romney said in a 1994 debate. "I have since the time when my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate."

But his pro-choice stance was not enough to close the gap. In the end, Romney garnered just 41 percent of the vote, or seventeen points short of Kennedy's 58 percent. Still, it was the narrowest margin of victory for Kennedy in nine Senate contests.

Stung by defeat, Romney returned to Bain Capital, which "was paying ever more spectacular dividends," he recalled in Turnaround. He described his work as "extraordinarily lucrative." Indeed, he continued to amass significant personal wealth. He bought a summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. And he once again began to think about public service.

GOING FOR THE GOLD

The opportunity to serve arrived in 1999, when Romney was asked to rescue the scandal-plagued Winter Olympics, which were scheduled to be held in Salt Lake City in 2002. The city had landed the games after local officials lavished $1 million in gifts -- including cash, Las Vegas junkets, and even college tuition payments -- on delegates from the International Olympics Committee. Nervous corporations were reluctant to sponsor the games, which now faced a massive budget shortfall. It was, in short, precisely the sort of unmitigated disaster that Romney specialized in fixing.

"It was an event in deep financial distress that required turnaround," he told me.

Initially, however, Romney resisted taking the job, which would entail leaving Bain Capital.

"How could I walk away from the golden goose, especially now that it was laying even more golden eggs?" he wrote in Turnaround.

"We have all we need, more than we ever dreamed of having," countered his wife, Ann. "You can afford to take this job when others can't."

Besides, the job would allow Romney to return to his ancestral homeland of Utah, where he had built a vacation home. His two youngest sons, Ben and Craig, would be attending nearby Brigham Young University during the run-up to the Olympics. (The older three boys, Tagg, Matt, and Josh, had already graduated from the school, following in the footsteps of their father.)

So Romney accepted the position, although he declined a salary. He spent the next three years cleaning house, putting an end to the scandals, recruiting corporate sponsors, and pulling off an Olympics that wowed the world just months after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"He managed to remove the stink of scandal and replace it with the glow of success," the Boston Globe reported.

"The Olympic experience was very similar to my work in the private sector," Romney told me. "You know, we had tough budgets to meet, we needed to bring new sponsors into the mix."

But it also exposed the corporate CEO to a world he had never experienced before -- government relations.

"We were highly integrated with government," he told me. "I needed to receive support from the federal government, support from the state and local government. I had to work extensively with government officials. My board members were all appointed by either the mayor or the governor, so ultimately my boss was the mayor and the governor. And so it...involved me in the process of government far more fully."

It also involved him far more fully in foreign relations.

"Everything we did had to be approved by an international group of leaders that I met with regularly and presented to regularly," he told me. "Therefore, the need to understand the perspectives of foreign leaders was brought home."

Finally, the Olympics subjected Romney to a crash course in media relations, which he said he found "very valuable."

"It is a very public event," he told me. "Most corporations are quite private. As a matter of fact, when a corporation hears that there's going to be an article written about them, they're terrified. They hire a PR firm to come in and see if they can stop the article first, and then if they can't, to try and spin it as positively as possible. In the Olympics, we had, at the end, daily press conferences. But even through the whole three-year period I was there, we had weekly press conferences because the Olympics is big, international news."

Romney told me that learning "to communicate fully and accurately to the public was a big part of that experience." He wrote in Turnaround that it "taught me the importance of visibility and of promptness in responding to criticism."

Having learned how to handle the media and governmental agencies -- both foreign and domestic -- and having cemented his reputation as a turnaround artist, Romney came away from the Olympic games in 2002 with a raft of new qualifications for the next big challenge of his life.

RED GOVERNOR, BLUE STATE

Romney parlayed these assets into a successful run for the governorship of Massachusetts in November 2002. Upon taking office, this results-oriented, Republican businessman was appalled by the inefficiencies of the state's lackadaisical, overwhelmingly Democratic government.

"Romney's team inherited a fiscal meltdown," wrote the Boston Globe. "The incoming governor discovered the projected deficit for the following year was exploding -- from $2 billion to $3 billion in a $23-billion budget."

After ordering a Bain-style "strategic audit," Romney streamlined the state's government, imposed a frugal budget, and solved the fiscal crisis without raising taxes. By 2005, Massachusetts had a surplus of $1 billion.

"Romney's success in steering the state through the fiscal maelstrom was one of his key achievements," the Globe reported.

