Romney '08

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    Eric Fehrnstrom   Romney political adviser

    Eric Fehrnstrom has worked for Romney for a decade, first as his press secretary in Romney’s 2002 run for governor of Massachusetts. Prior to his work in politics, Fehrnstrom worked in public relations and as a reporter for the Boston Herald. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on Aug. 21, 2012.

    Tell me the conversation when he first discusses with you that he wants to run for president in 2008. Tell me why he wants to run and what you discuss there.

    Well, first the governor had to make a decision about whether or not he wanted to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts, and that was a process in itself. And it wasn't until December of 2005 that the governor made a public announcement that he did not intend to seek re-election.

    And it was after that point that he turned his attention to national politics. In 2006, of course, he was the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. That got him more deeply involved in national political affairs. He did more traveling outside of the state in support of Republican candidates running for governor around the country.

    So, over that year of 2006, he spent more time thinking about what he wanted to do next. And he decided that he would run for president.

    Why?

    Because the governor has a set of skills that were acquired over a long career in the private sector that he put to use in the volunteer area as the head of the Salt Lake Winter Games, that he put to use in Massachusetts. And he believed that he could bring that same skill set to the White House.

    And as I said, he's always measured his own personal success as how much has he helped other people to be successful themselves. And he has that unique set of skills that would allow him to govern effectively as president.

    Going back to 2008, it was before the economy had crashed. In terms of that field, in terms of sort of that period in time, if we go back there, what did he see as the opportunity there? What did he think he could fix?

    Well, look, the interesting thing about the 2008 campaign is that the issue environment was completely different. The number one issue back in 2008, early on anyway, during the primaries that Mitt Romney was participating in, was Iraq and the war there. So it's not surprising that Republicans would have nominated their national security candidate, who was [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.]Here we are four years later and the number one issue is not the war in Iraq, or even the war in Afghanistan; the number one issue, by far, is the bad economy.

    So I think in the same way that the issue environment benefited John McCain in 2008, it benefits Mitt Romney in 2012, because people recognize that he does have experience turning around economies, whether it was here in Massachusetts or whether it was turning around businesses that Bain Capital would come in and fix, or whether it was the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, which was a basket case before Mitt Romney arrived and balanced that budget and staged one of the most successful Olympic Games ever held on U.S. soil.

    So there is a big difference between 2008 and 2012, given the different issue environments.

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    Romney's Ambition and Motivation

    Tagg Romney   Eldest son

    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.

    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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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    When you started to hear that he was considering running for president, what was your thought process at that time?

    A good friend of mine, who was a prominent ... businessman in Des Moines, encouraged me very strongly to give [Romney] consideration and talked me into going to Boston, to Massachusetts, to actually sit down and visit with him.

    Take me to that meeting. Tell me where it was and what you were there to do.

    A friend of mine, Rich Schwarm and I -- Rich is a former political Republican party chair in Iowa -- we flew out and met with [senior Romney adviser] Beth Myers and a number of the key people and discussed the campaign.

    I remember the initial discussion of the campaign, the strategy of the campaign. They were very interested in what the caucuses were about. They really couldn't quite figure them out, and they also wanted to know how he should be positioned if he wanted to have a chance of winning the caucuses.

    I remember that I had read some material on him previously, particularly something I think Mike Murphy had written, talking about how he adopted a position on abortion, one when he became governor, and then two now that he was running for president. And I was concerned about that.

    They had received advice that he needed to dive right if he wanted to have a chance in Iowa, particularly on social issues. And I remember at the first meeting, I indicated to him that I thought that was a mistake, that he had to be whoever he was. If you're trying to dive one way or another, you're going to lose your authenticity and not be successful. ...

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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    After that discussion, then we went to dinner with both the governor and his wife, Ann, at the top of the Ritz-Carlton, overlooking the Boston Common. I suspect they thought that this country boy from Iowa would have stars in his eyes associated with that kind of a setting.

    I've dealt with people who have been running for president. That's one of the opportunities you have in Iowa is you have an opportunity to deal with people who would like to be president, and you don't have stars in your eyes. You see the world very clearly. And you feel that one of our jobs as Iowans is sort of do the job interview and see what these folks are made of, and if they have the capabilities to be a successful president.

    What I had read about him, and the information I had learned about him, I was impressed with him from the standpoint that I thought he understood big issues. I thought the country was facing big problems, and this is a guy who could tackle those. He had both the intellectual capacity, the organizational capacity to do that.

    But there were some things that still bothered me, and I wanted to talk to him about those things that might bother me. They were the three M's. ...

    ... Tell me how that conversation went. Try to bring me into that room and how you brought it up with him.

