12:34pm

Tue August 28, 2012
Author Interviews

'Real Romney' Authors Dissect His Latest Campaign

Originally published on Thu August 30, 2012 10:17 am

In The Real Romney, Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman examine Mitt Romney's political rise since 1994, when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. They explain how Romney shifted from supporting abortion rights to heavily courting social conservatives in the 2008 Republican primary.

"When he looked at the race, he saw Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and John McCain, the senator from Arizona — they were the big boys in the center, if you will, in the Republican Party," Helman tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "There was no room for Mitt Romney there. Where there was room was on the right."

As Romney prepares to accept the official Republican nomination in Tampa this week, Kranish and Helman talk about the latest developments in the campaign, Romney's finances and experience at private equity firm Bain Capital, and his recent remark in Michigan that "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate."

Shifting right is in sharp contrast to Romney's father's politics. During the 1964 convention in San Francisco, a young Mitt Romney watched his father, George Romney, try and fail to get the Republican platform committee to reject extremists and support civil rights. George Romney represented the moderate wing of the Republican Party, says Kranish, and thought it would be "political suicide" if his opponent Barry Goldwater — also known as "Mr. Conservative" — was the presidential candidate.

Although George Romney dropped out before the first primary, when Goldwater eventually won the nomination, he "walked out of the convention, very upset," Kranish says.

Mitt Romney represents the "Barry Goldwater wing of today," Kranish says. While his father was more of an "outspoken moral leader," he is "more of the technocrat, the competent executive, the manager," Helman adds.

Kranish and Helman's book, The Real Romney, is now out in paperback with a new afterword.


Interview Highlights

On Romney's pragmatic politics

Scott Helman: "Certainly there are some consistencies that we see. In '94, when he first ran for Senate, and now, he's a man who cares very much about his family and his faith and so forth. There are certain bedrock principles that to him have not changed, but when you think about him politically, they're two completely different Mitt Romneys.

"The Mitt Romney who ran in 1994 started out as a political independent. He's somebody who railed against the Contract With America, which of course was the big Newt Gingrich GOP revolution that year. He was a strong supporter of abortion rights. He was very outspoken in favor of gay rights, even writing this famous letter to the Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay rights group, talking about how he could be more effective than Ted Kennedy could be, his opponent, on gay rights.

"So you go up and down the line and it's a very, very different political profile. So I think the one thing ideologically almost that's consistent from then to now is he's a pragmatist. And at the time, he was running against a very liberal senator, with an impressive civil rights record and he was in very blue Massachusetts, so he had to be a certain type of candidate to be successful — and to a large extent that continued in his gubernatorial run in 2002. After that, when he starts to run for president, it's a very different environment and he realizes he has to be someone completely different to succeed in a Republican primary."

On Romney's experience at Bain Capital

Helman: "Whatever you think of Mitt Romney, whatever you think of his tenure at Bain, whatever you think of Bain Capital or private equity, I think we have to stipulate that Mitt Romney certainly has some economic fluency. He has trafficked in this world for years, and I think there is certainly some truth to his statement that he knows how jobs come and he knows how jobs go. So I think he is largely correct to say that he has some significant understanding of how the American economy works, but I think it's a different question entirely, when we're saying, 'Do we want this kind of man to be our leader? Do we want somebody who is very successful making money for very wealthy people running the economy that's supposed to be for everybody?' And I think that's where his pitch is a little less persuasive.

"Certainly, there is an argument to be made — and we're hearing it a lot from President Obama and his re-election team — that Mitt Romney has been really good for the 1 percent and he'd be really good for the 1 percent if he were president. He knows what these guys want and need. He wants deregulation. He wants lower tax rates for the wealthy. He wants smaller government.

"So I think connecting those policy prescriptions to his Bain tenure, I think that is politically problematic for him. And I think that's one of his big challenges at this convention, is how he's going to cast that experience. Because the fact is the polls that I've seen suggest that Americans still believe that Obama identifies with them more than Mitt Romney does, and that Obama would be better for the middle class. And I think Mitt Romney can't win if it stays like that. So he has to find some way to say that, 'Even though pretty much everything I've done in my business career has been to make money for largely wealthy investors, that I can apply that expertise and experience to everybody else.'"