Still, after a career spent mostly in the corporate world, Romney's first experience as a government official was an eye-opener.

"The private sector is far less forgiving of mistakes than the public sector," he told me. "In the public sector, if you make a mistake, well, you just raise taxes, borrow more money, and blame it on someone else.

"In the private sector, you make a mistake, you may lose your job, your company may die, you may lose the money of the banks. The consequences are very severe. There's very little forgivability of mistakes in the private sector. So the rigor of analysis and thinking that is required, the insistence on gathering data before you make conclusions and take aggressive action -- that approach in the private sector is very valuable in the public sector. It just is rarely applied.

"In the public sector, typically, people come up with answers before they've even seen the data -- it's based on rhetoric and polls, what they think is politically attractive. I think the public sector is far better off by having a few people, at least, who, like me, have come from a world of analysis, data, of information gathering, and problem solving."

One of the problems Romney decided to solve was the state's health care mess. Taxpayers were footing the bill for not only indigent hospital patients, but also one hundred thousand people who were making at least seventy-five thousand dollars, yet who opted against buying health care insurance.

"They could afford it," Romney told me. "They were free riders. We have a huge free rider problem in this country, which is, people say, 'Hey, I don't need to buy insurance, somebody else will pay for it.' And in my opinion the ultimate conservative approach is what we take, which is: You know what? No more ride on the government."

So Romney instituted mandatory health care insurance in Massachusetts. The state now "insists that people purchase their own insurance -- private, market-based insurance," he told me.

"We didn't create a new government insurance package offered by a government agency," he explained. "There's no new government bureaucracy that creates new health care policies. Instead, we get the cost of insurance down by removing some prohibitions and mandates from our insurance laws."

Working with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, Romney explained that he "found a way to allow individuals to purchase their insurance with pretax dollars. Right now, in every other state, if you want to buy the insurance yourself, rather than through your employer, you've got to pay in after-tax dollars. But we found a way to get it in pretax dollars."

Although the move ran counter to conservative principles of limited government, Romney was able to accomplish it without raising taxes. Furthermore, Romney told me that if elected president, he has no plans to take the Massachusetts plan national.

PRESIDENTIAL BID

Much has been written about the fact that Romney is running for president exactly forty years after his father ran for president. Indeed, the parallels between George and Mitt are striking. Both men married their high school sweethearts while in their early twenties, became governor at age fifty-five, and mounted credible campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination at age sixty. The fact that George's White House bid imploded has prompted many journalists to wonder whether Mitt is on a quest to realize his father's unfulfilled ambition. Anchorman Charlie Gibson brought it up during an interview with Romney on ABC's Good Morning America.

"He kept on saying, 'Well, aren't you trying to succeed where your father failed?'" Romney told me. "And I said, well that's sort of pop psychology. That is not -- in any way, shape, or form -- what's driving me, which is trying to, you know, fix my dad's failure. That is not what's motivating me. What's motivating me is the same sense of duty and obligation he had."

Romney certainly isn't motivated by the presidential salary of four hundred thousand dollars, which he has pledged to decline if he wins. Having amassed a quarter billion dollars in the private sector, he hasn't taken a paycheck for his public sector service since 1999, when he turned down a salary to run the Olympics. He subsequently refused a paycheck for his service as governor. Clearly, Romney did not enter the White House sweepstakes for the money. After all, if he wins, he will be the richest president in U.S. history.

So why is Mitt Romney subjecting himself and his family to the rigors of a presidential campaign that, even if he wins, will make him the target of endless political attacks and vilification? According to Romney, he's doing it because he believes he possesses the "strong leadership" that America needs at this "critical juncture."

"By virtue of circumstances, I'm one of the few who has a shot at being that person," he told me. "I see myself as being able to make a difference and therefore I have an obligation to step forward and run for office and make a personal financial contribution, give my personal time. My kids are doing the same thing."

For Romney, the stakes are too high to sit out the contest.

"In my opinion, this is one of the great inflection points in American history," he told me. "And if we take the right course here, we will remain a strong nation and the hope of the world. If we take Hillary Clinton's or Barack Obama's course, we will end up becoming a second-tier nation. It'll take decades for that to happen, but this is an inflection point in our history of great monument."

A DIM VIEW OF DEMOCRATS

Romney argues that one of his major qualifications for the presidency is his experience as a manager of corporations, the Olympics, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He notes that such managerial experience is conspicuously lacking among the top Democratic presidential contenders -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.

