Tagg Romney is the oldest of Mitt Romney's five children. Here he discusses what Mitt and Ann are like as parents, as well as lessons his father learned running the Olympics, serving as a governor, and losing his bid for the White House in 2008.This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on Aug. 7, 2012. (31:24)
Tagg Romney is the oldest of Mitt Romney's five children. Here he discusses what Mitt and Ann are like as parents, as well as lessons his father learned running the Olympics, serving as a governor, and losing his bid for the White House in 2008.This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on Aug. 7, 2012.
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I want to talk about your parents -- your mother, your father and their relationship first, because by all accounts they have sort of an incredible, storybook romance and love story. But in terms of the perspective of the son, what role does your mother play in your father's life?
She is everything to him. They fell in love very early, and they've stayed in love -- it's interesting to watch them -- they've stayed in love throughout their entire lives. And they're always doing things for each other, paying each compliments. And she just -- she makes him happy to be around her.
So he likes to have her with him wherever he goes, and he's in a better mood when she's around. We call her the "Mitt stabilizer," because if he's on the road for too long without her, he starts to get antsy and worried about little things, and things start to bother him. And if she's back with him, he calms down and is a lot less irritable.
And was that consistent throughout your childhood? Was she always sort of that role?
Yeah. I mean, he just loves to be with her. He loves to be with his family. That's one of his favorite things to do is spend time with his family, but especially my mom. It got him home earlier from work than it probably would have been otherwise because he liked to spend time with her. They enjoy each other.
It's funny watching them. They have a good time talking. You'd think after 42, 43 years of marriage they'd run out of things to say to each other, but they're always talking and going on walks and doing things together. They just enjoy each other's company.
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We've heard stories -- the Kennedy run is one of them -- where your mother was sort of the person to kind of give him that extra push and that extra sort of confidence to move forward. Are there other examples of her playing that role and kind of giving him that little nudge?
Yeah, she helps him do the right thing -- (laughs) -- I think is the right way to say it. In 1999 when the Olympics was in trouble, [former Utah] Gov. [Mike] Leavitt went to my dad and asked him to run the Olympics. And my dad said no, he would prefer to stay at Bain Capital; his life was good back in Boston.
And after trying to convince him for a while, realizing they weren't going to have any success, they went to my mom and asked her what she thought. So she went to my dad and said: "This is the right thing for you to do, Mitt, and it's time to give something back to your country, and this is a way to do it. You can help rescue the Olympics, which is in trouble." Once she pushes, he usually jumps. So she was very instrumental helping him decide to go back and work for the Olympics.
Same thing with this race. He was very hesitant about whether or not he should run again, and she was very instrumental in helping him make the decision to get back into the race.
It was interesting. He wasn't sure whether it was all worth it to get back in. He wasn't sure if he was going to be able to win. He worried about all sorts of different things.
And my mom asked him one simple question, which is, "Mitt, if you do win, can you fix the problems that the country's facing right now?" And he said, "Yeah, I think that I can." And she said: "Well, then you don't have a choice; you have to run. If you're able to do it, it doesn't matter how hard it is to go through the process or what you want to do with your own life. If you have an ability to fix it, you owe it to your country to get back in there and to run." And that was the argument ultimately that convinced him that it was the right thing to do.
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Let's go back to the Olympics, because obviously that was a challenging time for your family. Tell me how your parents told you boys the news about her diagnosis.
So a little before he went back to the Olympics, she had been tired, and she had a flu that didn't ever really go away, and she was so tired. We knew something was wrong. I was living overseas at the time; I was living in Ireland. So we'd be back for a little bit when she was sick, and then we left. And we were always calling: "Do they know what's the matter?"
And they finally, they went to a specialist in Boston, and the specialist told her that she had multiple sclerosis. And it was a very difficult time for both she and my dad. They called us. We were in Ireland, and they called us, and it was very upsetting to learn that. I knew very little about the disease at that point.
I happened to be working for a company that was in the process of developing health care treatments for both Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis, so I knew a little bit more about the disease than I had before, but it was a scary time.
By all accounts, the people that I spoke to out in Utah during that period, what's interesting is, personally, with your mother's illness, it sounds like it was a challenging period of time, and yet everyone described him as being sort of very available and positive and being the one who was really rallying the troops together. How is that consistent with the father that you know, that man that we may not see?
(Laughs.) He's an amazing dad. He's an amazing person. It's interesting to watch him. He has boundless energy, unbelievable enthusiasm and optimism.
