The Real Ann Romney
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“She put aside what could have been a very interesting career, because she decided, we decided together, that we wanted children and a number of them,” Mitt told Piers Morgan this year. “And she devoted herself to them and was able to give her time to them, did a remarkable job.” It’s not clear what this “very interesting career” would have been, apart from the fairly standard traditional charitable activities she took part in through church and as first lady of Massachusetts – teaching “at-risk” girls, supporting faith-based community service. Ann Romney’s press secretary originally said she would be “more than happy” to answer questions by email, but when she received the list, including a query about what Ann’s career aspirations had been, she said she couldn’t meet Salon’s deadline.
A longtime family friend and fellow congregant, Tony Kimball, told Salon that Ann had briefly had an interior design business with her friend Lorraine Wright, who had “gone all the way through the Cordon Bleu cooking school, and Ann was the interior decorator end. She’s got phenomenal ability in decorating. But I think they both decided it was not worth the time. They were both very busy, they had kids.” According to Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s “The Real Romney,” Ann was invited to events by the feminist Mormon group Exponent II but “was, in the words of one member, understood to be ‘not that kind of woman.’”
What kind of woman was she? Their sons call Ann the “Mitt stabilizer,” and in his book “Turnaround,” Mitt writes about how he flailed in Utah without her at his side. “Ann is my most trusted advisor; her judgment on the widest range of business, organizational, and human resources matters was more sound than any other I know. I simply could not turn around the Olympics without her daily counsel.” By all accounts, that’s still true. Romney biographer Ron Scott noted that at the first debate of the 2012 cycle, in Manchester, N.H., “Mitt’s eyes nervously scanned the audience as he spoke his first words of the night: ‘Where’s Ann?’ Spotting her waving hand in the audience, he went on confidently, bolstered by her high sign of goodwill and love.”
Michelle Obama was chided in the first presidential campaign for taking her husband down a notch, even “ emasculating” him; however unfair to Obama the allegation was, no one could accuse Ann of doing the same. (Not long ago, conservative talk show host Michael Savage did find fault with Ann, once, for ardently interrupting her husband in an interview to go after Barack Obama.) In contrast to Michelle’s visible reluctance to drag her family into politics, Ann Romney’s talk about her husband’s political aspirations has often been in deterministic terms. “I believe if Mitt wins, the country wins,” she told Fox News. “If Mitt loses, the country loses. I really believe that.”
From the outside, Mitt’s end of the deal has always been to treasure his wife, on her own terms and as the mother of his children, in a fashion that connotes protection from the wilds of the world. “He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public,” Tagg Romney told the Globe in 2007. Kimball told Salon, “I know that Mitt wouldn’t tolerate his boys doing any kind of backtalk to their mother.” That escalated with Ann’s illness.
All this has not been lost on conservative commentators, including Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis. Ann, he said, is “a woman for whom a guy who was conquering the world stopped everything when he first heard she had MS and traveled the world to find the best doctors.” Sounding like the Wall Street Journal commentator who wondered whether the women saved by their boyfriends from the Aurora shooting were “worth it,” Cavuto went on, “Ann Romney was worth the price, maybe because for this otherwise rigid Mormon husband who had a hard time showing his emotions, having a wife like Ann, who has no trouble with those emotions, was and is worth the fight.” He didn’t specify what, exactly, would make one’s ailing wife unworthy of the fight.