Politics aside, Mitt Romney is a pretty remarkable guy. It takes a lot for anyone to run for president of the United States even once, but the former Massachusetts governor tried twice, and now both of those campaigns are the subject of the new Netflix documentary appropriately titled Mitt.
There are many things we already knew about the Republican nominee and his large Mormon family, but the doc takes the viewer behind the scenes of some of the most critical and personal moments in both of Romney’s runs. From every high and low and “47 percent” comment, we see more behind his signature smile and coiffed hair. The film isn’t really political at all, choosing instead to focus on the pressures of a high-profile man in the most intense time of his life. Here are 10 things we learned from the film:
1. A Family Decision
Filmmaker Greg Whiteley started following Romney and his family in 2006 when the then-governor was still deciding whether to run for president in 2008. So how did Romney make up his mind? By getting his family together to create a pros and cons list. The importance of family to Romney is clear throughout the entire film, as he’s shown interacting with his many grandchildren. He also knows that a decision like this will impact his family in more ways than they realize or deserve. One of his sons tells him, “We will love you no matter what happens,” while one of a daughter-in-law says, “I think the ‘con’ would be that you would be the president.” And the long battle for the White House began.
2. Romney Who?
Though both his first and last names are almost synonymous now, there was a time when not many people outside of Massachusetts even knew who Mitt Romney was. The day Romney officially announced his candidacy for the 2008 election, he was in an Arby’s when the filmmaker behind the camera casually goes over to a table nearby to inquire if they had any idea who was sitting next to them. “Did you know that a presidential candidate is in here?” the man asked to blank stares. One woman had seen his campaign commercial, though she didn’t recognize him right away. Two workers at the hotel that Romney was staying at in South Carolina at the time were also clueless as to who he was, even after an unsuccessful guessing game. It took a computer to finally figure it out.
3. Debating About the Debates
In one scene, Romney is being briefed on the logistics of the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary debate that followed a “dining room table” setup. Well, let’s just say I’m not inviting Romney over to a dinner party anytime soon. The governor seemed confused about whether he was allowed to directly ask questions to the other candidates, since he was told to interact with them. His frustration quickly rises when he is given a mixed bag of responses that, to be fair, aren’t completely straightforward. He refers to the debate as a “scrum,” an offensive rugby move, and doesn’t seem too happy about it. Later, when the film jumps to the 2012 election and Romney has a “victory” in the first debate against Obama, he is very quick to keep his ego in check. Romney says that most presidents don’t do well on their first debate because they’ve been doing the job already and don’t think they need to prepare as much. He doesn’t take the outing as well as everyone around him, who seem thrilled by his personable and commanding performance.
4. “It’s like trying to convince people that Dan Quayle is smart”
During the 2008 campaign, Romney began to get the reputation of being a flip-flopper in his views, with some even calling him “The Flipping Mormon.” Romney feels misrepresented and misunderstood in this assessment and tries to figure out a way to change people’s minds about him, though he knows it won’t be easy. In a raw moment shown in the film, Romney says, “You’re not going to convince them that Dan Quayle is smart, or that Jerry Ford isn’t a stumblebum. And it may be that I’ve got to live with that. ‘Oh, you flip on everything.’ In which case, I think I’m a flawed candidate.”
5. If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Of course, we all know how the story ends: defeat. But after losing the presidential nomination to John McCain in 2008, you might think the Romneys are done with politics. When asked if they would run again four years later, Romney’s wife Ann said, “If you’re tempted, the answer is no. It’s too much.” Son Josh tried to lighten the mood at one point, saying that there is “a lot of downside to winning,” while at another point saying “never again” to another run. The film then jumps ahead four years, and after a quick montage of the 2012 primaries, Romney accepts the presidential nomination. Clearly, something must have happened in those four years to change everyone’s minds, but I guess the cameras weren’t filming then to reveal it.
6. Romney’s Ode to His Father
After that victorious first debate with Obama, Romney shows the scribbles that he puts down on paper when first getting to his podium. Most of it isn’t clear, except for the word “Dad” written at the top with a little image of a sun next to it. Romney says this is a way for him to honor his father George, the former governor of Michigan, who Mitt says he owes everything to and would never have been able to run for president without him. The sun serves as a reminder for Romney to always “Let your sun shine on.” Not sure how that helps when talking about foreign policy, but to each his own.
7. Mitt Romney: Iron Man
It’s totally normal to iron the cuffs of your suit while it’s already on, right? Oh – it isn’t, and it’s totally dangerous. Romney literally takes an iron to his wrist, repeatedly letting out an “ouch” while trying to smooth out some wrinkles before the White House Correspondents dinner. Luckily, he has a sense of humor about it, later poking fun at his penguin suit at the dinner. However, answering the door in a bathrobe earlier in the film may have been too much.
8. Horse Got Your Tongue?
Ann Romney constantly appears by your husband’s side throughout the film, both in public and private appearances. In one scene when talking about her love for horses as a way of treatment for her MS, Mrs. Romney literally grabs a horse’s tongue and playfully taunts the animal. It’s amazing how calm and accepting the horse is to Romney’s action.
9. Prolonging the Agony
“What do you say in a concession speech?” That’s a pretty difficult question to answer, but as it turns out, it seemed that when became the bigger issue. After voting in Boston earlier that day and another fast food campaign stop at Wendy’s, where a young supporter told him, “You look bigger in person,” Romney and family anxiously waited around the results that night. Surprisingly, Romney and his wife were the first (and, at a certain period, only) ones to accept defeat. “I don’t believe it’s possible you can lose,” one of Romney’s sons said. Romney was even about to concede to the president when his advisers told him to wait more, prolonging the agony. “My time on the stage is over,” Romney finally said in defeat. “Does someone have the number for the president?”
Bye-Bye, Secret Service
Almost immediately after losing again, Romney requested that the Secret Service detail that had been following his family and him for months beforehand drive them to their home, and that’s it. Romney said he would feel ridiculous having them drive him a mile in his neighborhood and back. So the day after the election, Mitt and Ann say goodbye to their security team, and the two of them walk back into their home alone and sit down together to probably take the first sigh of relief in the six years it took to make the film.