But at the same time, he's very grounded in reality. He expects the worst always to happen, and he plans for it. And he expects what can go wrong, and I think as a result, he's so careful to prepare for every possible outcome. He inspires a lot of confidence in the people that work with him. They say, OK, this guy knows what he's doing. And then his enthusiasm for, OK, now that we've kind of planned for all the things that can go wrong, how can we make this the best possible games that we can, or whatever he's dealing with.
People that work with him really love him and think that, in addition to being a great guy, they recognize his great leadership qualities, and they want to follow him into battle or whatever it is that he's leading them into, because they have every confidence that what he touches is going to turn out great.
In that sense, though, was he able to compartmentalize sort of the personal what was happening at home in terms of bringing --
Yeah. You know, one of the reasons he didn't want to go back to Salt Lake to run the Olympics was he was worried about my mother's health. He wanted to stay in Boston where they had a doctor and a plan set up.
And my mom said: "No, this is important. You need to go back and do this. I'll find some treatment out there." They found someone that was able to help her quite a bit out there in Utah, and he felt like she was doing well. And she spent a lot of her day with him.
So even though he was busy running the Olympics, they still had a lot of time together. He was able to do both things at the same time.
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Talk to me about that moment when she ran with the torch. What was that like for the family?
It was amazing. I wasn't there. My brother Josh was there when it happened and ran next to her.
But the progress that she made from the time she went to Utah and then when the Olympics were being run was remarkable. When she went to Utah, she was hardly able to walk; she was very tired. The thought of her running a quarter-mile would have been unthinkable. And then she made so much progress and had gotten so much healthier through riding her horses and doing alternative therapies and different things, and improved diet, and to have her be able to run that torch was just amazing. You thought, well, maybe she's going to be OK after all. It was just a great feeling for all of us.
Where were you for opening ceremonies? Were you watching on TV?
I was in the stadium for open ceremonies. My wife and I, we had two children at the time. We came back, and we stayed in Utah for three weeks. We decided we were going to come back and watch the whole games. It was a lot of fun.
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So, as the son, sitting there, seeing your father sitting next to President Bush, after the road to get to that moment, what was that like to see him sitting there? And what was that moment like for him?
It was amazing. Having watched the whole Olympics unfold, when he got there they were in so much trouble. And you thought, can he do this? I mean, this is a really big problem; he's got a lot of problems he's got to solve.
And then to be there at the opening ceremonies, the weather was perfect; there was a little bit of light snow coming down. The athletes had marched in and had this great moment with the flag. He had made a fantastic speech.
It just made you proud to be his son, because you just look and said, he put this together. He was able to rally the troops and get everyone together and overcome the problems and put on a great games. And it was a great moment for all of us to look and say, he was able to -- it wasn't him by himself; there were lots of good people involved -- Fraser Bullock and lots of people that pulled together -- but he spearheaded and helped make it happen.
For you and your brothers to sit there, I mean, when you see him on this national stage, was there a moment there where you're like, "Wow, maybe there's a president in the future"? Did you sort of realize how important a moment that was?
Not really. I mean, he was Dad, so it was just -- we'd always known that Dad could do great things. We watched him growing up, and he was always -- we thought he was Superman. He was always very capable. But he was just Dad. So to watch him during the Olympics, we weren't thinking about political careers or other things like that. We just were hoping the Olympics would go well. And we were very proud to watch him do that.
It's funny, because growing up, we all loved to play sports, the five boys. And whenever he would come out and play, especially later in life, he would play basketball and he was always the last one picked, and we'd kind of laugh about it. And then to have him now running the Olympics, it just made us all laugh that he was the one that was on the front page of the sport pages. And we were just very proud of him.
A unique time for him to shine as an athlete.
(Laughs.) Exactly. The only way he was ever going to do something in sports was to run the Olympics; it was not going to be as an athlete himself.
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Faith and family
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A number of people that we've spoken to -- articles have been written about it -- when you ask sort of what's at the core of your father, they talk about the importance of faith, and that really being something that is essential to who he is. So talk to me about that in terms of how that core and those values were brought into your home, and that sort of added to the way he raised you boys.
Yeah, I mean, at the core of my dad is, he has a very strong faith. He believes very firmly in loving God. He believes very much in this country. He thinks this is a country that is meant to be at the forefront of the world and leading. The values that he wanted to pass on to us were faith, integrity, hard work, honesty, love of fellow man. Those are the things that are at the core of who he is and drive everything that he does.