On how Romney's Mormon faith figures into the campaign

Michael Kranish: "Mitt Romney does not want to talk about the tenets of Mormonism. He's made that clear that this should not be something that he should have to discuss, that you should go to his church and so forth.

"And yet at the same time, you've had many people ... who have said you can't understand Romney without understanding what his faith means to him. He has said that his Mormon faith is 'one of the most important treasures of my life.' So you do need to understand that. Plus, he was a leader of the Boston-area Mormon churches for a number of years. This was practically a second full-time job. So he wasn't just a member, he was a very strong leader of that church.

"And I think what you've seen very recently is that they've come to the conclusion that [his campaign] needs to find a way to talk about what his faith means to him without talking about the individual tenets. And what'd they like to do — and I know what they're talking about doing — is talk about how as a church leader, he helped people who were disadvantaged, that this was the way this very, very wealthy man heading a private equity company in Boston was able to meet with people who might have been poor or disadvantaged in various ways — as a church leader."

On Romney's comment "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate"

Kranish: "Mitt Romney has stayed away from this issue entirely. He well knows that there are plenty of other people in the party who are happy to take it on and that he can maintain his distance. Although obviously, he's appeared on stage with Donald Trump who's endorsed him. And the reason I was particularly surprised is that it was Mitt's father, George, who ran for president despite being born in Mexico and did not come to this country until he was 5 years old. At the time, his father's campaign took some questions about that and it never really came to complete conclusion because George dropped out before the first primary.

"But I looked back at newspaper stories of the time and there were serious questions being raised about whether George was qualified since he was born in Mexico and didn't come here until he was 5, whether he could fit the definition of being a native-born citizen and so forth. And their explanation was that George's parents had lived in the U.S. at a certain time and that he was therefore qualified under that. But I think he's been particularly sensitive because his father went through some of these same questions when his father ran for president."

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. As Mitt Romney prepares to accept his party's nomination, we're going to talk with the authors of the book "The Real Romney," which has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. Michael Kranish is deputy chief of the Boston Globe's Washington bureau and a former White House correspondent. Scott Helman is a staff writer at the Globe and former political editor. He was the lead writer on the 2008 presidential campaign.

Their book covers the role of Romney's ancestors in the history of the Mormon faith, his own leadership within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his father George Romney's political career as governor of Michigan, Mitt's career as a venture capitalist with Bain Capital, and his political career.

I recorded this interview with Kranish and Helman yesterday. Kranish was in Tampa, where he's covering the Republican convention. Helman was in Boston planning to get on a flight to Tampa after our interview.

Michael Kranish, Scott Helman, welcome back to FRESH AIR and thank you so much for coming. So Michael Kranish, you wrote on Sunday about the 1964 Republican convention, where George Romney, Mitt's father, was a player. He had briefly been a contender in the Republican presidential primary, and you write about how he tried to get the Republican platform committee to adopt an amendment rejecting extremists. Who were the extremists that George Romney was worried about at the 1964 Republican convention?

MICHAEL KRANISH: Well, it's very interesting, and I see these two conventions as bookends in Mitt Romney's life. Mitt was there with his father, George, in 1964 in San Francisco, and at that time his father George represented the moderate wing of the party. Barry Goldwater, of course, became the nominee. And George thought this was a mistake. He thought it would be, quote, political suicide for Barry Goldwater to be the nominee of the Republican Party.

So he tried at the platform committee, with his son watching, to have them adopt a platform plank that would basically support civil rights legislation. Barry Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And that failed. And then George tried to get them to adopt a plank rejecting extremism because there was concern at the time that the John Birch Society was having too much influence in the party. That plank was rejected.

And then Barry Goldwater became the nominee, and as Mitt later recalled it, his father walked out of the Republican convention in 1964, very upset, never endorsed Barry Goldwater. What's so striking is that now Mitt Romney is coming in, calling himself severely conservatively, and he's not, you know, the moderate like his father walking in. He is now representing, if you will, the Barry Goldwater wing of today. So it really is a turnabout, and I really think it gives you a sense of the long, ideological winding path that Mitt Romney has traveled to get to this moment.