"None of them, so far as I know, has managed a corner store, let alone a city or a state or the government of the largest enterprise in the world," Romney told me. "They never led or managed anything. They've led their office staff."

He added: "The presidency is not an internship. You want to have someone who's actually led and managed."

Warming to his theme, Romney spells out the merits of management experience.

"The term 'management' is not terribly well understood by people at large. Leadership is generally better understood. But managing a large enterprise and getting it to change and to move and to be effective is a pretty unusual skill. Someone like Jack Welch, his success is not random. He has a set of skills which allows him to lead and manage a large enterprise like GE highly successfully, and includes a number of qualities. The ability to assess problems before they are visible to everyone else. The ability to set a vision. The ability to attract top people. The ability to lead and direct top people and give them enough rope that they can be their own manager, but at the same time giving them guidance."

In addition to lacking managerial experience, the top Democrats have a fundamentally flawed view of government and the marketplace, according to Romney. He says this view was typified by an appalling economic speech that Hillary delivered in May 2007.

"It's time for a new beginning, for an end to government of the few, by the few, and for the few," she told an audience in New Hampshire. "Time to reject the idea of an 'on your own' society and to replace it with shared responsibility for shared prosperity. I prefer a 'we're all in it together' society."

Such rhetoric is anathema to Romney, an unapologetically free-market capitalist.

"It's like, yeah, we're replacing Adam Smith with Karl Marx," he told me. "Her heartfelt view about how to make America better is a view very much akin to the view in the 1950s and sixties that Europeans had -- that government really did know best. And that larger government requires larger taxes and a Big Brother mentality of, 'We know better; we can guide your life better, make you happier.'"

Romney said this same attitude was evident in Hillary's failed attempt to nationalize health care when she was the First Lady. Just as the nation rejected Hillarycare in 1994, Romney rejects Clinton's embrace of a nanny state in 2008.

"I realize it sounds like a paradox that a nation is stronger by saying to people: 'Do what's in your best interest -- within the bounds of the law and morality -- and that will make the nation, as a whole, better.' It's like, how can that be? Wouldn't it be smarter to have a government figuring out what's in the nation's best interest and then making everybody do that?

"The socialist method may, to some people, sound like it makes more sense. But Adam Smith proved that was wrong. Or he posited it was wrong. And America has proved it's wrong."

Romney points to the spectacular failure of the former Soviet Union's collective economy, a central tenet of communism. He notes that the socialist economies of Europe have created virtually no new jobs in decades, while American capitalism has created tens of millions.

"And so I'm a strong believer that she is simply misguided," Romney said of Hillary. "That she, like Barack Obama and John Edwards, would take the country in a sharp left turn, making us far more like Europe, which would mean stagnation, high unemployment, inability to compete long term, a weaker military, and ultimately weaker family structure as well."

Romney also worries that Hillary, whom some regarded as the unofficial copresident when her husband was in office, would reciprocate by sharing power with Bill if she were to win the White House.

"What role would he have?" Romney said to me. "Typically the spouse is not playing an active policy role in the leadership of an administration and there's the whole question about how that would work. I think on a number of issues, it would be very confusing as to who was really in charge."

Moreover, Romney cringes at the thought of Bill Clinton's being back in the White House, once again setting a poor moral example for America's youth.

"His personal failings would be reintroduced to the culture of America, which I think would be unfortunate," he told me.

In contrast to Hillary, who began serving in the U.S. Senate in 2001, Obama did not begin his own service until 2005, making him even less qualified, according to Romney.

"I don't know that he's actually, even from a legislative standpoint, had any accomplishments of any significance," he told me.

Furthermore, Romney says Obama is utterly lacking in business acumen.

"Not having experienced the private sector at all -- small business, large business -- he doesn't understand how our economy actually works and therefore lives in an ivory tower type perspective of how we can be competitive," Romney told me. "Having never negotiated, having never led, you can have ideas that are fine when you're taking your first job. But when your first job of leadership and management is president of the United States, it's probably not a good place to learn on the job."

Still, Romney is not without praise for Obama.

"He's a very good speaker," he told me. "On that basis, we could say, 'Let's take this high-school graduate or college graduate, really a great speaker, and make them president, because he's just a wonderful speaker.' You'd really like them to have had some experience, to have learned from their failures and weaknesses. And I think he's missing that, Barack Obama is."

