Magazine article The American Conservative

Managing Expectations

Magazine article The American Conservative

Managing Expectations

Article excerpt

Managing Expectations [A Mormon in the White House? 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hugh Hewitt, Regnery Publishing, 311 pages]

By W. James Antle III

This isn't the first time a successful businessman and Republican governor named Romney has launched a serious presidential bid. The outcome of that campaign was best described by longtime Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes: "Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football."

Forty years later, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has several advantages his father lacked: he leads the Republican presidential field in fundraising, has built an impressive national campaign organization, and has mostly received favorable coverage from the conservative press. And that's without even mentioning his hair. Yet Romney has so frequently struggled to put these assets to good use that Rhodes's crude analogy once again seems apt. This time the problem isn't brainwashing but overselling: Romney's supporters appear determined to spin a plausible candidate into a punch line.

A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney, by conservative commentator and Chapman University law professor Hugh Hewitt, is a good example of this problem. If it were actually a piece of Romney campaign literature, it would merely be overdone. As independent political analysis, the book is embarrassing. The Mormon issue is the only one of Romney's political liabilities Hewitt seriously grapples with - unless you consider being "too perfect" a real problem - and the reader has to wade through nine chapters of hagiography to get to this important discussion.

Hewitt opens a section on the candidate's disadvantages by noting, "Mitt Romney is handsome, articulai« - even eloquent - well tailored, married to an attractive woman, and father to five allAmerican boys." The chapters about this "Christmas card family" and Romney's accomplishments in the business world would make for better reading if the author didn't try so hard to turn his book into a joint episode of "The Apprentice" and "Father Knows Best."

We're told that as a business consultant, Romney discovered "everything begins with smart people." Elsewhere we learn that like many "achievementoriented dads ofthat era," Mitt taught his children that "work was important." Another Hewitt observation: "Character matters to Romney, a lot, and that will no doubt be a theme of his campaign."

Much of A Mormon in the White House? is drawn from softball interviews with Romney and the people closest to him. Hewitt penetratingly asked Romney's sons how smart their dad is. "Off the charts," Josh Romney replied. Hewitt says he "voiced [his] skepticism" when Tagg Romney talked about his father's generosity, "but Tagg was adamant."

Behind Hewitt's cloying prose, Romney actually does have an interesting story. After graduating from a joint JD/MBA program offered at Harvard's law and business schools, he climbed the corporate ladder in the consulting business. Romney co-founded a venture-capital firm that helped launch hundreds of companies, including Staples and Domino's Pizza In 1990, he returned, this time as CEO, to his old consulting firm, Bain & Co., and helped it avert financial collapse.

Guiding troubled institutions away from financial catastrophe became Romney's calling. He helped restore solvency to the 2002 Olympics Winter Games, turning a $379 million revenue shortfall into a $100 million profit Republicans then persuaded him to return to Massachusetts to run for governor, bumping aside acting Gov. Jane Swift. Romney was able to extend the GOP's hold on the governorship of the most Democratic state for another four years and managed to transform a $3 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus, mostly through spending restraint (although some of the fee hikes and loophole closings look suspiciously like tax increases). …

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