The Real Ann Romney
“I’ve always wished that Mitt could understand pregnancy, and a campaign is the closest thing to being pregnant,” Ann Romney once said. “It has about a nine-month life. It’s very painful. It has a lot of ups and downs. At about nine months, you’re saying to yourself, ‘How can I get out of this?’ But then, you know, it’s over. The thing that’s nice about pregnancy is that, in the end, you have a baby.”
It was 1994, and taking the metaphor to its logical conclusion, Mitt’s first campaign for Senate in Boston was a stillbirth. Ann wouldn’t tire of the pregnancy analogy, however, returning to it over the course of her husband’s next three races (a win, a loss, one TBD) to explain why she was onboard after declaring “never again.” “Mitt laughs. He says, ‘You know what, Ann? You say that after every pregnancy,’” she said in April. “And we know how that worked out – we have five sons.”
Yes, pregnancy is something Ann knows a lot about, more than “Mitt could understand,” as she put it, and she seems to see a similar immutable separateness when it comes to his chosen lot. Politics and public life are things she supports, even partners in, but are uncomplicatedly not her things. Each of their roles is clear and unquestioned. She is mother, wife and helpmate, and this grueling gestation process is simply the way to the role they both see for Mitt, which is to be a great man.
“I truly want Mitt to fulfill his destiny, and for that to happen, he’s got to do politics,” Ann told the Los Angeles Times on the eve of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. In his book “Turnaround,” Mitt says he initially resisted the offer to take over the games until Ann changed his mind. “There’s no one else who can do it,” he remembers her saying. Last year, when Mitt entered the presidential race, Ann told Parade, “I felt the country needed him … This is now Mitt’s time.” In a March radio interview, Ann declared, “He’s the only one who can save America.”
It’s not Lady Macbeth. No matter how many times Mitt describes himself as acquiescing to his wife, it’s hard to believe he has no ambition for himself or that she’s manipulating him. And it’s not, by all appearances, Ann channeling her own ambitions through her husband, as some believed Hillary Clinton did. Rather, Ann Romney is the Victorian heroine who civilizes her husband – which she signals when she talks about her husband being as rambunctious as their five sons, another boy for her to raise.
Most of all, she is, in Mitt’s own accounting, the purest muse of his aspirations, a Goethean eternal feminine drawing him aloft. Or, to pick an example closer to home for the Romneys, from Brigham Young, “Mothers are the machinery that give zest to the whole man, and guide the destinies and lives of men upon the earth.” In 1994, when they were still saying unguarded things in interviews, Mitt recalled that Ann’s mother “used to say that Ann is an angel, and the amazing thing is that Ann is an angel. I can’t think of a weakness. She really is extraordinary.”
When they talk about it publicly, Mitt and Ann see their marriage in totally consonant ways: She is on a pedestal, he is her protector, but she makes him a better man. “I found her early and hung on,” Mitt told Piers Morgan this year. “When you see something that’s better than you and doesn’t know it, you just hang on to her.” Mitt, Ann famously told the Boston Globe in a 1994 interview, “never once raised his voice to me.” Equally telling, but less repeated, was her description of what she would do if he did: “I’d dissolve into tears.” They are a woman and man who not only sat out the sexual revolution but were more traditional than their parents, resisting their entreaties that they not marry so young and not have so many children.