And it's clear watching him as we grew up that that really was what motivated his life. It wasn't the pursuit of money, trying to grab power, or things we saw drive a lot of other people. It really was, how can I make this a better place for people around me? And we didn't ever anticipate that it would grow into running for president. We just thought it was, he would help his neighbors and the people his life bumped up against. And so we were surprised as anybody when he started his political career.
But at the core of who he is, he is a good man who loves his family, loves his neighbors and wants to make their lives better.
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And talk to me about the importance of that family time. We've heard about family night. Give me some examples of the way the family -- it's very comforting and inspiring to see your family all together and how people actually enjoy spending time with one another. As kids, give me an example of what those family experiences were like together.
You know, he had a job that required him to be gone a lot, but he always worked very hard to get home. He tried to be home in time for dinner; he was usually a little bit late. But he would eat dinner. We would sit around and talk with him while he ate his dinner after we'd eaten ours. And we would go out and play basketball together.
When he came home, he put everything behind him. He didn't think about work. He didn't talk about work. If he had a bad day or good day, we couldn't tell the difference. He was there, and he played with us. And we thought we were the most important thing in his life to him. And we still do.
Even with the campaign going on around him, he makes time every Sunday to call us. He calls each of the sons on Sundays, spends 20 or 30 minutes with us. He asks about all of our kids and how we're doing and what our concerns are. It's like, "Yeah, but, Dad, you've got this other thing going on; you should be worrying about it."
He really likes to surround himself with his family. There's no question that that's his favorite thing to do, is to spend time with my mom and his kids and now his grandkids.
And so, growing up, we just, we always knew that was the most important thing to him.
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He was running Bain, a wonderful father by all accounts. And he also, when he was bishop of the Belmont, [Mass.], ward, from what I've learned, that experience had him going out there and dealing with a group of people he wouldn't otherwise have necessarily interacted with. How did he bring those life experiences home? He talks about having that experience open his eyes to people who had much less than he ever had. So how did those teachings come home to you?
He was so busy doing things that he made sure that he brought his sons along with him to help minister to people. I remember a time, he got a call one Friday night from somebody -- she lived on the West Coast, and she said, "My daughter is living in Dorchester, and she and her husband have a young baby, and they don't have any money, and they've run out of fuel, and they can't fill their oil tank, and they have no heat." It was just before Christmas. "And they're very cold. Is there anything you, as bishop, can do to help them?"
He grabbed me and my brother Matt and drove down to their house to take stock of the situation. It was very cold in their house. He called the oil company and said, "Listen, I'll pay for a tank of oil," and he bought some food for them. The oil company couldn't come until Monday, and it was Friday, so we went home. We loaded up the station wagon with firewood that we had spent the summer chopping. They had a wood-burning stove there. So we brought the firewood in, got a fire going for them. We stopped on the way, at Toys ‘R’ Us and bought some Christmas presents for the little girl.
And it's just one small example. And he spent the next six months helping them, counseling the husband on how to find a job and what to do to get his résumé so he could go out and get a job, and making sure that they had enough money that they were eating and that they had enough money to pay for their fuel bill.
It's just one example of many. I remember another time there was someone whose son was dying of cancer. He was 14 years old, and my dad spent time with them as they went through that difficult process, both of getting ready for that and trying to help him, visiting the hospital, and then after he passed away at 14, helping to comfort the family.
And being there with my dad at the bedside of the boy in the hospital, those were experiences that meant a lot to us. Cameras weren't rolling. There weren't -- excuse me. But it was great to see his love for others, and he did his best to pass that on to us.
Thank you. Sorry.
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No, don't be sorry. Please, that's nothing to apologize for. Your grandfather, it sounds like, a pretty incredible man in his own right.
He was, yeah.
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Mitt's relationship with his father
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So talk to me about as you sort of see the grandfather to the son, the role that he played for your father and how you see those values being passed down.
My grandfather was an amazing man. You talk about character and integrity, everyone who knew him, whether they agreed with him or not, said, "George Romney is a good man, and he sticks to his principles, a man of honesty and hard work, integrity."
And he passed those things on to my dad. My dad learned from him, hopefully like my dad's sons tried to learn from our dad. You just couldn't be in George Romney's presence without some of his goodness and integrity wearing off on you.
