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Parent Trap

How Mitt Romney un-became his father.

On July 8, 1964, 17-year-old Mitt Romney slipped into a front-row seat at a San Francisco hotel ballroom. The start of the Republican National Convention was just days away, and tensions in the room were high—not over the choice of nominee (Barry Goldwater had already locked up enough delegates) but over the ideological future of the party. Inside the ballroom, the committee in charge of writing the party platform was under attack from a small band of dissenters determined to make one final stand against the radical conservatism of Goldwater and his supporters. And one of the most prominent dissenters was Mitt's father, George Romney.

By 1964, the first-term Michigan governor had distinguished himself as a straight-talker who disdained partisanship. He had made such an impression on his fellow moderates that days later, at the convention, Gerald Ford would make the symbolic gesture of nominating Romney from the floor, saying of his fellow Michigander that "he has never let the temporary glitter of expediency obscure the path which his integrity dictated he must follow." When Romney's turn to speak before the platform committee came, he seized it—challenging the group, which was packed with Goldwater delegates, to accept language endorsing federal civil rights initiatives and the importance of labor unions, and, more generally, to distance the party from some of the right-wing extremists who had backed Goldwater. As Mitt looked on attentively,his father warned the group that "there is no place in either of our parties for the purveyors of hate."

The moment was one of great futility: The committee, which greeted the speech with polite but tepid applause, rejected the amendments, just as the full convention would later turn away efforts by Romney and his supporters to introduce those amendments from the floor. But, against this backdrop, Romney's speech conveyed the noble defense of a principled stand. That is how, over 40 years later, his son remembers it. "I watched that with great interest," Romney told me earlier this spring. "He believed that the Republican Party was aligning itself as an opponent of civil rights and was connecting with the extreme elements of the John Birch Society and felt that Goldwater was wrong in taking the party in that direction. He was passionate about that."

We were sitting in the green room of CNN's Los Angeles studios, just after Mitt's appearance on "Larry King Live" during a March fund-raising trip to California. He had just turned 60, making him roughly the same age his father was during the 1964 convention—and the similarities between the two are even more striking up-close than they had been the previous times I had seen him, either on television or before large crowds. Mitt has the same chiseled features as his father: the squared-off jaw and the deeply set eyes, plus the nose with impossibly perfect angles. And, although Mitt's words come out more slowly and more deliberately than the ones I heard on recordings of his father, the voice itself has an unmistakably familiar ring to it—crisp, deep, and forceful. "I never saw myself being like my Dad," Mitt joked during our conversation. "Now that I'm older, I see a tape of myself giving a speech, I say, 'Holy cow, I'm turning in to my Dad.' I look like him a lot. I talk like him a lot. The things I value are very much the things he valued."

The similarities between Mitt and his father go well beyond appearances. He shares his father's competitive streak, his strong sense of political ambition. Twelve years after George's death, Mitt still sees him as a role model, describing him as "the definition of a successful human." His admiration for his father's approach to politics surfaced several times during our interview. When I asked him to explain why he had abandoned business for politics, for example, he didn't talk about crusading to save the United States from the left. Instead, he told me, "It's a family gene. There's something in the Romney makeup that longs to be able to make a difference, to make a contribution. ... There's almost an obligation to step forward."

Until recently, Mitt Romney did indeed seem to be his father's son—with a life that evinced noblesse oblige and a political tendency toward principled moderation. But, in the course of his presidential campaign, Romney has called the sincerity of those poses into doubt, flamboyantly altering seemingly bedrock positions on abortion and stem-cell research and positioning himself as a right-wing crusader. During our interview, Romney methodically went through these positions, endeavoring to explain the switches as a natural and genuine evolution of thought—all proof, he said, that "I'm conservative."

Mitt Romney's makeover suggests a far more piercing critique than mere flip-flopping: the charge of filial betrayal, of running a campaign that would earn paternal disapproval were George still alive. At first glance, it's a charge that rings true. Like all father-son relationships, of course, it's also far more complicated than that. And these complications aren't psycho-biographical digressions but essential to answering the question: Despite all his twists and turns, could Mitt Romney make a good president?

George Romney's Mormon upbringing was a big influence in shaping the worldview that he passed down to Mitt. George's great-grandfather was an original Mormon apostle named Parley Pratt, who followed Brigham Young to Utah and was killed in 1857 by the disgruntled ex-husband of one of his wives. When the federal government began to crack down on polygamy, George's grandparents fled to Mexico. In 1907, George was born in Chihuahua, and, five years later, during the Mexican revolution, the Romney family fled back to the U.S., eventually settling in Salt Lake City.