Despite these shortcomings, Romney say Obama has "a real shot" at defeating Hillary in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I would weigh that more heavily than I think the insiders are weighing it," Romney told me. "Part of that is from my experience here in Massachusetts, having watched a fellow, Deval Patrick, run for governor here with no particular political experience, as I recall, virtually no positions on important issues, but wonderful rhetoric about hope and, you know, a brighter future. And people glommed on and just loved the rhetoric."

Patrick, a black Democrat, succeeded Romney as governor in 2007. Romney believes Obama could similarly parlay his communications skills into a victory in the Democratic primaries. But regardless of whether Obama or Hillary wins the primaries, Romney is confident a Republican will prevail in the general election.

"I don't think there's any reason to think that somebody shouldn't be elected president because of their gender or their race -- or their religion, for that matter," Romney told me. "I don't think Barack is the right black president. If Colin Powell were running for president, I'd feel very different.

"I don't think Hillary Clinton is the right woman to be the president of the United States. But there are a number of women who I think could very well be the next president of the United States and have the qualities of leadership that would suggest they'd be a great president. It's the person.

"I'm sure there are some people who won't vote for a Mormon, who won't vote for an older person, who won't vote for an ethnic minority, who won't vote for someone based on their gender. But the great majority of us don't care about those things."

As for John Edwards, Romney has a special disdain for this Democrat who made his fortune as a trial lawyer.

"I fundamentally think that the burden of excessive litigation is one of the features that makes us less competitive than we should be as a nation," Romney said. "And his fundamental belief that suing doctors and suing hospitals and suing corporations is a good thing -- with massive awards -- that that's a good thing, is just completely wrong and would be very harmful to the future of this country."

Although Romney was understandably disappointed by the Republican loss of Congress in 2006, he is confident that the leftward lurch by Democrats since then will ultimately backfire.

"I think they misread the '06 election," he told me. "I think they believe that the reason they got elected was because of the Democrat agenda and the liberal agenda."

Romney estimates that liberalism's appeal accounted for no more than 5 or 10 percent of the Democratic victory.

"I think what happened in '06 was people were frustrated with our conduct in the war in Iraq. And they couldn't change the coach, so they changed the team. But I don't think the nation took a sharp left and is looking for socialized medicine or for higher taxes or many of the things that the Democrats are pushing."

Romney believes Democrats are "overplaying their hand" by kowtowing to the liberal base of the Democratic Party. He is particularly critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"I think Nancy Pelosi's highly visible visit to Syria was a huge mistake. I think Harry Reid saying we lost the war and announcing a week into the troop surge that it hasn't worked -- these are, in my viewpoint, very ill-considered actions by a minority party. And think that they are violating a tradition in this country of standing united as we face a foe. We can debate amongst ourselves, but this is a mistake on their part."

Nonetheless, if elected president, Romney said he will try to restore some semblance of civility to the political debate in Washington, which he said has degenerated into "vituperative personal attacks." He is well aware that Bush failed in his own attempt to raise the level of discourse in the capital.

"I very much move in favor of civility and of restoring a working respect for people across the aisle," he told me. "You fight for that and if I fail at it, then so be it. But I'm not going to go in presuming a combative, attacking posture."

Romney emphasized that seeking common ground with Democrats does not mean abandoning Republican principles.

"There will be some places we vehemently disagree," he said. "And we should express our viewpoints and give our rhetoric with all the energy and passion that you'd expect. But there should be a level of personal respect that is between both parties -- between the White House and Congress -- that I think has been lacking.

"And the fact that it has failed to change over these last six years doesn't mean it's not worth trying again. Will I be more successful at it than the president? I hope so."

PARSING ABORTION

But first, in order to win the presidency, Romney will have to explain his shifting stance on abortion.

"I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard," Romney vowed in a gubernatorial debate in 2002. "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice."

After winning the governorship, Romney agreed not to expand or contract the state's pro-choice laws, preferring to maintain the status quo. When I asked him why he chose to sit out the fight over one of the most important issues of the day, he replied that he preferred to focus on other issues that he had chosen as his platform. When I pressed him on whether he should have displayed more leadership on the abortion issue, Romney said: "You decide which of the things that you're going to take and you're going to fight for. And that's exactly what I did."

In 2004, the year after he quietly began laying the foundation for a possible presidential bid, Romney announced that his position on abortion had changed from pro-choice to pro-life. Critics immediately accused him of flip-flopping in order to shore up his conservative credentials in advance of his White House campaign. But Romney insisted he had experienced a genuine epiphany on abortion. He said it occurred during a discussion on stem cell research legislation with a pair of experts from Harvard.

