I watched the Romney documentary over the weekend, and I was struck by a few things. There is much more attention paid to Romney’s first campaign than I expected, and many of the film’s most memorable lines come from that part. There is almost no time spent on the second primary campaign, which is a little surprising since that was the only successful part of Romney’s six-year quest. One moment that stood out to me came just before the first debate with Obama. Romney is talking his wife and one of his sons about how “they [the Obama campaign/Democrats] don’t know that businesses fail, that people go out of business.” This isn’t some crowd-pleasing line being said for the benefit of voters or donors. This may be as close as a viewer can get to an insight into what Romney believes. It’s an off-the-cuff remark made in private, but it’s such a thoroughly silly thing to say that it is a little surprising that it was included in what is generally a very sympathetic portrayal of the man.
If Romney comes across as a “pessimist” in the film, much of that has to do with the choice of the filmmaker to pay more attention to the low points of his campaigns. That probably makes for a more interesting film, but it also creates the impression that this is what Romney was like throughout the 2012 campaign. That is bound to be somewhat misleading. Romney compared himself unfavorably to his father after the first debate, but this wasn’t an expression of a lack of confidence. He was commenting on a note that he had made about his father during the debate. The scene simply showed the extent to which Romney still admires and idolizes his father. All in all, I didn’t see anything in the film that would lead me to think that Romney was pessimistic about his chances. On the contrary, we watch as the Romneys keep waiting on election night for things to break their way, and at one point we hear from one of them that they find it “impossible” to believe that he’s about to lose.