And he told stories. My grandfather grew up during the Depression. His parents had gone bankrupt several times when he was young. And he -- there's nothing that bothered him more than wasting resources or money in any way. And that passed on to my dad. My dad is today still very frugal at everything that he does. He hates to see money wasted. He hates to see food bought that goes uneaten. Those things kind of passed on from his dad to him, and he's passed them on to us.
Your grandfather also has a legacy of service. Is that something you think he instilled in your father, and then your father passed on? Does that connect to sort of faith and teaching? Explain that to me.
Yeah, part of my grandfather's faith was it's a practical faith. It's not just believing but also putting into practice what you believe, which is the core of our faith is you're supposed to help others around you. And so my grandfather was very active and doing his best to help others that he came into contact with. My dad saw that. I think the same values passed on to my dad.
All throughout my grandfather's life, even as he was in his 80s, he was very passionate about volunteerism. He thought volunteerism was the answer to most of our country's problems. And he went to President Reagan at the time, and President [George] H. W. Bush and got President Bush to consider signing the Points of Light bill, which he did. My grandfather believed very much that the country would be a better place if all of us took time, without getting paid, to spend time volunteering in our communities, helping other people.
And my father feels the same way. He feels in his own life it's important that he spends time behind the scenes, without anyone knowing, helping other people.
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A unanimous family decision that Mitt should run for president in 2008
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I want to jump to 2008. Tell me the family conversation that you had when your father broached the subject with you that he was considering a run for president, and what the reaction was of the sons.
You never think your dad's going to run for president. So it was a little bit of -- we were shocked that it was a consideration.
He took us, I remember -- as he had been contemplating for a little bit, we all gathered for Christmas, during Christmastime a year and a half or so before the election. And we went around the room. There were five sons. We all had our five wives there, and my mom and dad, so the 12 of us. And we talked about whether or not he should run and what the pros and cons would be.
And all 12 of us said: "This is something you should do. We understand it's going to be hard for the family, and we're going to see less of Grandma and Grandpa than we'd like to over the next year and a half, but this is something we think, given your talents and capabilities, the country would be a much better place if you were able to win." So we all were very supportive of him jumping in the race.
Help me with that a little bit more, because he's your father, but help me sort of, why -- I mean, to be the president of the United States, what was it in him to take on that role, for all of you to raise your hand and say yes?
Having watched him through my whole life, I've never known anyone as competent as he is. He knows how to get things done. And whether it was at Bain & Company, Bain Capital, the Olympics, as governor of Massachusetts, the guy just knows how to make things happen and fix things. He's amazing at fixing things.
Especially in a crisis, he's able to keep very level-headed, assess the situation, bring really capable people in to help him get all the data that he can, and then make decisions, stick to them, and then lead people so that they have confidence that he's doing the right thing, and then fix things. Time and time again I've seen him fix things that I thought were not fixable.
So you look at him and you said, you know what? He would be an amazing president. And you look at the problems that our country's facing, and you think he's not going to be able to fix all of them, and it's not going to happen overnight, but he will bring this country together and lead us to a place where I think we'll have the common will to say, OK, we need to fix these problems, and he's putting forward a solution to help us do that, and we're going to get there as a country. And so that's what all of us saw and said, "This is what the country needs."
So if you fast-forward four years later, having been through that process, we still had the same confidence in my dad. We were not so sure about the political process and the vagaries of how the process worked and the difficulties in getting through. So not all of us were as gung-ho about him running a second time.
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Talk to me about how that loss impacted. What was that like for you to see that happen and to see him go through that?
Yeah, I mean, he had lost before. So losing was tough, but it wasn't devastating. Life moves on.
But at the same time you learn from the process and you realize just how difficult it is. The things that the media tends to focus on tend not to be the things that are, in my opinion, the most important of things. They tend to focus on the small details as opposed to the bigger picture.
And so it makes it difficult for someone of substance, I think, to be able to talk about substantive things and have people listen and pay attention and say yeah, and have people make their decisions based on those things as opposed to a turn of phrase or a gaffe here or a gaffe there.
As we got back together in 2010, thinking about the 2012 race, those same 12 people, 10 of them voted no. It was just my mom and I who voted yes. We felt he owed it to the country to give it another chance. And my dad included, he was not at all convinced that he was going to run again.
There's no question that if my dad had his druthers, he would ride off in the sunset, spend the rest of his time with his family, retire, get to know his grandkids, and kind of leave politics behind. I think he personally would love to be able to live that lifestyle. And I think there was a big part of him that really just wanted to go do that and not have to go through this process. It's a grueling process, and it's a two-year process of attending hundreds of fundraisers, making the same speech over and over and over again, having the media do everything they can do to try to make you look bad.
