Understanding the Real Mitt Romney

Scott Helman, co-author of 'The Real Romney,' discuss the elusive candidate

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Mitt Romney is vying to be the next president of the United States, but the Republican front-runner remains an enigma to many Americans. In The Real Romney, two Boston Globe investigative reporters set out to uncover the man behind the candidate. Based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman paint a comprehensive portrait of the former Massachusetts governor. Helman recently spoke with U.S. News about what they learned about Romney's past and what surprised him most. Excerpts:

Why did you write this book?

We felt like a lot of people didn't know who Romney was, and it's hard to get that sense even from debates or campaign appearances.

What words would you use to describe Mitt Romney?

You could use "driven," you could use "ambitious," you could use "strategic."

[See pictures of Mitt Romney]

How significant is the Mormon faith in Romney's life?

I think it's hugely significant. I think it's a part of who he is, I think it informs his values and his worldview. It has been his social life and it has given him his cultural guideposts.

Does he see it as a liability?

He's not terribly open to talking about it. There are a lot of good stories for him to tell that come out of his Mormon faith and his role in the Mormon faith, but he seems very reluctant to go there.

Did Romney campaign as a liberal in Massachusetts?

He cut a much more moderate or liberal profile in 1994 [in his Senate campaign]. He did promise to seek full equality for gays and lesbians. And he was very adamantly pro-choice.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

What led him to change these positions?

On abortion, he would say that in 2004 he had a meeting with a Harvard researcher on stem cell research and that it led to what he called an awakening on life issues. That even though he'd been pro-choice in public, he'd always been privately against abortion, and that he could no longer reconcile those two opposing views.

And this has cost him politically?

I think the problem politically for him is that there are so many things that he's shifted on over the years that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that it's at least in part politically motivated.

Is there evidence of that?

They set out deliberately in 2008 for him to run [for president] as a social conservative.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney]

Did you figure out his true positions?

What we did is look back at who he was in each campaign, and each campaign he's been something slightly different. So you'll find people who think the real Mitt Romney is the one we're seeing now. And you'll find other people who say no, the real Mitt Romney didn't really care about social issues, was more interested in economics, was much more pragmatic, and not terribly ideological.

What would he say?

He would say, "I've settled on what I believe and I've written this book [No Apology: Believe in America] and you could see what I believe there."

What's the difference between Romney's 2008 platform and the current one?

Clearly the attempt to position him as a social conservative was not successful and this time one of the corrections they have made is to focus on an area that he knows a lot better—the economy.

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Were you able to get a definitive answer on Bain Capital's jobs record?

No. First of all, a lot of the documents were [from] private companies and they've since been cut up, and formed in conglomerates, and sold off—it's just impossible from a logistical standpoint. Unfortunately for him and his opponents, there's no clear answer on jobs created versus jobs cut.

How is Romney's signature healthcare law perceived in Massachusetts?

It's viewed mostly as a success and without question it's Romney's biggest achievement as governor. And the reason he doesn't talk about it is that one of the big things he pushed for was the so-called individual mandate, the requirement that individuals carry insurance. And that of course runs very much against the grain of what some conservatives believe.