George grew up devout but poor—his father was a builder who declared bankruptcy several times. But he developed a sense of the world—not only through his peripatetic family history but through his church mission to England in 1927. It was an experience that helped him hone his political skills. "I've seen pictures of George standing, holding on to a statue in Hyde Park, speaking to a crowd," says Charles Harmon, one of George Romney's old political advisers. "It's tough—people shouting at you, ridiculing you, while you're trying to sell your beliefs. I always felt he was a super salesman. And he got some of that training from his missionary work."

After working his way through college, but never finishing his studies, George got his first taste of U.S. politics as an aide to Democratic Massachusetts Senator David Walsh. But he had mainly come to Washington, D.C., because his future wife Lenore's family was there, and, after following her back and forth to the West Coast, where she was trying to build a movie career, the couple settled in Detroit. There, Romney worked his way up through the company that eventually became the American Motors Corporation—and Detroit's fourth-biggest automaker. He became best known for his role promoting the AMC Rambler, a compact vehicle that offered higher fuel efficiency and a lower sticker price than most Romney sold Ramblers with the same vigor he had once used to sell Mormonism, attacking the Big Three as dinosaurs. He eventually climbed all the way to the position of president.

Mitt was George and Lenore Romney's fourth child—born in 1947, a few years before George took over at AMC and with a six-year separation to his next- closest sibling, Scott. Lenore's pregnancy had come as a surprise—the couple had given up on conceiving again—and the difficult childbirth left Lenore bedridden for a year. Partly as a result, Mitt, from a very young age, developed an especially close relationship with his father—a relationship that would get even closer later in life, once the older children left home for college and Mitt had his parents to himself.

George Romney was an outsider who had made it into the elite on his own terms (he remained an active member of the Mormon Church throughout his life). To help his children accomplish this same feat, he practiced two main principles of childrearing. One was to prepare them intellectually by engaging them in adult conversation—and Mitt, as the last arrival, was part of those conversations from a very young age. "I was the baby of the family,so I got all the years of experience of listening to people debate the issues, talk about the future," Mitt recalls. According to Scott, Mitt consistently lobbed the smartest, most pointed inquiries at their father. "Dad would gather us around, in the living room, the four kids and mom," Scott says. "My sisters and I would say,'That sounds great.' And Mitt would say ... 'Dad, if these American Motors cars are so great, why doesn't anybody buy one?'"

George's other principle was to give his children a healthy sense of humility, particularly when it came to financial circumstances.George credited his own success to his strong work ethic—and he wanted his children to have it, too. So, even though the Romney's lived on a four-acre plot in the posh Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, George insisted the children do extensive chores and then, during the summers, take real jobs outside the house—which, in Mitt's case, meant working as a security guard at a Chrysler plant one summer. "On weekends, those guys had a set of chores, and there wasn't a whole lot of extra time," recalls Phillip Maxwell, who first got to know Mitt when they were in the fourth grade together. "Their father was a real taskmaster—very fair, but he instilled real discipline."

George prepared Mitt for leadership in one other key way: by sending him to Cranbrook, the elite private academy that sprawls across 319 lush acres not far from the Romneys' Bloomfield home. Established in the 1930s, Cranbrook has trained generations of students in classical preparatory style—with intensive Latin, accelerated mathematics, and weekly writing assignments from seventh grade on. Its seniors routinely win admission to the nation's top colleges,and among its alumni are former Senator Alan Simpson and intellectual-turned-dissident Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame.

But, despite his intellectual curiosity at home, Mitt wasn't a standout for most of his years at Cranbrook, which he attended from seventh to twelfth grades. Classmates describe him as a B-plus student who was happy to cede academic achievement to others. He was active in the Blue Key Club, a service organization that shepherded visitors around campus, and the Homecoming Committee. But he wasn't the student class president or leader of the prestigious debate society. Nor was he cut out for the football or the hockey teams, which perennially won state championships. He made do as a team manager for the hockey squad—and, since Cranbrook was an all-boys school, as a cheerleader. "He wasn't an athlete, which was tough on him, because other members of his family were," says Philip Maxwell. "He just wasn't coordinated in that way." Other classmates remember Mitt as young for his age emotionally, at least by Cranbrook standards. They say he was more popular than admired, a "happy-go-lucky guy" known less for his achievements than his pranks—like the time he and some friends borrowed a state trooper's uniform from his father's security detail and pulled over students from the neighboring girls' school.

