With Mitt Romney officially named as Republican candidate, David Farrell gives a rundown on the background and career of the man who could be the 45th President of the United States.
Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney was born in March 1947, to his father George, then President and Chairman of American Motor Corporation, (now a sub-division of Chrysler), in the early 1950’s. George Romney later became a respected Secretary for Housing and Urban Development before serving as a very popular Governor of Michigan. In 1968 George Romney launched his bid for the presidency of the United States, despite having been born in a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. Although he was seen as an early favorite for the Republican nomination he ultimately lost to Richard Nixon. The theory stands that Mitt Romney has pedigree and you’d be forgiven for assuming that it was at the foot of his father he learned the political ropes. Sources close to the man actually point the finger firmly at his mother Lenore. It was during her unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1970 that the young Mitt cut his political teeth.
After serving as a Mormon missionary in Southern France, Mitt Romney married his wife Ann. He studied Arts in Brigham Young University; a private college associated with the Mormon Church, and earned a Masters in Business Management. He then moved to Bain & Company, where in the mid 1980’s he was appointed the CEO. After turning the failing company around, he started the off-shoot Bain Capital, becoming the sole shareholder and CEO of the company that netted him over very $200M.
The activities of Bain Capital have been heavily scrutinized in the American media throughout the presidential campaign. The company specialized in buying failing businesses and turning a profit by reviving them, selling off its assets or remodeling them. This often meant firing large numbers of employees. Whether this meant Romney was a net creator or destroyer of jobs is a huge bone of contention between the left and right of American politics. It is this economic nous and ability to turn things around that is at the center of the Romney economic message.
Romney left Bain in February 1994 in order to challenge Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in the autumn elections. He billed himself as a ‘job creator’ while painting Kennedy as a Washington insider, even portraying himself as the ‘Change’ candidate. He ran Kennedy closer than anyone before or after him. The necessity to move to the left of the Republican Party in a relatively liberal state like Massachusetts would come back to haunt Romney, and grant credence to those who would later label him a flip-flopper. After the loss he retreated back to Bain.
It wasn’t until 1999 that the American public would again hear from Romney, when he answered the call of the failing Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. As the 2002 games nearly slipped away, the organizing committee searched for a saviour. They turned to Romney. The games eventually made a $100M profit. The effort brought Mitt into the national spotlight and allowed him to re-launch his political career. He later announced his candidacy for the Governorship of Massachusetts.
In fear of being dubbed an out of touch corporate tycoon, Romney then spent several weeks working ‘blue-collar jobs’ to counter this image. He promised to bring balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility to Massachusetts. Having raised a record $10 million for his campaign, ‘donating’ $6 million himself, he went on to defeat his Democratic challenger. While in office he was forced to work with a largely democratic state congress and quickly set to cut corporate tax loopholes, even managing a surplus in his final 2 years as governor. In closing tax loopholes he faced down serious conservative opposition who claimed these to be ‘tax increases’. He also had to answer questions on gay marriage and abortion, and on both counts showed his conservative credentials, preferring domestic partnership and vetoing a bill on emergency contraception. Most notable though were his healthcare reforms, dubbed ‘Romneycare’. Romney has disputed that such schemes should not be federal and has vowed to wind down Obamacare. On his last day as Governor he filed a petition to form a committee for the presidency.
This kicked off his bid for the 2008 Republican nomination. Campaigning on financial issues and his ‘real world experience’, and largely funding his own campaign, he eventually lost to John McCain. He was widely touted as running mate only to be pipped by Sarah Palin.
His running this time was seen by many as a foregone conclusion. Romney stuck to his guns on the main social issues and towed the party line on the war on terror. He has again sought to cast himself as job creator capable of turning around the economic crisis. The American public seems to agree with him. His problem lies in the fact he’s not universally liked within his own party, who feel he doesn’t represent their core. The fear from the Romney Campaign is that the main motive for Republicans and conservatives to vote for him is just that he is not Obama. Wall Street Journal polls indicate that just 23% of Americans like Romney for himself.
On a message of strong leadership and economic stability Romney hopes to clinch victory. He has moved to shore up his base by picking Paul Ryan, trusting that his moderate views will attract independent voters. Whatever way you shape it, Mitt is an odd Republican and one with a very unusual political history. The GOP seems to back him begrudgingly due to a lack of alternatives rather than on his merits. It seems as though, he was just there and, thankfully, not crazy.