    I think that he had been mistakenly told by his staff that I was already planning to endorse him, so I think at first he was surprised I had any questions. And I don't think he was particularly pleased that I did. I don't know that he was displeased with me but maybe with his staff that I still had these issues.

    But I indicated to him that I had these three issues that I thought needed to be dealt with if he was going to be successful, particularly in Iowa. The three M's were his Mormonism, his money and Massachusetts, where he came from, and all three of those M's could potentially present problems, particularly in a caucus state like Iowa where the electorate is relatively small.

    I brought up the Mormonism first, indicating that as a Catholic, [I] had felt some discrimination associated with my childhood because we lived in a very Protestant area, that I could understand his reluctance to talk about it, but at the same time that he was proud of his religion. And it didn't cause a problem for me, but for a lot of evangelical Christians, particularly in Iowa, they didn't consider Mormonism even Christianity.

    They had a difficulty with it. He sort of dismissed that as an issue, really clearly didn't want to talk about it.

    So then I went to the next one, money. What I talked about was, I ran for governor in Iowa in 2002. And I grew up working in a packing plant, so it wasn't like I had a silver spoon in my mouth, yet I've been relatively successful later in my career. Some people felt that I didn't relate well to normal, regular folks, because I had been somewhat successful.

    And I related that to him and said: "You are more successful by multiple hundreds of times than I could ever imagine to be. Can you relate to the average folks? Can you really understand them? Can you walk into a coffee shop in Iowa and draw a connection? Because you need to in a caucus state."

    He looked at me quizzically and dismissed it and got very upset and walked out of the room. And then they really didn't talk to me the rest of the night. I didn't get the chance to talk about Massachusetts. Lord knows where that would have gone.

    But we went to the women's college basketball NCAA tournament championship game. ... I sat next to him for the entire game, and they didn't speak to me once during the course of the rest of that evening. They were clearly offended that I was questioning the extent that he could relate to an average person.

    Obviously that caused me some difficulty, so I delayed any consideration about who I was going to support for some time after that.

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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    ... You're sitting across from Ann Romney. Describe how that goes down.

    Ann obviously felt I was insulting her husband and indicated that I was by asking that question. And the rest of the people in the room were sort of taken aback and shocked. I know my friend Rich Schwarm left the room because he doesn't handle conflict very well, and he didn't want to be around to even see what would happen. Mitt just simply refused to talk about it, and Ann left the room and didn't join us for the rest of the evening meal.

    What do you think it was?

    In Iowa they have this old phrase that when you stick a pig, it squeals. I think I hit a sensitive spot.

    By the way, I think he's doing a better job on all those fronts during the course of the 2012 campaign and clearly has learned from his mistakes in the 2008 race.

    FDR was wealthy. JFK was fabulously wealthy. George Washington was the wealthiest president relatively than anybody that's ever served in that office. And yet for some reason Mitt Romney has a difficult time with that issue, because it still struck me during the course of this campaign: He's effectively been running for president for about 10 years, and yet he has tax returns he's still not willing to release.

    You would have thought he would have anticipated that and been prepared to deal with it, because his failure to release them plays into this notion that the Democrats want to defeat him, that he is too wealthy to relate to average folks. And he's highly sensitive of that issue but seems almost incapable of dealing with it.

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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    You ultimately decided to join his campaign.

    I did.

    Tell me why.

    A lot of these things are a matter of elimination and whether or not you believe that there's anyone better, more capable to be the next president of the United States. And after having spent some additional time with him, and most particularly with some of his people, I became convinced that he had the team necessary to win the presidency. So I decided to join and became his chair in Iowa.

    What did you think his greatest strengths were?

    His greatest strengths clearly are his ability to understand the economy and understand how the economy works and to fix it. Mitt Romney takes issues like entitlement reform that most politicians think are intractable and sees them as equations that can be solved by just adjusting the numbers.

    I like that. I think that helps wring out some of the impossibility of some of the reforms that we need and defines them in a way that are solvable, and I think that's very good and important for the country.

    Back in 2008, as we were still coming off a relatively prosperous era, coming out of the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war, more of the issues were focused on things like immigration and social issues. They were more predominant then than they are now.

    He attempted, in 2008, to veer toward that direction rather than sticking with his core capabilities, which is in the economic space, because he was trying to make it reflect the times. Didn't work. It became almost a caricature of himself, at least in Iowa.

    In 2012, however, the times called for the economy and economic president, at least a presidential candidate, and that's where he focused in a very disciplined way. So that's clearly his strength.

    From a personal standpoint, his executive ability is almost unmatched. He has an ability to analyze. He's very numbers-driven, very data-driven. He's not afraid of anyone from the intellectual standpoint. He can draw them out and listen to them and learn from them in a very, very effective way. So I think his greatest ability will be his ability to manage a large institution and drive it into a positive direction.