It was shortly after Mitt started at Cranbrook that George got into politics: first as the head of a committee to rescue the Detroit public schools; then as the head of an organization trying to re-write the antiquated state constitution. That work led to his successful run for the governor's office, which took place when Mitt was in ninth grade and landed George on the cover of Time, fueling widespread speculation about a future in national politics. Once in office, George Romney quickly compiled accomplishments, including passage of the new constitution, enactment of a new minimum-wage law (something the Democrats had wanted for more than 25 years but could never make happen), and turning an $80 million budget deficit into a $100 million surplus.

Some classmates speculate that George's looming presence may have been what made Mitt so quick to retreat to the safety of humor. Eric Muirhead—a classmate who now teaches writing at San Jacinto College in Texas—says that, when students wanted to make fun of Mitt, they would say things like, "He's no George Romney." "I had the impression that Mitt was struggling for respect when he was at Cranbrook," Muirhead adds. "Mitt suffered because of his father's importance."

Muirhead admits that he didn't think much of Mitt's mettle, either—until senior year, when Mitt suddenly seemed a lot more serious about himself and decided to go out for the cross-country team. Although Mitt had never run track before, Muirhead, who was the team's captain, and the rest of the team were quickly impressed with Mitt's work ethic—so impressed, in fact, that when Muirhead fell ill before one of the season's first meets, he told the coach Mitt should take the open slot.

The race began and, as expected, Mitt fell behind the pack. Muirhead figured it wouldn't affect the end result. Given the strength of Cranbrook's top runners, the team would still win, just as long as Mitt actually finished. But, as Mitt neared the end, he was gasping for breath. And, as he staggered through the final stretch, along a track circling the football field, he fell onto his hands and knees. The crowd, there for the homecoming football game, stood up as one—including Lenore Romney, who'd come to see her son's first race. Muirhead ran out to help, but Mitt refused. "He got up,staggered, and fell again," Muirhead says. "He kept getting up, kept falling, but kept shouting at us—kept telling us not to touch him. I don't know how many times he fell, but he finished, he made his way around that track, and he got an ovation like I never heard. He won a lot of people's respect that day. ... In all my years, I never saw a guttier performance."

After one year at Stanford, in June 1966, Mitt left for Paris, where he was assigned to Le Havre, on the northern French coast, to begin his two-and-a-half- year Mormon mission. In France, Romney was out of his father's shadow for the first time, and friends say he came into his own. His middle-aged mission president tapped him early as a leader and made him responsible for more than 50 of his fellow missionaries. When the 1968 student strikes set in, Romney threw himself into crisis-management mode—distributing funds, food, and good cheer to his frequently discouraged charges. "You've got young men a couple of thousand miles away from home, not getting communication, and often times one hundred fifty miles from the mission headquarters, too," says Dane McBride, who served alongside Romney in France. "It's not natural for young men to put other young men on a pedestal, but I really admired his perceptiveness and his ability to lead and to lift and to reassure in very uncertaintimes."

At the same time that Mitt began to shine as a leader, his father's political career began to crumble. After Goldwater's disastrous defeat, Romney emerged as the front-runner to be the next Republican nominee for president. By late 1966, one poll showed Romney beating Lyndon Johnson in a hypothetical match-up. But Romney began to stumble on Vietnam, criticizing the war and then declaring his full-throated opposition. When asked by a TV interviewer why he had supported it in the first place, Romney said he had gotten a "brainwashing" from the military. His poll numbers plummeted. By the spring of 1968, he was out of the race altogether.

Mitt has always said that his father had no regrets about the race—that he had given it his best shot and spoken his mind. But, soon after, Mitt's own ambition kicked into overdrive. After returning from France, he married his high-school sweetheart, Ann Davies, and transferred from Stanford to Brigham Young University, eventually graduating as valedictorian. Mitt wanted to attend business school next, but his father hoped he'd pursue a degree in law. So Mitt compromised by pursuing both at Harvard, completing a joint degree.

