The Real Mitt Romney: What You Didn’t Know
Policy + Politics

The Real Mitt Romney: What You Didn’t Know

REUTERS/Chris Keane

After his success as CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital brought him millions of dollars in the 1980s and 1990s, Mitt Romney said, “I tell my kids, ‘We won the lottery. Don’t think this is normal. Don’t think that your life will have the kind of plenty that ours has had.’” According to a new biography called The Real Romney by journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, one of Romney’s sons knew his father was a hard worker, that next to him, “Everyone else was lazy.” Even so, for years the five Romney sons “had no idea how much their dad was truly worth.”

“Perhaps that’s because Mitt eschewed many of the trappings of wealth,” the authors write. “The family had no cook or full-time maid. His sons urged him to buy a luxury car, but he refused, continuing to drive a dented Chevy Caprice Classic nicknamed the Gray Grunt. And he was frugal to the core, wearing winter gloves patched with duct tape and cracking down on anyone in the house who left the water running or the lights on.”

The tightwad life didn’t last long. Critics were quick to point out that Romney’s frugality did not extend to the multiple homes he bought, including a waterfront spread on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, a sprawling ski retreat in the mountains of Park City, Utah, and an oceanfront home on the Pacific coast north of downtown San Diego. “Mitt was wealthy to a degree well beyond what his parents had ever been,” write Kranish and Helman, who spent five years researching and reporting the book.
Just this Tuesday, Romney estimated that his effective tax rate on the income generated by his $200 million fortune is “probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.” Romney took some heat in the GOP candidates’ debate on Monday night in South Carolina for not yet releasing his tax returns, something that all presidential contenders have traditionally done. Romney says he’ll probably release those returns to both the IRS and the public, sometime in April.

As Romney and the other GOP candidates prepare for the South Carolina primary this coming Saturday, here are some other insights about the leading Republican candidate that have emerged, many of them from the just-published The Real Romney:

  • Romney says his father, George, once told him, “Don’t get into politics as your profession…. Get into the world of the real economy. And if someday you’re able to make a contribution, do it.”
  • Romney, a chauffeur briefly while in college, loved tinkering with cars. Perhaps as a result, he believes that almost anything can “be taken apart, studied and reengineered.”
  • He was viewed as such a skilled leader during his first year of college at Stanford University that “you wanted Mitt on whatever committee or group you were [working on]. He would take charge and lead it,” said a former roommate, Mark Marquess.
  • He earned his degree in English Lit in 1971 with highest honors from Brigham Young University, going beyond his own father, George Romney, former governor of Michigan, who never graduated from college.
  • Mitt Romney attended Harvard’s business and law schools simultaneously in a demanding four-year program. He graduated in 1975 with honors from the law school and was a Baker Scholar at the business school, in the top five percent of his class.
  • When his kids were growing up, the roles in the Romney household between dad and mom were very clearly defined. “I was willing to change the urine-soaked diapers,” the authors quote Romney as saying, “but the messier types gave me dry heaves… So my wife allowed me to escape that.”
  • Ann Romney, whom he pursued relentlessly until she agreed to marry him (she converted to Mormonism as well), remains “his chief counselor and confidante. (She was diagnosed with MS in 1998, and is now in remission.) "Mitt’s not going to do something that they don’t feel good about together," said Mitt’s sister Jane.
  • When Romney was just 36 years old and a “business consulting star,” people thought of him as “mature beyond his years and organized to a fault.” He seemed “brilliant but not cocky.” More than one partner told Bill Bain, “This guy is going to be president of the United States someday.”
  • When Bill Bain first asked Romney to become head of a new company to be called Bain Capital – a firm that made millions, Romney “explained to Bain that he didn’t want to risk his position, earnings, and reputation on an experiment.”

    So, “Bain sweetened the pot.” If all of this failed, Romney was told he’d get his old job and salary back, “plus any raises he would have earned during his absence.” Not a bad deal. But Romney still didn’t take it. He was worried about the “impact on his reputation if he proved unable to do the job.” So Bain came back with another sweetener. He promised that, if necessary, “he would craft a cover story saying that Romney’s return to Bain & Company was needed because of his value as a consultant.”

    This time, according to Kranish/Helman, “Romney said yes.”
  • While serving as a Mormon missionary in Le Havre, France after his freshman year of college at Stanford, Romney was hit head-on by a drunken driver and was thrown from the vehicle. One of the five passengers died. A policeman believed Romney was dead and wrote "il est mort" on his passport. Later, according to U.S. News, he was found to be alive by Sargent Shriver, a friend of his father and the U.S. ambassador to France at the time.
  • He’s warm and charming with family and close friends, but he comes across as stiff and “all business” to others. According to Kranish/Helman, “He has little patience for idle chatter or small talk, little interest in mingling at cocktail parties, at social functions, or even in a crowded hallway. He [has] little desire to know who people are and what makes them tick.” 
  • He is altruistic, generous to those in need. Countless times, he has gone out of his way to help families through rough patches.