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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    Sticking with 2008, you just said in your answer that he became a [caricature] of himself. Explain to me what you mean by that.

    There are some pundits in Iowa and some radio talk show hosts that literally made fun of Mitt Romney because of the positions he had prior to the time he ran for office, when he ran for Senate, when he ran for governor, and then when he ran for the presidency. And they all seemed to vary on what people, social conservatives, consider uncompromisable issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, issues like that.

    So it was because it appeared that he was wandering in that issue space that people didn't know who Mitt Romney was. As a result, that really hurt his image in a state like Iowa, where the social conservatives are very strong.

    ... How did he position himself in that race?

    He positioned himself as a social conservative and a person who was against immigration. And to me, neither one were what attracted me to him. Neither one reflected what was his core strength. Neither one in my heart, after spending time with him, to me anyway, reflected who he really is.

    So I remember still ... calling his pollster. And the caucuses were on [Jan.] 3, and this was the day after Thanksgiving, so it's not very far away, six weeks, and calling him and saying: "All right, we're running on the caucuses. It's not going to be a very large turnout. What is our winning coalition? Who is it that we're trying to attract?" ...

    And we hadn't yet, and never did, identify our winning coalition. It reflected the fact that in 2008, Mitt Romney never had a political persona. He tried to be everything to everybody.

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    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    ... Why do you think he ultimately lost that 2008 campaign?

    He wasn't ready to be president from the sense that he wasn't able to put the structure of the organization, and most particularly the message, together that could succeed during that time.

    What do you think he learned from that campaign, watching and observing now?

    An old football coach of mine a long time ago said, "The only thing you learn from losing is not to lose again." And Mitt Romney, he learned that lesson. He does not want to lose again. So as a result of that, I think they spent a lot of time analyzing that race. If you talk to Eric and Beth, they'll tell you that.

    They realized that one, they had to be focused on their message. They had to be the economic candidate, and they were incredibly disciplined on that throughout the course of the campaign.

    Two is that they had to win a war of attrition, that they may not make people like them more than anybody else, but they're going to last longer than anybody else. And by raising money and frankly knocking down any potential opposition on the establishment side of the Republican Party, they could win.

    They made the race structurally of the mirror image of 2008. Instead of having multiple establishment candidates, you had multiple social conservative candidates. They divided up that vote among themselves. He focused on the economic issue. Anytime [former Speaker of the House]Newt Gingrich or others would try to capture some of those establishment Republicans, he'd knock them down because he had the capability to do so.

    We talked about this as their strategy a year before it ever started, and they carried it out to a T and very successfully did so. And Mitt Romney, during the 2012 campaign, was his own campaign manager. He ran this campaign.

    Why do you say that?

    Because he did. I mean, all the message discipline, the direction, the strategic moves, were all Mitt's. His people around him, or his core group, are strongly supportive of him. They give him advice, but at the end of the day, Mitt ran this campaign.

    Is that something you know, or you can just sense?

    I can sense. 

    Tell me why.

    Because the campaign reflects who Mitt is. And I also know the people around him. While they're strong, including his media advisers and others, they're not the kind that are, [like] David Axelrod, going to take that campaign, strategically develop a narrative and run with it, and the candidate is just going to be a bit part player. That's not the campaign it's been.

    It's been a campaign that's been almost ruthlessly disciplined in terms of what they had to do to win, and Mitt Romney is a disciplined man.

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    Tagg Romney   Eldest son

    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.

    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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    Ann Romney   Mitt Romney's wife.

    Born Ann Davies, she met Mitt Romney in high school and the couple married in 1969, three months after Mitt returned from being a missionary in France. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on Sept. 11, 2012.

    Let's jump to 2008 quickly. And again, sort of as the person who is giving him the nudge, why did you encourage him to seek the presidency that year?

    It would have been '06, '07, something like that.

    Exactly.

    Again, it was sort of that same impression. It's like, let's go do this. When my father was dying, I'll never forget, he lived his life so robustly, and he was dying. And he just grabbed my hands and he goes: "Oh, just live your life and don't have any regrets. Just go."

    I was thinking about him. And when you make choices like that, it's like, well, you know, it seemed like such an adventure. I had no idea how hard it was -- (laughs) -- and how difficult it would actually be on the family and everything. It seemed, again, like the right thing to do.

    At the end of that process, however, I came to a different conclusion, which is, I will never do that again. I felt that, like it was so tough for me emotionally to have my husband being vilified or anything. It was just that whole process was just really, really tough for me. And I was like, "No way, and never again." And I think the more shocking thing is that I had come around all the way for the next round to say, "Yes, you should do this again."

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