GROSS: And Goldwater lost the election really badly to Lyndon Johnson.

KRANISH: That's right, and Governor Romney, you know, no doubt felt that he was right, that he thought this was a big mistake, and Barry Goldwater was rejected. You can look back now in history and say the way that Goldwater was steering the party towards a more Southern strategy is where the party is today.

So now Mitt Romney in essence is coming along all these years later, 48 years later, and he is sort of more in line, I guess, with that Southern strategy, if you will, that the parties are very different than they were in his father's day. So obviously the party has changed, the Republican Party has changed dramatically, and Mitt Romney has changed dramatically in his views as well.

GROSS: After Barry Goldwater lost the presidential election in '64, he wrote an angry letter to George Romney asking why didn't you support me. And you quote what George Romney wrote in response, and I want to read that. George Romney wrote: Dogmatic, ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.

How do you think that reverberates today?

KRANISH: I have read that quote to some audiences, and I read it recently, and to my surprise the audience started cheering. They just felt that summarized, at least that's the way I took it, the problems of today, that George Romney way back those years ago has summarized views that are even more relevant today perhaps than they were then, because that seems to be where we are.

And so I do wonder, as Mitt Romney is taking the stage here, what voice he'll hear in his ear. Will he hear the echo of what his father said all those years ago? And you know, will he act on that? Will he - and that is, there is a sense among those who know him that he will try to reach back to that to some degree, to, you know, as traditionally is done, he'll say I want to work with Democrats.

Obviously, you know, we'll have to see what happens if he's president. But it is something that is a strong echo in the Romney family legacy, and we're looking to see how and whether Mitt embraces that same kind of viewpoint and concern.

GROSS: So your book is called "The Real Romney," and Scott, I want to ask you: If you compare how Romney is running now in his presidential campaign to how he ran in his gubernatorial or Senate campaigns, are they all - is he consistent in those campaigns, or are there things that lead you to ask who is the real Romney, comparing those campaigns?

SCOTT HELMAN: I think it's incredibly inconsistent, actually. I mean, certainly there are some consistencies that we see. I mean, in '94, when he first ran for Senate, and now, he's a man who cares very much about his family and his faith and so forth. There's certain bedrock principles, I think, to him that have not changed. But when you think about him politically, they're two completely different Mitt Romneys.

I mean, the Mitt Romney who ran in 1994 started out as a political independent, he's somebody who railed against the Contract with America, which of course was the big Newt Gingrich GOP revolution that year. He was a strong supporter of abortion rights. He was very outspoken in favor of gay rights, even writing this famous letter to the Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay rights group, talking about how he could more effective than Ted Kennedy could be, his opponent, on gay rights.

So you go up and down the line, and it's a very, very different political profile. So I think, you know, the one thing ideologically almost that's consistent from then to now is he's a pragmatist, and at the time, I think, you know, he was running against a very liberal senator with an impressive civil rights record, and he was running in very blue Massachusetts. So he had to be a certain type of candidate to be successful.

And to some extent that - to a large extent that continued in his gubernatorial run in 2002. You know, after that, when he starts to run for president, it's a very different environment, and he realizes that he has to be someone completely different to succeed in a Republican primary. And I think we're still seeing the result of that shift.

And all these things that we hear Mitt Romney say, and we sort of compare them to how he said them before, you have this kind of puzzled look on your face because you think, well, how could the same person say this and also say that. And I think the answer is, he, you know, just like he did in business, he looks at each situation that he's in and figures out how to be successful in that situation, and in many cases part of that consideration was who do I have to be politically to win.

GROSS: In your book "The Real Romney," you write a lot about not only Mitt Romney's commitment to the Mormon Church but the history of his family in the church. His great-great-grandfather was a part of the church back in the Joseph Smith era. Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So, he's been very private about his faith. However, last week he invited some members of the press to come to his church and observe him at a service. Michael Kranish, were you one of those journalists who was there?

