Time to tear off the band-aid if you haven’t already. I watched this weekend and found it alternately agonizing and oddly consoling. Romney was indeed, per his own diagnosis, a “flawed candidate,” but it comes through palpably that he never wanted to be president. He was willing to be president — he gave it his all, despite his misgivings — but the vibe from the whole family (more than one member of which mentions the upsides of losing) is that they felt this was something he was duty bound to do, not something he did eagerly like every other power-sniffing politician on the planet. The late Dean Barnett, who knew Romney and supported him in ’08, told me once long ago that Mitt was a Boy Scout who was running because he genuinely believed he could make the country better. I always thought that was self-serving nonsense concocted to justify Dean’s own preference, no different from what you’d hear a McCain supporter say about Maverick. If anyone was running purely because he craved power, it must be the guy who changed his positions repeatedly to try to please voters, no? After watching the movie, I finally see what Dean meant. There’s a moment of psychodrama about halfway through, after the first debate, when Romney hints that part of his motivation in running was needing to prove himself the equal of his father, but he never seems so honest as he does on election night in his hotel room when he explains why O’s victory is no aberration. That mini-soliloquy has already been celebrated online, but it’s less what Romney says than when he says it that’s a gut punch. With the election lost, he had no reason left to lie; stopping America from heading down a doomed European track really was, I think, why he ran in the end, even though he hated the process and could never illuminate his fears to the rest of the country. But I think he meant it. I thought of Dean there.
The consolation is that his family really is wonderful, to the point where you begin to understand why they’d be reluctant to trade their idyll for a credible chance at the presidency. The last shot is the whole movie in microcosm — Romney staring out the window, pondering failure on a global stage, with Ann beside him searching for the words to make it better. It’s bleak but tender. Every scene is, really: The filmmakers track his failed campaign in 2008, then gloss over his many victories en route to the nomination in 2012 with a two-minute montage before picking the story back up before the first debate with Obama. Even that scene, capturing Romney’s finest hour, is weighed down by his pessimism that he can win the next one. His only respite on the trail is family time before and after events, when he finally (finally) seems to decompress and behave like the lovable guy his friends always swore he was. It’s strange but true that “Mitt” is basically a movie about how politics isn’t everything, even at the highest level. A small consolation to the many millions who now have to live under Hopenchange 2.0, but it’s something.
Here’s the man himself in a scene not from “Mitt.”