Former Massachusetts First Lady Ann Romney from the campaign trail in Iowa.
HH: Special guest now. You know I wrote a book about Mitt Romney, A Mormon In The White House? I talked to a lot of members of his family, a lot of his business associates. I talked with a couple of his sons, with his brother-in-law. But I never spoke to Ann Romney about the book. And I’m very pleased now to welcome to the program former first lady of Massachusetts, Ann Romney. Mrs. Romney, welcome, good to have you on the program.
AR: Thank you so much.
HH: I want to start by reminding people this isn’t your first presidential campaign. I believe that you were pretty close to Governor Romney, Sr. when he ran for president in 1967-68. Do you recall that very well?
AR: I certainly do. That’s amazing. You know, Mitt was out of the country. He was in France, and I was very close to George. George took a huge interest. I think he got a big kick out of watching Mitt and I in our relationship, and I think he was one of the few people that figured it out a long time ago that we were very much in love. And he kind of took me under his wing a bit, and whenever he did a few events, I went with him. And I actually did one of his little presidential swings with him in 1967.
HH: Now do you take any lessons away…that campaign crashed and burned over Vietnam, and over a bad day at a radio station in Detroit, and a number of other things. Have you internalized any lessons from ’67-’68 that you remind the Governor of as you go through this gauntlet that is the 2007-8…
AR: Yeah, you know, I certainly have, and it may not be what you think, Hugh. It’s…in another way, it’s having seen Mitt’s father after he lost, which is he was completely non-plussed by it. And I think if you remember, that if you just keep that in mind, too, which is we’re doing this to make a difference, we’re doing this because we’re stepping forward, we’re not doing this because it’s the be-all and end-all of our lives. We’re doing it because we believe America needs a leader like Mitt. And if not, our lives go on and everything is fine. So I think that perspective, I was with George in the car when he was listening to McNamara talk about how he had lied to the American people, and that was in 1994. And I was stunned by his response. I turned to him and I said oh, my gosh, you could have been president of the United States. He looked at me and he said Ann, I never look back. And he was such an amazing person. And I think I did obviously learn so much from him, which is it wasn’t about him. He was, again, stepping forward. And I just admired him so much.
HH: Now Ann Romney, a lot of people wonder about future first ladies, and what they understand the office to be. If, in fact, your husband successfully…and he’s had a very good week with the Paul Weyrich endorsement and other things, if you’re successful and he is elected president, what would your vision for that role be?
AR: Well, you know, I have…my life, and for the last about fifteen years, I’ve been concerned with at-risk youth. And I have come in Boston, in the city of Boston, I’ve worked for a long time in trying to have children make better decisions so that they can end up being happier themselves. I believe that would be my focus as first lady as well, is to work with at-risk youth, making sure that kids have options in front of them to know how they can be happier in their lives by making good choices, by staying in school, by putting off having babies before they should, and learning about commitments and things that do make a difference in their lives.
HH: Now of course, you also suffer from MS, multiple sclerosis. My mother-in-law lived with it for forty years, and it’s a very difficult disease. How is the campaign affecting that? And what kind of consciousness-raising part would you bring to this about the disease?
AR: Well, you know, I certainly know that people would be much more aware of the disease if I ended up being the first lady. And I would hope that people would recognize, too, that people can now live with the disease. There’s great medications now. We’re obviously always looking for a cure, but people are living better lives than they have in the past, because the medicines are so much better. But also on another level, I would think that because I have, I know what it’s like to be brought to my knees by a disease, and how devastating it can be, that I would hope that people would see that I have a great deal of sympathy for people that are going through struggles in their lives. I have seen such hope and courage from people that deal and just keep going on, no matter what life deals them. And I would hope that people would take courage and hope that life does go on no matter how tough things can be at times, and that there are those times when we need to embrace each other, and mourn with people that are mourning, but also look forward to a brighter day.
HH: Now what’s the most common misconception about MS?