KRANISH: No, this was a pool. So there were a couple of reporters that are allowed to represent the rest of the press, who happened to be on duty that day up by his summer home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. I did write about this issue a couple days later, however, and Terry, I think what you're seeing is that Mitt Romney does not want to talk about the tenets of Mormonism.

He's made that clear, that this should not be something that he has to discuss, that you should go to his church and so forth. And yet at the same time, you've had many people, and I think we may have talked about this last time we were on your show, who have said, you know, you can't understand Mitt Romney without understanding what his faith means to him.

He has said that his Mormon faith is, quote, one of the most important treasures of my life, unquote. So you do need to understand that. Plus, he was a leader of the Boston area Mormon churches for a number of years. This was practically a second fulltime job. So he wasn't just a member; he was a very strong leader of that church.

And I think what you've seen very recently is that they've come to the conclusion that they need to find a way to talk about what his faith means to him without talking about the individual tenets. And what they'd like to do, and I know what they are talking about doing - is talking about how as a church leader he helped people who were disadvantaged, that this was the way this very, very wealthy man, heading a private equity company in Boston, was able to meet with people who might have been poor or disadvantaged in various ways - as a church leader.

And so one of his aides have said a couple days ago that some of those folks might get up on the - at the convention and talk about how Mitt Romney helped them. Obviously, as Scott wrote in the book, there are also some other cases where there are some controversial things that Mitt Romney as a church leader advised some people to do. So I don't know that those people would talk.

But they are trying to use his church leadership days in a different way to hopefully, in their point of view, seal some of the connection that Mitt Romney seems to have been lacking in some of his prior appearances.

GROSS: How did Mitt Romney handle his faith in previous campaigns?

HELMAN: When Mitt Romney first ran for office in 1994, his faith did become a big campaign issue, in large part because his opponent, Ted Kennedy, and his family, made it an issue. There was a lot of controversy around Ted Kennedy's nephew, Joe Kennedy, who had said that, you know, he thought it was outrageous that the Mormon church prevented women from holding leadership roles and that they excluded blacks from holding the priesthood.

And it was a big moment, I think, for Mitt Romney and a big wakeup call that suddenly this faith that he had known had been seen skeptically, but I think this was the first time he got a taste of just how politically sensitive this was. And in fact Ted Kennedy himself at one point said that he thought that some of these things that Mormons believed, and particularly the point about not letting blacks in the church until 1978 - or hold leadership positions until 1978, that that was something that should be examined in a political context.

Now, he later backed off from that, but of course there was a great irony for the Romneys, that here you had the Kennedys, you know, Ted Kennedy, whose own brother, Jack Kennedy, in 1960 had given this famous speech in running for president saying that, you know, he wasn't going to speak for Catholicism, and Catholicism didn't speak for him, that it was, you know, here they were kind of invoking that legacy in a very perverse way.

And in fact there's a great story of a press conference that Mitt Romney was giving when he was really burned up about how this faith issue had come up. George Romney, his father, was actually there, in his 80s at the time, sort of advising his son's campaigns.

And he was circling the gaggle of reporters and just fuming at this and how the Kennedys had brought this up and made it a part of the campaign. At one point, in true George Romney fashion, he bursts into the press conference, interrupts his son and sort of starts shaking his fist and saying, you know, this is outrageous what the Kennedys are doing and this should have no place there.

And, you know, of course it was a great TV moment, right, so all the TV cameras went right from Mitt Romney right over to dad, because it made for a much better story. But I think that gave you a sense of how much this really bothered them, that it had become an issue.

And in fact, even after the race, after Mitt Romney had lost, he said one of the things that really ate at him was the way that the Kennedys had brought up the faith issue and made it part of the conversation.

So that was, you know, a bad, a sour experience, I think, if you will, for Mitt Romney. Fortunately for him, and I think for a lot of other Mormons, certainly in Massachusetts, it was almost nonexistent as an issue in 2002 when he ran for governor.