"At one point, one of the two said, 'This is not a moral issue because we kill the embryos at fourteen days,'" Romney told me. "And I looked over at Beth Myers, my chief of staff, and we both had exactly the same reaction, which is it just hit us hard. And as they walked out, I said, 'Beth, we have cheapened the sanctity of life by virtue of the Roe v. Wade mentality.' And from that point forward, I said to the people of Massachusetts: I will continue to honor what I pledged to you, but I prefer to call myself pro-life."

As governor, Romney was constantly fighting attempts by the legislature to further undermine protection of the unborn. He told me that bills reached his desk asserting that "we're going to define life as beginning upon implantation. Now, you think about that. Under Massachusetts law, you're going to be able to combine sperm and eggs in the laboratory, grow it for heaven knows how long, and say it's never human, which it is. I called it Orwellian -- maybe it's Huxley instead. It's a brave new world."

I asked Romney about his shifting stance on abortion during an August 2006 interview at the governor's office in Boston.

"My position has changed," he acknowledged.

But he made clear that the change was limited to his public policy on abortion, not his personal belief.

"I believe that life begins at conception. That's not a changed view," he stated unequivocally. "I am a purist -- if it's life, it's life."

And yet Romney seemed to contradict this assertion just five months later, when he gave a speech in Washington. He was trying to explain to an audience of conservatives how his position on abortion had been altered by the stem cell debate.

"I hadn't given a lot of thought to when life began -- I have to be honest with you -- until this whole stem cell research matter came to the fore in our state and this bill came to my desk," Romney said on January 27.

This seemed at odds with Romney's earlier assertion that his life-begins-at-conception conviction was "not a changed view," which implied he had always felt this way. But if he had always believed that life begins at conception, why would he say that he "hadn't given a lot of thought to when life began" until 2004, when he was fifty-seven years old?

I decided to ask Romney for an explanation.

"How does a smart, religious father of five, grandfather many times over, who gets to be into his late fifties, who has run for Senate, run for governor in races in which abortion was an issue, how do you not give a lot of thought at that stage of your life, to when life begins?"

Romney's reply only further complicated his abortion stance.

"I've given a lot of thought to abortion and about being pro-choice or pro-life and what position to take. A lot of angst I've felt over the years about that issue. And as to when life begins, from the standpoint of the law, prior to the stem cell research debate, I'm not sure that -- I'm just trying to think when that became a major -- "

As Romney trailed off about legal distinctions, I tried to bring him back to the question of morality.

"It seems to me that that is something that might occur to people -- when life begins," I said. "I mean, some people believe that life begins at conception; some people believe it begins at birth; some people believe it is somewhere in between that. The fact that you said, 'I hadn't given a lot of thought to when life began,' struck me."

"There's no question but that a fetus is life," Romney said. "The question was, well, does the life begin at conception? Does it begin at implantation?"

Without pausing to answer these questions, Romney plowed ahead.

"I was, in my own life, very opposed to abortion. And yet I had this question," he said. "Is that something the government should decide? So I had this, if you will, a conflict that exists, when you're personally opposed to abortion, and then you're saying, 'Well, I'll let the law exist as it is; it's settled.'"

"But within that conflict, didn't you have an idea of when life began," I persisted, "aside from looking at the legalities?"

"The abortion debate didn't really hinge around when life began," Romney said. "Meaning, does it begin at day one, at conception? Or does it begin at day fourteen? The abortions were happening throughout almost a nine-month period."

Unlike countless defenders and opponents of abortion, who for decades have argued passionately over the precise moment in that nine-month period when life begins, Romney was telling me he never fretted over this line of demarcation.

"It wasn't a matter of when did life begin. I'm opposed to abortion -- period. So it precludes the question," he said. "When does life begin? With abortion, there's no question: 'Well, gosh, what happens if she aborts at day two?' Well, you can't abort at day two because you don't know if you're pregnant until at least fifteen days or so. So when life began was never an issue on abortion."