Romney overlapped with another future politician there—one George W. Bush. But the two did not know each other, and, really, their experiences could not have been more different. While Bush was lounging his way through, coasting on his family's reputation, Romney was hitting the books. Once again, he finished near the top of his class—and, upon graduation, he had his choice of jobs in industry. Until that time, Mitt always figured he would go into the auto industry, like his father. (As Romney told The American Spectator, "I did not think I was going to be in politics. ... I hoped to be head of Ford or American Motors or General Motors.") But, by that time, a new opportunity was opening up for the nation's best and brightest: management consulting. These firms recruited from the top tier of the top graduate schools and sought to create an army of analysts who could bring their unique intelligence to bear on a wide variety of businesses, rather than just one. Romney liked the sound of that challenge and accepted an offer from Boston Consulting Group, a pioneer in the field. A few years later, he joined a group of BCG partners who had broken with the firm to establish a new one, called Bain.

Mitt's knack for management would soon make him legendary throughout the business community. Here, all the leadership skills he had honed over the years served him well: He developed a reputation for unusually diligent research and analysis—for maintaining an open mind and calling in conflicting points of view. Not only did this produce better decisions, it also disarmed would-be critics. "He's quite good at managing big egos," says James Bailey, another Cranbrook classmate who, years later, ended up collaborating with Mitt on business dealings in Boston. "He's really an extraordinary manager, deserving of all the praise he gets." Eventually, Romney spun off an operation from within Bain, called Bain Capital—which invested money in its projects, effectively becoming its own venture-capital firm. The result was a litany of now-famous business success stories: Brookstone, Domino's Pizza, and Staples.

George Romney had always said the ideal time to run for public office was after you had achieved financial independence and your children were old enough to put up with the loss of privacy. So, in 1994, when Republican officials from Massachusetts began putting out feelers for someone to run against Ted Kennedy, Mitt said he was interested. It would be an incredibly daunting race in which to make his political debut: While Bill Clinton's troubles had improved prospects for Republicans in the rest of country, unseating Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts was said to be impossible. Still, Romney did have one secret weapon: his father, who knew a thing or two about long-shot bids.

George Romney had also started his political career by challenging a popular Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. And a key to his victory was his ability to run as a fiercely independent Republican. He complained about labor's influence over the Democratic Party, but he also complained about business's influence over the Republicans. When the organizers of Detroit's Labor Day parade refused to let him participate, George simply showed up and marched at the front of the line, coat slung over his shoulder. When Mitt decided to run for senator, George helped lead the charge. He began by serving as an emissary to Republican power-brokers and as Mitt's de facto communications director: "He's better than the chip off the old block because he's had better preparation than I," George would tell audiences. And, once Mitt got his party's nomination, George moved in with Mitt and his family for six months. When it was time to hit the road, George and Ann would go off campaigning in one direction, while Mitt went off in another. Then they would return to confer some more over strategy. "We didn't disagree," Mitt recalls. "We saw issues in a very similar way."

Substantively speaking, Mitt's campaign in 1994 closely resembled the runs George made in the '60s. While he had clearly identified himself as a Republican by this point, he did not position himself as an ideologue. He attacked Kennedy by making him a proxy for wasteful spending and various episodes of Democratic Party corruption. "I think it's important to have people who can and will be able to challenge the country on ethics and principles," Romney said in his announcement speech. But he did not propose an all-out assault on the welfare state. Although personally opposed to abortion, Romney said it should be legal, recalling how a close family friend had died from an illegal abortion. He even reached out to groups representing gay voters, touting his support for domestic partnership rights and echoing his father's words from 1964. When the local gay newspaper, Bay Windows, asked Romney about Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, he replied, "I think that extremists who would force their views on the party and try to shape the party are making a mistake."

Romney ran a strong campaign, at one point passing Kennedy in the polls. And, while he tried to manage expectations, his father talked them up—hinting at aspirations for his son that went beyond Massachusetts. A Romney win "is bound to get national attention," George reminded people. But Kennedy eventually came back, seizing on Romney's personal beliefs about abortion and using them to make a still-devastating indictment: "He's not pro-choice, he's not anti-choice, he's multiple choice." George Romney tried to enlist other members of the Romney clan to help the campaign, thinking they could fan out across the state as Mitt's emissaries in the closing weeks. But, as Mitt's numbers cratered—Kennedy would be the lone vulnerable Senate Democrat to hold his seat that year—Mitt quietly asked them to stay home. The election, he knew, was lost.

Only a few weeks later did he admit to Scott, his brother, how much the experience had bothered him. "He said he never expected to win, but then, at the end, when he lost, he said he absolutely hated it," Scott says. "He told me, 'I'm not going to go into another campaign unless I think I can win.' He said, 'I'm not going to do it again.'"