And then we see it crop back up again when he first runs for president in 2008, and of course that's when he really starts to court social conservatives. He's trying to talk to all these evangelicals, and of course a lot of them, as we know, have - are very skeptical, or worse, about Mormons and what they believe.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Scott Helman and Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe. They're the co-authors of the book "The Real Romney," which has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. And Michael Kranish is speaking to us from Tampa, Scott Helman from Boston; he's on his way to Tampa. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more about Mitt Romney. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the Boston Globe. They're co-authors of the new book "The Real Romney"; it's just been published in paperback with a new afterword.

Michael Kranish, you've been writing about Mitt Romney and his finances, taxes and Bain. He released his 2010 tax returns, and Gawker just released - Gawker just got their hands on a bunch of financial documents from Bain Capital. What are some of the key things you've learned about Romney and his personal finances from these documents?

KRANISH: Well, let me provide some perspective. There's been a lot of talk about the last 10 years of Mitt Romney's tax returns because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has alleged, without providing evidence, that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. So the context for this and the paradigm that really should be set is Mitt Romney's own words.

He said in 1994, in running for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy, that Kennedy should release his tax returns to show that he had nothing to hide. Kennedy refused, and Romney as a result did not release his own tax returns. So Romney's the one who set this up, that this should be done.

And then in 2002, when Romney's opponents did release their tax returns and said, OK, now you release yours, at that time he refused to release any tax returns and said it was a privacy issue. So this time around, it shouldn't be surprising that there was a lot of pressure for him to release his tax returns.

And what he has said is he would release - he has released his 2010 tax returns and so far a summary of the 2011 information. Frankly, that doesn't tell us an awful lot about his time at Bain Capital. He was at Bain Capital running that company from 1984. And then through '99 he was directly controlling a lot of the deals, and then he stayed as CEO until 2002.

So the 10 years after that are the years that Harry Reid's talked about, which is when he basically got a severance deal. But, you know, the real issue, if people are looking at, you know, going back to Romney's own words about what's going on about do you have something to hide, would go back to the time when he's at Bain Capital, because seeing those early tax returns are the ones that would show you how much money he made on certain deals and if those deals were the same deals that were good for the companies that were bought or if factories were shut down in those deals and he profited to a certain degree.

Those are the kind of things that you might want to see. So whatever is released in more recent years wouldn't show a lot of that. What the more recent documents have shown, they are not Romney-specific documents, but they're documents about various Bain funds that Romney at this time has some investments in.

And some of those funds are held in the Cayman Islands and other places like that. They're - a lot of the investments are not in a company stock A or B. As Romney has said, they're - it's all managed by a blind trust. The blind trust person running that decided to invest in Bain Capital funds. And in some cases those are hedge funds. They're various things that in fact might bet on whether a company does poorly.

But those are investments, you know, much later, and they're run by a blind trustee. So my overall point is that really by not releasing the earlier tax returns, there's a lot that we don't know and apparently we won't because he doesn't intend to release them.

And the other point is that his tax rate has been very low because as a person in the private equity business, he gets a break from the get-go, and that is that instead of most of his income coming and taxed by salary, it's taxed at what's known as carried interest, which is essentially the capital gains tax rate, which is about half the tax rate of, say, someone, you know, in a middle-class situation.

So it's just like Warren Buffett has said that his tax rate is lower than his secretary. Mitt Romney in the private equity business, it's the same thing. I don't know how much his secretary made, but from the get-go he was paying a very low tax rate. And so one of the things I wonder, President Obama in his budget had proposed that that be eliminated, that he felt that was an unfair break, and I wonder if that kind of issue also will become something we'll hear more about in the campaign.

GROSS: One of the questions that has been raised based on the Bain financial records that were released is that there were investments that, you know, the partners, and I think Romney would be included in these investments, investments in funds that hold complex securities that can profit from downturns in the economy like by shorting stocks, by betting against interest rates in foreign currencies, credit default swaps, which can bet that something's going to lose, and you gain if they lose.

So in terms of his experience, his financial experience showing him how to boost the economy, if he's had investments that have bet against success, bet against the economy, what does that say? Or does it say nothing? Is that just what investors do?