This seemed yet another contradiction. Despite Romney's assertion that life begins at conception, he was now insisting "you can't abort at day two" or even on day fourteen, since it was impossible to ascertain pregnancy at that early stage. Yet pro-lifers believed that countless women performed such abortions every day by taking the "morning-after" pill, which destroys a fertilized embryo by preventing it from implanting in the womb if taken within three days after intercourse. In fact, as governor, Romney had tried in vain to block the morning-after pill from being distributed in Massachusetts without a prescription. In a letter to state lawmakers in 2005, he pointed out that the pill can "prevent the implantation of the embryo. To those who believe that life begins at conception, the morning-after pill can destroy the human life that was created at the moment of fertilization."

While Romney seemed ambivalent about the significance of life's start vis-à-vis the abortion debate, he was certain of its importance in other debates.

"With stem cell research, and particularly cloning," he told me, "that became the entire focus of the debate."

As part of Romney's pro-life epiphany, he ended up taking a dim view of stem cell research, especially the sort that amounted to what he called "creating life to destroy life." Yet his nuanced position on the issue placed him to the left of President Bush, who took a harder line against creating human embryos for the purpose of extracting their stem cells. Advocates of the practice argued that research on these stem cells might lead to cures for diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Ironically, Ann Romney was diagnosed with MS in 1998, which served to inoculate her husband somewhat against charges of pandering to conservatives on the stem cell issue.

The final component of Romney's pro-life epiphany was the issue of human cloning, which he concluded was wrong. Although the practice involved fertilizing an egg with a human clone cell instead of sperm, Romney said the results were the same.

"The second you put those together, you now have human life," Romney told me. "Therefore, to protect the sanctity of life in a civilized society, I will protect it from that point forward. And I'll let the theologians discuss when the soul enters that body. But that's a different matter that I'm not going to allow to enter into my definition of how we respect the sanctity of human life."

Nonetheless, Romney proceeded to wade into a theological discussion.

"From the standpoint of a religious context, I don't know when the spirit, or the soul, enters the body. And I haven't tried to calculate that," he told me. "My friend, [Utah Senator] Orrin Hatch, who's a strong member of my faith, says, 'Mitt, you're wrong. The spirit doesn't enter the body until much later.' And he says, 'Mitt you know that, religiously, from the church. Our church doesn't think the spirit enters that early.'"

Romney told me, "That's bringing religion into the argument." And while he accepts "all of the teachings of my church," Romney made clear those teachings would not overrule his public policy positions.

"Our church thinks that the spirit doesn't enter until much later," he said. "I'm not looking at a religious definition of life. I'm looking at a civilization's, at a civilized society's definition of when life begins."

THE MORMON FACTOR

Romney's shifting position on abortion is not the biggest obstacle to his presidential candidacy. His biggest obstacle is his religion. Mormonism looks suspiciously like a cult to some evangelical Christians, a crucial voting bloc in presidential elections.

"I think there will always be some people who will say I don't want to vote for someone who is of a different faith than mine," Romney told me. "That's fine, that's their right. And there will be some who say I want to vote for him because he is a good strong member of his church. So maybe it balances."

Not likely. The antipathy toward Mormonism goes well beyond the garden-variety skepticism that most Americans harbor toward unfamiliar religions. Numerous national polls show a significant portion of the American electorate simply would not vote for a Mormon as president. I asked Romney to make sense of this widespread mistrust of his faith.

"Well, I think it's less well known than other faiths," he said. "Its history as a religion has given an image that is not accurate, but is of some concern to some people. Certainly, the practice of polygamy in the 1800s is something that my church is going to take a long time to outlive."

The issue is further complicated by the fact that Mormonism is often confused with other sects that still practice polygamy. In 2006, HBO began airing Big Love, a TV drama about Utah polygamists. That same year, polygamy made headlines when authorities arrested Warren Steed Jeffs, who was on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Jeffs was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a monicker that is confusingly close to the Mormon Church's official name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Such developments make it more difficult for Romney to disabuse the public of the misconception that his church allows plural marriage.

"I think there are a lot of people in this country who still think members of my church practice or condone polygamy," Romney told me. "It bothers me no end that the term 'polygamy' keeps being associated with my faith. There is nothing more awful, in my view, than the violation of the marriage covenant that one has with one's wife. The practice of polygamy is abhorrent, it's awful, and it drives me nuts that people who are polygamists keep pretending to use the umbrella of my church. My church abhors it, it excommunicates people who practice it, and it's got nothing to do with my faith."

As for those who mistakenly believe that Mormonism condones polygamy, Romney says their reluctance to vote for him is understandable.