George Romney would not live to see his son in political action again: He died a year later, while exercising in the same Bloomfield home where Mitt had grown up. And it would be seven more years before Mitt gave politics another try . But this time the prospects were much brighter: He wouldn't be trying to take a Senate seat away from a Kennedy. Instead, he would be running for governor, a post Republicans had held continuously since the early '90s.

Mitt positioned himself much as he had during his Senate run eight years before. He campaigned primarily on economics and management skills; he would balance the state's out-of-control budget and attract new businesses to revive the economy. Once again, he assured social liberals that he had no intention of upending abortion rights. And, while he made clear his rejection of same-sex marriage, he went out of his way to cultivate the support of gay Republicans once again, meeting one-on-one with members of the Log Cabin Republicans. At Boston's Gay Pride parade, Romney flyers touted "equal rights ... regardless of sexual preference" (although both Romney's former campaign manager and his deputy told me they did not authorize the flyers).

This time, Romney won easily. And, at least in the early going, he showed signs of governing the way he had campaigned—reprising, again, his father's early history in Michigan. He got intimately involved with the details of an initiative to change the state's school funding scheme, so that poorer districts would get more money. Romney also brought in advisers based on management instinct rather than partisan affiliation. "He never asked me if I was a Democrat or a Republican, and never asked most of the Cabinet members who came with me," says Barbara Berke, a BCG partner who served as his chief of economic development from 2002 through 2005. Romney also appointed several well- known gay activists to high-ranking positions in his administration, tapping one for a Cabinet post.

The episode in which Romney's stewardship instincts—and his father's influence—were perhaps most evident was his passage of major health care reform. That saga began in 2005, when it became apparent that, because of a quirk in the structure of federal Medicaid funding, Massachusetts actually stood to lose some money from Washington if it didn't find a way to expand health insurance coverage. When Democrats proposed that the state seize the opportunity to pass universal health coverage, Romney surprised virtually everybody by announcing that he agreed.

Romney's subsequent work on the health care bill showcased his best qualities—reminiscent, in many ways, of his days at Bain. For advice, he tapped some of the state's top minds on health—even those, like MIT's Jonathan Gruber, who had traditionally advised Democrats. For political support, he reached out to traditional champions of expanded coverage, such as former House member John McDonough, turning these would-be adversaries into allies. And, above all, he went into negotiations with an open mind. The result was a bill that had enough support to get all the way through the legislative process. Romney ended up signing the bill in a grand public ceremony on the steps of Fanueil Hall. Standing at his sidewas his old nemesis, Ted Kennedy—who, it turns out, had worked closely with Romney on sealing the deal. "I'm a partisan Democrat, and, in a lot of ways, I think he was a terrible governor," says one high-ranking legislative staffer who worked on the measure."But I do give him credit for participating in the health care debate and helping to advance that agenda."

But Romney had even loftier ambitions on his mind than bringing universal health care to the people of Massachusetts. He wanted to do what his father couldn't—become president. And, around that time, Romney began to evolve into a more conservative politician. Following a controversial state court decision legalizing gay marriage in early 2004, Romney initially backed a civil unions proposal as a reasonable compromise, only to pull his support at the last minute and instead back a more harshly worded amendment that might have made partnership benefits illegal as well.

That fall, Romney—citing a meeting in his office with a pair of Harvard scientists working on stem-cell research—told his advisers that he wanted to start labeling himself "pro-life." He claimed to have been taken aback by the scientists' cavalier attitude toward the disposing of embryos. That surprised some of his advisers, since Romney had been outspoken in his support of stem-cell research (his wife has multiple sclerosis, and stem-cell research may lead to a cure) and had frequently championed it in speeches to biotech companies and industry groups he was hoping to lure to Massachusetts. Abortion rights activists were even more flummoxed. Here was a candidate who had compiled a long, very public record of defending abortion rights. Yet now, because of a single meeting over stem-cell research, he had suddenly done an about-face. And here was the candidate who, years before, like his father, had promised to work within the Republican Party to pull it away from conservative extremism sounding more and more like an extremist himself.

Romney maintains the shift represents a true evolution of thinking—a genuine change of heart. Several friends and members of his family confirmed hearing him talk about the stem-cell meeting shortly after it took place. But critics note that, when Romney decided to announce his new position on stem cells, he didn't do it at a local event or in an interview with a local reporter. He decided to tell a reporter from The New York Times—which most people interpreted as a sign that Romney was no longer pitching himself to the voters of Massachusetts.