KRANISH: Right. The dilemma in discussing this is that these are funds that his blind trustee person decided to invest in.

GROSS: I see.

KRANISH: So Romney can say, you know, look, I didn't invest in those funds, the trustee invested in those funds. And it's hardly uncommon. I'm not excusing anything or saying this is fine or bad, just making the general point that a lot of funds, you know, have that, that use short stocks and so forth.

I've spent a lot of time talking to Romney's Bain partners over the last year or so, and every single one of them that I've talked to have said their job was not necessarily to create jobs, their job was to make as much money for their investors as possible.

And some of them take a little bit of umbrage at the idea that Bain has now been cast as this job-creating machine. They say they think in the end that more jobs are created than lost, but they say their fiduciary duty was to their investors to make money, and if that meant that jobs were cut in certain deals, then jobs were cut.

If that meant that factories had to be closed because it could be more profitable to do it in some other way, then factories were closed. Those were decisions that Mitt Romney would have been more directly involved with, which is a little different than a fund that a blind trustee person, you know, may have invested in.

So as someone who's spent a lot of time looking at this, the deals that Romney was directly involved in, which have plenty of upsides and downsides that we can talk about, probably are the most relevant to talk about in terms of what he did, what his decisions were and whether those were good for the economy or not.

And there are plenty of deals. There are about 100 deals made over 15 years, a lot of which we write about. Plenty of those, you know, are controversial. But the bottom line is they ran a fund that was basically a fund for very wealthy people to invest in. That was his job, and typically it a million dollars or more to get into those funds.

It's not like a typical mutual fund. So these individuals who invested in that fund, they did very well. Oftentimes their money doubled or almost doubled every year. It's a different matter about how that profit was made. In some cases it was made because businesses were turned around, or maybe there were things that were shut down or changed.

It's a - each deal is different, and there are many different ways in which they made money for their investors.

Michael Kranish and Scott Helman will be back in the second half of the show. Their book "The Real Romney" has just been published in paperback. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, authors of the book "The Real Romney," which has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. Kranish is deputy chief of the Boston Globe's Washington bureau and a former White House correspondent. Scott Helman is a staff writer at the Globe and former political editor. He was a lead writer on the 2008 presidential campaign.

We recorded our interview yesterday. Kranish was in Tampa, Helman was in Boston preparing to leave for Tampa.

So, Michael Kranish, one of the things you've written about regarding Romney's finances is how he and other partners at Bain used their IRAs both to invest but also perhaps to shield money from having to pay taxes on - that is perhaps stretching what an IRA is supposed to be able to do. Could you describe what questions you have about Mitt Romney's IRA?

KRANISH: Right. Well, a lot of people in this country have IRAs; they were set up by Congress to help average working people save a modest amount for retirement. And the average amount that an individual has in IRAs in this country is about $90,000. Mitt Romney in his financial disclosure report said that his IRA was worth between 20 million to $100 million. And as you know, an IRA, when you put money in there, it's shielded from the initial taxation and then you pay taxes when you are in retirement and take it out and presumably at a lower rate than you would have otherwise, and in the meantime a lot of money can accumulate.

I asked an independent research group to analyze where Mitt Romney's IRA stood in relation to the rest of the country and they came back and said that his IRA, even at the lowest estimate of 20 million, would have been in the top one-100ths of one percent of IRAs in this country. So by any measure, his IRA is extraordinary. Very few people have an IRA of 20 million, not to mention the possible topside of 100 million.

So how did he do that? How did you get an IRA so large if there are restrictions on how much you can put into IRAs every year? Depending on how it's done, the restriction might be $5,000 a year or in some kind of corporate plans it could be up to $50,000 a year. But still, how would it grow so large so quickly? So I and another reporter at the Globe, Beth Healy, looked at this and talked to Bain partners, other folks, and part of the reason is is that they use these IRAs that were established with a certain amount of money to make side investments in deals that Bain Capital already thought were pretty good or sure winning deals. So they would use their own personal funds from the IRA to then invest in the same deals that Bain Capital was investing in.