So it's something he didn't look forward to doing again. It took a lot of convincing on the part of my mom and some of his senior staff to say, "This is important for the country that you do this." And that was ultimately what convinced him to jump back in the race, was recognizing just how dire the problems facing the country are right now. Economically and culturally, on so many levels, the country is having a lot of troubles right now.
So I think he thinks that he can get in there and help make things better.
Some of the attacks against your -- I mean, the political ones aside, but the personal ones, for you and your brothers, especially when they're about the family, about your mother, about him, how have you all pulled together to deal with those? And what are those internal conversations like?
You just have to have a thick skin to be in politics, because people are going to make false accusations. They're going to try to twist things to appear the exact opposite of what they really are. And you just have to realize that's going to happen, and know that's part of the game.
We thought about for a long time, how can we let people know who my dad really is? And we just realized, you know what? You've just got to let him be who he is and hope people can see through all of the negative attacks and see the goodness that's really in him.
As we look to the choice between the two presidents, what is it -- if you look back on your sort of childhood experiences and the man that you've known, how he raised you boys, what can we learn from those experiences, and any specific ones that sort of might inform how he would lead as president and the kind of president he would be?
He's a man of incredible character. And when things get tough, he will stick by his principles and represent American values, and he'll get the job done. I have never seen him take on a challenge that he hasn't been able to rally the people around him to get them all move in the same direction and overcome those challenges.
He really, genuinely believes that with a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of hard work that you can solve any problem. And he'll do that as president. He will be a man of great character and integrity, and he'll get things done.
Your grandfather ran for this office, had a political career of his own. Your father now is stepping in and has the chance to become the president. In terms of family legacy and certainly for a man who he has spoken about idolizing, what does that mean to the family that that lineage will continue and he's in this spot?
It's funny. My grandfather did a lot of things in his life. What he was most proud of was raising his family. The being governor, running for president, having run American Motors, those things were things that he was glad that he did, but there's no question -- I mean he told us many, many times: "What I'm most proud of is having raised four children and now having had all these grandchildren, and hopefully I can pass my values on to my children and to my grandchildren. That's what's most important."
And so, growing up, my grandfather rarely talked about his political runs or about his business career. He talked about his family experiences growing up. That was the legacy he wanted to pass on, were the experiences he had had as a boy. And so, being my dad's son, the things that we worried about and we were concerned about the legacy was just, will he be the same type of man that his father was?
The politics is just, I think, a byproduct of that. It's not that we are proud that my grandfather was a politician and now he's a great politician. Those things don't matter. What matters is what type of person he is. Whether he wins or loses this race, we're going to love him just the same. And his legacy to us will be a man of character and faith and integrity. That's ultimately what we're proud of.
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What he's learned from his dad
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Some people have said it's sort of too good to be true. They sort of paint it as the perfect -- but it does really sound like behind the scenes there is this authentic love between father and son. And you talked about what his father wanted in terms of family to be the most important. Just explain to me -- put your father in that role, and tell me what he taught you boys about that, and as you were kids how those lessons played out.
There were no specific words that he taught us. It was just the way he lived his life. We saw that we were the most important thing to him. And we learned as a result of those things. I think you learn a lot better by example than you do by lecture. And his example told us that he loved us and that we were the most important thing. And so I think, hopefully all five of the sons now try to treat our families the same way, which is we put our families first. And it's important to us.
And so many experiences growing up -- I remember one time, we lived on a busy street, and my dad wanted to put a fence up to help keep the noise down, and he got some contractors to make some bids on them. And the bids were a lot higher than he thought that they probably should have been, so he decided he was going to build that fence -- by the way, he'd worked on a ranch, so he knew how to build fences.
But rather than doing it himself, he decided to enlist the help of his five sons and his wife. And we spent the next six Saturdays -- and I'm sure he could have been a lot faster without all of us little guys out there helping -- but he taught us how to dig the fence posts and how to mix the concrete in the wheelbarrow and pour it in, and tap the fencepost in the concrete. We built that fence. It was a fun -- I didn't think it was fun as a teenager, but I look back at it now, and I'm glad we did it, because it was time we were able to spend together.
And he believed in hard work. He believed in ingenuity. He believed in spending time together as a family. And doing things, projects like that together growing up, it was a time for us to work together and to be together, and we knew we were important to him.