For those who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, reliving the pain of his defeat may not seem like premium family entertainment. Yet if watching Mitt, Greg Wheatley’s documentary about the Republican nominee now appearing exclusively on Netflix, is not always easy viewing, it does provide a clear portrait of the man who was beaten by Barack Obama.
This is not a film about the issues that divided the country or the merits of the Obama presidency. ObamaCare is never mentioned nor is RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care bill that helped undermine the candidate’s critique of the president’s plan. Campaign strategy is mentioned only in passing and the strategists and aides who worked feverishly to put Romney in the White House are almost completely absent. Instead, the focus is solely on the candidate and his family, in footage shot in hotel rooms and on the campaign trail where Mitt is with the people closest to him: his wife Anne, their five sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. That means we don’t learn as much as we might wish about why the protagonist should have been president. But what we do learn what an extraordinarily decent man the GOP nominee is. That’s something a lot of Americans who saw Romney as a remote, rich guy who didn’t understand them should have learned while the issue was still in doubt.
The Mitt Romney of Mitt is funny, kind, and loving. He’s also skeptical about his prospects for success, introspective, aware that he is a “flawed candidate” and frustrated by the way his opponents smeared him. He has a sense of his limits as well as a healthy perspective on all the advantages he received from his father George, who remains his hero. Contrary to the narrative hammered home by the Democrats’ unprecedented barrage of negative advertising, this is not a privileged character who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.
This Mitt seems nothing like the one who came across on television in two presidential campaigns (the film begins in 2006 and also includes his defeat by John McCain in the 2008 GOP primaries) as a plastic, almost robotic politician who seemed allergic to the business of retail politics. It’s difficult not to like or to care about the man at the heart of this movie, a verdict that should cause Romney’s 2012 brain trust to wonder how it is that they failed to bring these qualities across to the nation during the campaign.
But even if they had, it’s important to remember that the mission Mitt Romney accepted in 2012 was probably impossible. Republicans were immune to Barack Obama’s charms and largely ignored the way most Americans responded to his historic status as our first African-American president. Nothing short of a cataclysm could have convinced a majority not to reelect Obama. Protected as he was 24/7 by the fawning support of the mainstream media—a fact that is highlighted in the documentary in its footage of the second presidential debate when CNN’s Candy Crowley intervened to insert an erroneous correction of one of Romney’s statements during an exchange over the Benghazi terror attack—the president’s victory was probably never in doubt even at the moment when Romney hit his stride in their first debate.
At the beginning of the film we see Romney gathering his family to debate the pros and cons of a presidential run. Most seem skeptical and deeply aware of how a campaign and being elected would have a negative effect on their lives. But his oldest son Tagg reminds him that he had a duty to his country and to God to run and therefore try his best to make things better. Romney did just that, and if he failed it was not for lack of effort or a sincere desire to lead his nation back from the dangerous path on which Obama had placed it. As he says at one point in the movie, the candidate “left it all on the field” in 2012. Despite his shortcomings as a politician, it’s not likely that any other Republican could have done better. For all the recriminations about 2012 that have convulsed the Republican Party since the election, conservatives should watch this film and remind themselves that the person they nominated was a good man who would have been a good president.