Some of these deals were extraordinarily successful. So there was a deal for, for example, where Bain put in $50 million into an Italian Yellow Pages company and got back a billion dollars. Separately, Bain partners invested in that same deal and deals like it. And so you can imagine they put in a somewhat modest amount of money personally and they got back a big return. Those returns accumulated exponentially. So over time, you have the IRA really exploding in the amount of money that's in there, and it's a - I think a large part of the explanation as to how an IRA all these years later could be worth between 20 million to $100 million. It's not what Congress envisioned obviously, when they set up IRAs, but the Romney campaign and the people that I've talked to, they say this is all legal and that when the money is withdrawn upon retirement, then Romney would pay some kind of a tax rate on that.

GROSS: I don't know a lot about what you can and can't do with an IRA. But is it legal to take the money in your IRA and just choose what investments you want to make with it?

KRANISH: Well, sure. I mean you can have what's called a self-directed IRA and so with your IRA you could say now I want it in, you know, Fidelity's X fund and then later on say, no, change that to the Fidelity Y fund. It can't...

GROSS: Right. But that's different than - I mean isn't that different from saying we're going to invest in this like new company that Bain's investing in? Because I understand having your retirement money in one of the funds in the larger company that your workplace uses as, for its retirement funds. But that's different from just choosing individual places to invest in with your IRA money. That's OK?

KRANISH: Right. Well, I asked the same question. And as it turns out, the Bain Capital IRAs are held by Merrill Lynch and there's a individual who has to be responsible for making sure that the deal is appropriate under the way the plan was set up, so every plan might have different particular rules. You couldn't go out and invest, for example, in tulips, but in this case, the person overseeing the IRA can say, you know, this seems like a reasonable investment and go ahead. So there are various restrictions on that that's set up plan-to-plan but in this case they were allowed under this plan to invest in side personal investments in Bain deals.

GROSS: Now Scott, you recently wrote a piece trying to investigate this question. Mitt Romney says that his experience at Bain has taught him what you need to know to create jobs and to fix the economy. So picking up on what Michael said earlier, how related is his experience at Bain to creating jobs and fixing the economy?

HELMAN: I think it's undeniable, whatever you think of Mitt Romney, whatever you think of his tenure at Bain, whatever you think of Bain Capital or private equity, I think we have to stipulate that Mitt Romney certainly has some economic fluency. He has trafficked in this world for years and I think there is certainly some truth to his statement that he knows how jobs come and he knows how jobs go. So I think he is largely correct to say that he has some significant understanding of how the American economy works, but I think that's a different question - it's a different question entirely, when we're saying, well, do we want this kind of man to be our leader? Do we want somebody who is very successful making money for very wealthy people running the economy that's supposed to be for everybody? And I think that's where his pitch is a little less persuasive.

I mean certainly, there is an argument to be made - and we're hearing it a lot from President Obama and his re-election team - that Mitt Romney has been really good for the one percent and he'd be really good for the one percent if he were president. He knows what these guys want and need. He wants deregulation. He wants lower tax rates for the wealthy. He wants smaller government.

So I think, you know, connecting those policy prescriptions to his Bain tenure, I think that is politically problematic for him. And I think that's one of his big challenges at this convention, is how he is going to cast that experience. Because the fact is the polls that I've seen suggest that Americans still believe that Obama identifies with them more than Mitt Romney does, and that Obama would be better for the middle class. And I think Mitt Romney can't win if that stays like that. So he has to somehow find a way to say, even though pretty much everything I've done in my business career has been to make money for largely wealthy investors, that I can apply that expertise and that experience to everybody else.

KRANISH: Terry, if I could just add, you know, one of the most interesting things that Romney said about this time was something he wrote - if I can just quote it. He said, quote, "I never actually ran one of our investments. That was left to management." And the reason that's important to understand is that he was running an investment fund. It wasn't like his father, George, who went in to run American Motors Corporation and turn it around. Mitt Romney would be the first person to say, and as I quoted, he did, that that's not what he did. He ran an overall investment fund. Deals were proposed and brought to him. He would say yes or no, and then a couple of cases he was on the board. For the most part that was the major part of his decision-making, let's invest or not invest. And so people can look at that and with the 30-second ads it can be hard to understand that because it sounds like he may have gone in, you know, and directly run this company or that company.

