March 20th, 2007

The Romney Lovebirds

One of the most revealing moments of the 2004 Bush-Kerry debates came at the end of the third one, when moderator Bob Schieffer asked, “We’re all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I’d like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you’ve learned from these strong women?”

Bush answered first, with the perfect blend of warmth and sincerity that conveyed love for his better half. He cited a few anecdotes, including the way they met, and concluded, “I guess you would say it was love at first sight.”

Kerry, on the other hand, began with a tribute to his recently deceased mother, inserted a line about being humbled and “blessed” by his daughters and wife, and then concluded by lauding not his family but the guy he was running against.

If you’re wondering why Bush carried the soccer mom vote, look no further.

I was reminded of this exchange in watching a recent clip of a Larry King interview with Mitt Romney and his wife. It’s only two minutes, but when Romney’s not praising his partner—“She’s . . . my best counselor. . . . There’s no personnel-type issue that I don’t ask Ann’s advice [about]. . . . She’s very good at assessing qualities of character and heart”—he’s gazing at her, torso tilted, as enraptured as he was the day he proposed. He beams with pride, both of her and to be in her presence. This is a man who adores his wife.

It’s worth noting that the two times I’ve seen the Romneys in person (both in DC), they were holding hands. Similarly, in contrast to the other candidates, most (all?) of Romney’s TV spots end with a picture of them both.

Indeed, of the 2008 Republican presidential front-runners (once, current and future)—George Allen, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson—Romney (the Mormon, no less) is the only one who’s only had one wife. They were high-school sweethearts and have been married for almost 40 years.

Addendum (1/5/2012): In their new book, The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman tally the evidence of Mitt’s love for Ann:

“To Mitt, the special one in the house was Ann, with her wide smile, piercing eyes, and steadying domestic presence. And woe was the boy who forgot it. Tagg said there was one rule that was simply not breakable:

“’We were not allowed to say anything negative about my mother, talk back to her, do anything that would not be respectful of her.’

On Mother’s Day, their home would be fragrant with lilacs, Ann’s favorite flowers. Tagg didn’t get it back then, but he came to understand. From the beginning, Mitt had put Ann on a pedestal and kept her there.

‘When they were dating,’ Tagg said, ‘he felt like she was way better than him and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way’. . . .

Mitt and Ann’s relationship would grow and change as their family entered the public eye. But she has remained his chief counselor and confidante, the one person who can lead Mitt to a final decision. Though she did not necessarily offer detailed input on every business deal, friends said, she weighed in on just about everything else.

‘Mitt’s not going to do something that they don’t feel good about together,’ said Mitt’s sister Jane. Tagg said they called their mom ‘the great Mitt stabilizer.’ Ann would later be mocked for her claim that she and Mitt had never had an argument during their marriage, which sounded preposterous to the ears of many married mortals. Tagg said it’s not that his parents never disagree. ‘I know there are things that she says that he doesn’t agree with sometimes, and I see him kind of bite his tongue. But I know that they go and discuss it in private. He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public.’ Friends of the Romneys’ back up that account, saying they cannot recall Mitt ever raising his voice toward Ann.

Nowhere was Ann’s special status more evident than on long family car trips. Mitt imposed strict rules: they would stop only for gas, and that was the only chance to get food or use the restroom. With one exception, Tagg explained. ‘As soon as my mom says, ‘I think I need to go to the bathroom,’ he pulls over instantly and doesn’t complain. ‘Anything for you, Ann.’

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