AR: Well, probably that it might kill you, or that everyone has to end up in a wheelchair. You know, my son, my youngest son, was told when he heard that I was diagnosed with MS, a friend of his said oh, by the way, you know your Mom’s going to now die. Well, you know, I mean, he came home so upset when he heard that. And that’s not correct, Hugh. A lot of people live with it, a lot of people live very productive, normal lives, even with the disease. Not everyone ends up in a wheelchair. There are different forms of the disease. One is progressive, which is really tough, where people literally are just progressing constantly, and they’re losing so much of their muscle control. But a lot of people have the same form that I have, which is relapsing-remitting, which is you have an attack, and then you know, you get better, or that you stop and it doesn’t just keep eating away at you. And with the medicines now, what’s happening is people are staying in remission longer, and the attacks they’re having aren’t as severe. So there’s great hope on the horizon for people that suffer MS.
HH: Do you have to pace yourself, Ann Romney? Do you have to say I can’t do seven days a week?
AR: I do. I cannot keep up with Mitt. He’s a crazy man. I mean, even if I didn’t have MS, I probably couldn’t keep up with him. But I cannot keep up with him, and the pace of the campaign is intense. What I am able to do is I’m able to go out for two or three days in a week and do something, have a little bit slower pace, and then I’m able to handle that. I do travel with Mitt on occasion, but I can’t stay with him long, because he absolutely wears me out.
HH: Now I know that you followed the campaign so closely, a very close advisor to the Governor, and you’ve seen all the attacks on him because of your shared LDS faith. Are you surprised by that anymore? And do you think it’s abating?
AR: It’s…I believe it’s abating somewhat. But it’s also happening…what’s happening is what I thought would happen earlier on. If all people know about Mitt is about his faith, that’s it, they are less likely to think about voting for him. If instead they know that he has been a successful governor, he’s led the Olympics, he has a great family, all these other things, and that he shares the values of other people, then it becomes really diminished in sort of how they view how they’ll vote for candidates. If, however, that’s all they know about him, then they’re likely not to think oh yeah, I’m going to vote for him then. When you fill in the blanks, which is what I’m always happy to do for people, and you see the whole person, then you say oh, that doesn’t bother me at all anymore. And I know this…I’ve seen that in Massachusetts. He ran against, in a very Catholic state, as obviously a non-Catholic, and you know what? He had a resounding victory, because over time, the voters got to see that he was a guy that gets things done. He’s very intelligent, he’s accomplished a great deal in his life, he has enormous integrity, they saw what he did at the Olympics, and it’s like wow, we want someone like that to come clean up the mess in Massachusetts, help reduce taxes, don’t burden us with debt. And Mitt also ran on English immersion when he ran for governor, and it was like you know what, if you want to be successful in America, you need to speak the language of America. So those kinds of things, you know, just makes all the difference in the world.
HH: Let me go a little People Magazine on you here. You’re the mother of five boys, and now five daughters-in-law, and what, 11 grandchildren?
AR: I have 10 grandchildren, and one more on the way, by the way, in San Diego pretty soon.
HH: Oh, good. That’ll make my book accurate. That’s one of the mistakes. But I wonder…obviously, I talked to Tag, and he was the emergency room king, he broke everything. Are the boys’ characteristics from their childhood showing through in the way they’re doing their campaign ambassadorship and surrogate work? Are they playing their roles?
AR: Well, you know, it’s interesting. If you ever just look at a snapshot of a child when you’re a mother, and especially a mother of five boys, it’s surprising and shocking how well they’ve all turned out, because it was tough raising those five boys. I never would have imagined that we would be in the position where we have five of our sons working their hearts out to help their father like they are. It’s very humbling as a mother, and I’m sure Mitt could say this as a father, too, to know that your kids are that much committed to helping you and working for you. And I am absolutely blown away by them, and they’ve been very impressive.
HH: But are those habits that have been over many, many years, between the five boys, showing up in the way they attack their campaign duties?
AR: Yeah, I think so. They’re pretty…having that many brothers, you really learn a lot of social skills. Maybe that’s what having all those brothers have taught them, is great social skills, and great ability to communicate, and just keep toughing it out, too, you know, just keep pushing hard.
HH: Last question, have you learned to love Iowa? I know your summer home’s in New Hampshire, so that’s not hard. But what about Iowa?
AR: I am sitting in Des Moines right now at the Marriott. I’ve spent a lot of time here. I love Iowa. I love the people of Iowa. They’re wonderful. They take their politics very seriously here. They really get to know the issues, and they’re terrific people, just love Iowa.
HH: Ann Romney, always a pleasure to talk to anyone from the Romney Campaign. www.annromney.com is her new blog, by the way. Thank you, Mrs. Romney.