PARADE Exclusive: A Conversation With the Romneys
Editor's note: As part of PARADE's 2012 election coverage, the magazine will feature President Obama and the first lady in its Sept. 2 cover story.
It's probably the closest the Romneys have come to kicking back during this campaign summer: a late July afternoon on glistening Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Grandkids bounce on the trampoline, splash in the gentle waves, soak in the hot tub. The candidate's eldest son, Tagg, 42, and his wife, Jen, keep an eye on their brood while a passel of campaign workers and friends stir things up in the kitchen.
But you're never off the clock when you're running for president, which is why Mitt Romney‚ wearing pressed jeans and a more relaxed demeanor than he does on the stump‚ and his radiant wife, Ann, agreed to this dinnertime conversation with PARADE contributor Lynn Sherr. On the table, a typical New England lobster-and-corn supper. Nearby, 2-year-old Johnny in a high chair, occasionally cooing at his adoring grandmother. Coming before the announcement of his vice presidential pick and his awkward trip to Europe, the discussion focused on campaign vitriol, the governor's hopes for the Republican convention (set to begin Monday in Tampa), and very pragmatic questions from readers (culled from Parade.com, CafeMom, and two GateHouse Media newspapers: the Peoria Journal Starand the Canton Repository) about Romney's wealth and how he would have voters' backs if elected president.
Governor, your campaign speeches talk about the middle class, but the vast majority of the questions we received from readers asked about your ability to relate to their struggles. In essence, how do you know what it's like to be someone without means, someone, as one reader puts it, trying to scrape by, living on food stamps?Governor Mitt Romney: Each of us faces struggles of one kind or another. Our life was not characterized by financial stress as much as it was by health issues. I served as a pastor of a congregation and saw people with various challenges and did my best to help them. I believe my experience in the private sector, the voluntary sector, and government has helped teach me what it takes to help people with different types of challenges.
We got this question from Kelsey M. of Orange, Va. 'I'm a stay-at-home mom of two children. How will your presidency improve my life?'
MR: One, you'll be able to see better jobs with rising income again. And you'll know that when your kids go to school, it's a school of your choice, not the government's. And you'll know that when your kids come out of school, there will be a good job waiting for them.
There were a number of questions about your financial wealth. New Jersey resident Harry H. asked if you would make this pledge: If elected, do you promise to bank in the United States?
MR: My investments have been managed for almost the last 10 years by a blind trust. A trustee decides where to put our money. If I am president, my understanding is the same principle applies, that I may not direct any of my investments. I can't tell you what my investments might be because I won't make them. But I am happy to have every investment in the United States.
You've received a lot of criticism from your opponents in the primaries. They said a lot of nasty things. Did it hurt?
MR: No. That's part of the political process. I don't worry about that.
ANN ROMNEY: Interesting—it didn't hurt at all this time.
Why do you think that in a recent poll, you lost out to the president in [voter] enthusiasm?
MR: To most folks that don't pay a lot of attention to the Republican primary process, I am not so well known. As I get better known, people will have greater confidence that I'm the person who can get this country working again for the middle class. It's nice to be loved, but it's better to be respected.
On the topic of respect, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu has said that President Obama needs to learn to be American. You've referred to his policies as 'foreign.' Do you believe that President Obama is un-American in any way?
MR: Governor Sununu was not suggesting he was't American, nor do I. I believe he's making us far more like Europe, with a larger, more dominant, more intrusive government. I believe if we keep going on that path, we will end up like Europe, with chronic high unemployment, no wage growth, and economic calamity at the doorstep. I think you have to return to celebrating success, encouraging entrepreneurship, and finding ways to get government out of the way.
Also from a reader, Nancy B., of Winter Springs, Fla.: 'I trust your acumen to assemble a great turnaround team for the economy. But who do you have in mind for advice on foreign affairs?'
MR: I don't have a secretary of state or national security adviser in mind at this point‚ it might be a little presumptuous. That being said, I speak with a number of the former secretaries of state and [other] leaders‚ Condoleezza Rice, Jim Baker, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, John Bolton, as well as people less well known. My leadership style is to have people of differing viewpoints express them openly and [then I] select among them myself.
Question from Texas resident Jean S.: 'Have you ever felt like a loser? What did you do to overcome that feeling?'
MR: I define myself by my relationship with God, my wife, and my family. And in those relationships, I am not a loser. I don't worry about what happens in politics and the opinions of others, or I'd lose my hair!
And we all know you haven't done that.
MR: Glue keeps it in place. [laughter]