Romney’s decision to become a candidate set him out on a path riddled with bumps and detours, ideological turns, successes that veered him toward Washington and failures that knocked him off track. Along the way, Romney has demonstrated that the cardinal directions on his compass do not indicate a political left or right. The true north he has relentlessly pursued is a personal success measured by the approval of others. The fulfillment of dreams from his father — a former Michigan governor and would-be president — and the political destiny invoked by his wife, Ann, intensified Romney’s ambition.
As a fledgling candidate for the Senate, Romney prepared for his race against Kennedy by demonstrating elasticity on key positions. He showed a reluctance to discuss his religion, a reliance on fundraising brawn to intimidate potential opponents and a tendency to appeal to arbiters when placed under pressure. It was a contest that he told some family members he never thought he would win. But when he had a shot at winning he failed to listen to his gut — and his father — to beat back attacks on his business record. He blamed his loss on the tactics of his campaign staff, the bias of the media and the electorate’s inability to appreciate what he had to offer. He then retreated to the places where he felt most at home — business, family, the church.
“He thought it was done,” said Tagg Romney, his oldest son. “We all did.”
But Romney came back, again and again and again, leading to his current uncharted moment. It is a final stretch that much resembles his first cautious step into the political arena.
GOP’s state of ‘disaster’
There was no obvious on-ramp into Republican Massachusetts politics in the 1980s. The party had been relegated to irrelevance, and the candidates left something to be desired. In the 1986 race for governor, one Republican candidate who claimed to have served in Vietnam had only visited the country. Another had a reputation for working nude in his office. The party’s ultimate nominee was a write-in candidate.
“1986 was a disaster,” said Paul Cellucci, a Republican state legislator who later became governor.
Over the next months and years, as the party’s new leadership sought to rebuild, Romney first flashed on the radar as a fundraiser and a potential talent. But for Romney, the timing was not right. It was 1988, and the Massachusetts miracle was in full swing. The state’s governor, Michael Dukakis, was the Democratic nominee for president. The state Republican Party chairman, Ray Shamie, hired a pollster to gauge his own chances against Kennedy. The survey said? Unbeatable. Shamie and his executive director, Joe Malone, combed national fundraising lists for potential candidates among Massachusetts residents. Bain executives appeared frequently, including Romney’s friend Graham, who had declined several invitations to run for office.