"I would not want a president of the United States who practiced or in the back of his mind was in favor of polygamy," he said. "So I understand why people have that view, in some cases. And hopefully, as time goes on and I become more prominent in this race, people will recognize, 'OK, he doesn't believe that and his church doesn't believe that either.' And that will take down some of the concern."

Some of Romney's supporters have urged him not to get drawn into a theological discussion of his religion. They say it would be akin to a Catholic presidential candidate, such as Rudy Giuliani, being asked to explain transubstantiation, the Catholic belief that bread and wine are transformed literally into the body and blood of Jesus at daily Mass.

"It's a mistake for me to go through all of the teachings in my church and say: Do you believe this one? Do you believe that one? Do you believe that one?" Romney told me. "It's not so much because I'm afraid to say that I believe those things. It's instead because I think I open the door to an area of inquiry that should not be part of a presidential election.

"So what I would prefer to do is to say: I believe in my church and I'm not a cafeteria member of my church," he said. "I accept the teachings of my church and so that assumes all of the teachings of my church. And I'm not going to go through one by one and describe each teaching."

Still, Romney told me he would probably need to give a major address about Mormonism, just as John F. Kennedy gave one about Catholicism, to assure Americans that as president, he will not take orders from church authorities. So while Romney seeks to avoid discussing the particular theological tenets of Mormonism, he expects to address general questions about the intersection of religion and public policy. He even anticipates specific queries.

"'Would you go to the church leadership to ask their opinion on an important issue?' The answer is no, I would not. 'If you were to receive a call from the church leadership with a view on an issue, would you accept the call?' No, I would not."

Why not?

"Because I believe in a separation between a person who is a secular leader and the hierarchy of a church," Romney told me. "And so I can describe those things without getting into: 'Do you believe the leaders of your church are inspired?' Well, of course I do. 'Well, if you believe they're inspired, then why wouldn't you take their advice on what you should do in Iraq?' And so, in my opinion, a presidential candidate is unwise to open that area of inquiry because it prejudices future candidates well beyond myself."

Besides, Romney does not expect the unique attributes of Mormonism to affect his presidency.

"For the life of me, I can't imagine a setting or an issue that I would approach or think about differently than would a good evangelical or a good Catholic or a good Presbyterian. Someone might be able to think up one, but I haven't been able to think of that.

"Now, there are differences between my faith and other faiths. For instance, our church says that Mormons shouldn't drink alcohol. But it's not because alcohol is somehow evil. It's more, you know, for my health and as a show of faith. As governor, I had no problem whatsoever signing laws allowing sales of alcohol on Sunday, although that didn't used to be the law.

"So it's not like you in any way think that the distinctive qualities of your religion somehow affect public policy. They really don't. The distinctive qualities of my religion have very little, if anything, to do with public policy that I can think of."

And yet in general terms, Romney is convinced that a religious leader, regardless of denomination, would make a better president than an atheist.

"You would hope that a person of deep faith would have a higher standard of ethical conduct, honesty, integrity, willingness to honor their commitments than somebody who didn't feel the same sense of moral obligation. But I'm not sure I can prove that, based on conduct over the last few years in Washington," he told me with a laugh.

"My faith has made me a better person than I would have been. Far from perfect, but better than I would have been. And I think that's true of virtually every other faith in the world. If you follow the principles, if you live the principles of your faith, it will make you a better person. And it would make you more likely to be honest, not dishonest; more likely to be concerned with the interests of other people; more likely to honor your obligations. And that will make you a more effective leader."

I noted that President Bush, an evangelical Christian, says he draws serenity from his faith, which helps him persevere through the enormous trials and tribulations of his office. Bush told me he believes in "the power of faith to bring comfort in times of turbulence." But Romney hinted that, if anything, religion might play a lesser role in his own presidency.

"There's a perhaps apocryphal story, but widespread in my church, about the second president of my church, Brigham Young, at a time when a wagon train was crossing the North Platte River," Romney told me. "One of the wagons broke loose and started to float down the river. The team of oxen was unable to pull the wagon. And the driver of the wagon got on his knees and started to pray. And Brigham Young rode his horse out into the middle of the river and grabbed the guy and said: 'This is no time for prayer.'"

Romney laughed at the story, but said it contained a lot of truth about Mormonism.

"In my faith, there is a very strong sense of 'it's up to you,'" he told me. "God put us here, but he doesn't run things like a puppeteer. And if I'm messing things up, I can't go back and say, 'OK, God, you take care of it.' It's on me.

