IT MAY WELL BE the case that Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and one-time presidential candidate, will be remembered for his denunciation of Donald Trump as “the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss” as much as for his unsuccessful run for president in 2012.
Romney is, to the shame of his party, one of the few prominent Republicans to condemn publicly Trump’s rampant demagoguery and politics of hate. He has also called for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, to be included in the presidential debates.
Gregg Whiteley’s Mitt follows the campaigns of the man in 2008 and in 2012. In the first, Romney failed to secure the Republican Party nomination for president and in the second, he secures the nomination but lost the race to Barack Obama.
But Mitt is a film about Mitt Romney the man rather than Mitt Romney the politician, and Mitt Romney the man is really very charming. He is for the most part optimistic and self-deprecating and smiles easily. In fact, when the news breaks that Barack Obama has won the presidential election it is Romney himself who, surrounded by a group of devastated family and friends and advisors, is the first to break a smile and ask, “Hey—does anyone know how to write a concession speech?”
The main criticism levelled at Romney—and it is a fair one—is that he is robotic. On camera he is stiff and awkward, and seems even more so when he finds himself next to Barack Obama, who has that unhurried, ice-cool style of speech and movement. But off camera, or at least in his more candid moments, he’s an easygoing family man.
“Family man” is one of those journalistic descriptors that has come to mean “man who has a family”. This is not the case with Romney. Romney’s brood are his motivation and his support and his happiness. The best part of the film consists of footage of Romney with his family discussing strategy, or lamenting a poor showing in the polls, or celebrating a good debate performance. They share their victories and defeats.
For all its charm, Mitt gets a little repetitive. You can only tolerate so many scenes of the Romneys eating microwave dinners or discussing how best to attack President Obama in the latest debate. There are no real twists and turns here other than those that are a matter of political history.
Romney’s Democrat counterparts spent millions of dollars at the time of his campaign caricaturing him as an unfeeling cheerleader for the ultra-rich. But as Donald Trump closes the gap on Hillary Clinton, those same Democrats are beginning to acknowledge publicly for the first time that whatever his convictions, Romney was—is—a competent and principled and honourable man.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s 2012 deputy campaign manager, said this week: “He truly believed in wanting to make this country better. We just differed significantly on how to do that.”
Mitt is a worthwhile watch to see what Ms Cutter and those like her are talking about. But if it is entertainment you’re after when you look for a political documentary to watch, see Weiner instead.