As a presidential candidate, Romney has tried to position himself as the only true conservative among the front runners, running ads in which he portrays himself as a lone right-wing warrior fighting the good fight against out-of-control liberals in Massachusetts. The conservative posturing has gone well beyond cultural issues, too. In one debate, when asked about the controversial enemy combatant camp at Guantanamo Bay, he quipped that, instead of closing it down—as even some Republicans have urged—he would double its size. When queried about his past support for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban, he replied that he was a veteran hunter and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. (Later, he would admit that he had signed up for that lifetime membership only a year before—and that he had limited hunting experience.)

But, if any one moment epitomized the new Mitt Romney, it was his speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in February. There, gathered in one place, were the intellectual and ideological heirs to the conservative movement that first captured control of the Republican Party in the 1960s. But Mitt Romney had not come to carry on his father's fight against the right wing. He had come, instead, to do what every other aspiring Republican presidential nominee was doing: beg for the group's approval. After being introduced by Grover Norquist, the conservative activist perhaps most responsible for the radical makeover of government economic policy in the last decade, Romney began his speech by suggesting it was a "good thing" the crowd would soon hear from Ann Coulter, who was next on the speaking agenda. From there, he fed the crowd red meat—attacking Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and the press; promising to fight the liberal social agenda, to close U.S.borders, and to never, ever raise taxes. "This is not the time for us to shrink from conservative principles," Romney thundered. "Itis time for us to stand in strength." The next day, CPAC delegates voted on their presidential preferences. Romney, with 22 percent, came in first.

When I interviewed Romney, I asked him about the speech—which had taken place just a month earlier—and what he imagined his father might have said if it were him, and not Mitt, addressing the crowd. "Hopefully, he'd have given a speech just like mine," Mitt said. "I'm conservative. My dad was conservative." And, while Romney noted that he didn't line up with CPAC on every issue, he said he simply hadn't chosen to emphasize those differences. "In a speech to CPAC, I'll emphasize those areas we have in common," he said. "I won't get up and say, 'Let me tell you the places where you and I might disagree.'" But that, of course, is precisely what his father had made a practice of doing.

Still, there was a moment in our interview when I caught a glimpse of the Romney more familiar to the voters who elected him in 2002. It happened when I asked him to talk about the presidents he most admired—the ones he would most like to emulate if he were ever elected. Reagan, the father of modern conservatism and the usual centerpiece of his speeches, never came up. Instead, after working through some of the usual cliches—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln—he settled on a Democrat, Harry Truman, and a moderate Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, the latter for steering the country through the 1950s without starting a nuclear war.

Eisenhower was also George Romney's patron. And it wasn't the only time during this campaign that Mitt Romney has linked himself to his father's legacy. I'd seen him do so at least once before—in the speech where he formally announced his candidacy. It was in Dearborn, Michigan, at the Henry Ford Museum. For the occasion, museum officials brought out a display with one of the old AMC Ramblers, which stood behind Romney as he spoke. The speech Romney gave that day was a lot more like one his father might have given, focusing on how to improve economic innovation (thus the museum setting) and better manage the government.

Some of the people who have known him the longest think that this version of Romney is closer to the one who would actually govern."I know Mitt is taking positions that are uncharacteristically conservative, probably more conservative than the man behind closed doors, but it is what you have to do to get the nomination of the Republican Party," says Cranbrook alum Sidney Barthwell Jr. Although a Democrat, Barthwell says he will probably vote for Romney anyway. "He is of the highest character, a straight-ahead guy. ... He would make a great president, even though I disagree with all the positions he takes."

Maybe he's right. Maybe the Romney who campaigned in 1994 and 2002—the one known for his fast intellect and superior management skills—really would make a fine president. And maybe that former incarnation of Romney is still lurking in there, somewhere, behind all the rigidly conservative rhetoric. But does that even matter? The people Romney is courting now have a claim on him. If he becomes president, they will hold him to his promises, pushing him to enact their agenda—and punishing him should he stray. George Romney's presidential hopes ended prematurely, on the day he gave that ill-advised interview about Vietnam. Mitt's candidacy will surely endure longer—maybe all the way until January 2009. But, in going further than his father ever could, Mitt Romney is also sacrificing something his father didn't: the governing philosophy that made him a promising leader in the first place.

This article appeared in the July 2, 2007, issue of the magazine.