"I think there is a sense of fatalism that some people carry, whether it's religious or nonreligious, but that probably is not a productive thing. I think you have to assume that everything's in your hands and you hope that if you mess up that somehow, something good will come of it. But it's going to be in your hands."

Romney once wrote that some Americans "thought us Mormons to be too goody-two-shoes." He explained to me that this "clean-cut image" comes from the church's embrace of "old-fashioned American" values, which run counter to those of the "MTV generation."

"Mormons don't smoke and drink and don't believe in sex outside of marriage -- premarital sex or extramarital sex -- and that's a little unusual today," he told me. "And then of course you have all the young missionaries going around wearing the suits and ties and little badges on bicycles. That's not exactly a Prince -- the artist formerly known as Prince -- kind of image."

He added: "The church told membership that tattoos are like graffiti on your body. I mean, the church is pretty conservative, if you will, when it comes to manners of fashion, and the like. It tells people to dress modestly and so forth, it tells girls not to date before they're sixteen."

In the end, Romney is betting that evangelical Christians will focus more on their theological commonalities with Mormons than their differences.

"I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior," he told me in his Boston campaign headquarters in 2007. "I'm sure there are differences between the doctrines of my church and the doctrines of other churches that believe in God and Jesus Christ."

He added: "But I do believe that the values which are part of my heritage are very much the American values that people look for in a leader. And that's why in a state like this one, which is 55 percent Catholic, they wondered about a Mormon guy, but quickly recognized that the values that I have are very much the values of people of faith throughout the land."

Romney's wife, Ann, once joked that among the top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination, only her husband, the Mormon, had limited himself to one wife. It was a sly reference to the fact that Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich each have had three wives, while John McCain and Fred Thompson each have had two. By contrast, if Romney is elected, during his first year in office, he will observe the fortieth anniversary of his marriage to his high-school sweetheart. In a not-so-veiled swipe at Giuliani, McCain, and Gingrich, all of whom fell for younger women while still married, Romney told me that "people who commit adultery or other practices of that nature are carrying out absolutely heinous acts."

Romney also opposes gay marriage more vigorously than any other top presidential candidate in either party. While he was governor, Massachusetts became the only state in the nation to allow gay couples to legally marry. Romney tried to overturn the law, but was stymied by the state's liberal supreme court and overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Unlike McCain and Giuliani, Romney favors a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

"I believe that traditional marriage between a man and a woman is the best course because I believe that on average, the children in a society will be more prepared for their lives if they have the benefit of a mom and a dad," he told me. "There are some great single moms and some great grandmas, and my guess is there are probably some great gay couples that are raising a child. But overall, as a society, we prefer a setting where there is a male and a female associated with the development of a child."

To Romney, that basic building block of society transcends the whims of government.

"Family's been here from the beginning, it was ordained of divinity, and it should be protected for the strengthening of a society. Much of our legal system flows, if you will, from the foundation of biblical commandments, and I think our secular society has forgotten that and has subsumed those values. But it's still part of the Western culture and the Western heritage that came from our biblical roots."

Like George W. Bush in 2000, Mitt Romney says he will not be personally devastated if he loses the White House in 2008.

"I've had my career," he told me. "I was a successful business leader. I'm a pretty successful dad and a successful husband. Those are the things that are most meaningful to me. And I'm putting myself forward because I think I could be a very good president for this country.

"But if we choose somebody else who could be a very good president, I'll feel fine," he concluded. "This is not defining who I am."

WHERE MITT ROMNEY STANDS ON THE ISSUES

ABORTION

He now says: "I'm firmly pro-life." But in 2002, when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said: "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice."

CLIMATE CHANGE

Supports voluntary cuts in greenhouses gases, although he is not convinced that global warming exists or that it is caused by man.

GAY MARRIAGE

Supports a constitutional ban.

HEALTH CARE

Pushed through mandatory health insurance for all residents of Massachusetts.

IMMIGRATION

Opposes any guest worker program until the borders have been secured.

IRAQ

Generally supports President Bush's policy, although he has criticized missteps by the administration.

TAXES

Kept a campaign pledge not to raise taxes as governor of Massachusetts. In 2004, his call for a tax cut was rejected by the Democratic legislature.

Copyright © 2007 by Bill Sammon



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Excerpted from Meet the Next President by Bill Sammon Copyright © 2007 by Bill Sammon. Excerpted by permission.
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