Most of what he did, he made most of his money in leveraged buyout deals that were basically investments in existing companies and he got paid management fees, there were loans taken that the company that was being bought had to pay back. So it's a more nuanced story that we really did try to take a lot of time to explain exactly what he did. And I think that quote that I read you gives you a little bit more perspective as to what he did and didn't do.

GROSS: Mitt Romney very recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that was called "What I Learned at Bain." And he wrote, my presidency would make it easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get the investment dollars they need to grow, by reducing and simplifying taxes; replacing Obamacare with real health care reform that contains costs and improves care; and by stemming the flood of new regulations that are tying small businesses in knots. And he goes on to say, I'm not sure Bain Capital could have grown or turned around some of the companies we invested in had we faced today's anti-business environment. Andy Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants Incorporated, which employs about 21,000 people at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants, has said that quote, "the current unfriendly economic environment perhaps best explains why American companies are sitting on over $2 trillion which they could invest," unquote.

So it seems to me there's maybe two separate thoughts on here. One is making it easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and the other is a favorable economic climate for companies that have 21,000 employees and their needs might be very different from the small entrepreneur.

KRANISH: Well, it goes to his overall belief - his overall belief as in the theory of, quote, "creative destruction," and that the private economy will find what works and what doesn't - and this is what led to the famous op-ed he wrote about the auto bailout, where it was headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt"- that that is part of what he believes in. And if you are a supporter of Mitt Romney that's something that, you know, you may well believe in yourself - that this idea that there's too much regulation and that business is not investing. There are certainly plenty of business people who would say, you know, that is the case and that they don't like all the regulation and that an overall change in lots of things, you know, would improve conditions. So that is really one of the fundamental questions in the election: Do you believe in Mitt Romney's philosophical view about this or do you believe in President Obama's? That's really, you know, one of the main things that people will be examining.

HELMAN: But I think a lot of this gets lost just in the talking points. I mean, you know, the fact is the capital gains rate is still very low, it has not been raised. President Obama has not raised that. You know, we talk about energy, you know, Obama has angered a lot of liberals by being open to drilling in and around this country. So there are plenty of things - it's easy for Romney and Republicans I think generally to say oh, you know, you know, business hates all the regulation and government is on their back and so forth. But the fact is, you know, there have been several things that have happened recently that have been favorable to business that Obama has either not changed or proposed himself. And but so I think it becomes kind of a crutch or a trope, if you will, to say, you know, Democrats love government, they hate business and it's, you know, that fits in a 30-second ad and that's how you vote.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. They both are with the Boston Globe. They're the authors of the book "The Real Romney," which has just been published in paperback with a new afterword.

Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: We're talking about Mitt Romney with Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the Boston Globe. Helman is a staff writer and former political editor at the Globe and was a lead writer on the 2008 presidential campaign. Michael Kranish is deputy chief of the Globe's Washington bureau and a former White House correspondent. Their book, "The Real Romney," has just been published in paperback with a new afterword, and they're covering the Republican Convention.

I want to ask you about Dr. Jack Wilkie. And he's the now 87-year-old doctor that apparently is the person who came up with the idea that Congressman Todd Akin quoted, which is that if a woman is raped that her body has a mechanism to shut down the sperm from fertilizing an egg. Now, Dr. Wilkie from what I've heard, had been a surrogate for Mitt Romney. Do you know much about Wilkie or his relationship to Romney?

HELMAN: I - this is Scott - I don't know much about Wilkie or his relationship. I'm trying to think if I ever saw them together in the last campaign and nothing comes to mind. I mean, what I will say...

GROSS: While you're thinking, I'm going to quote something...

HELMAN: Yeah. Sure.

GROSS: ...that Jack Wilkie wrote: Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant, a woman's body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain which is easily influenced by emotions. There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy. And he goes on to write that women who report rape often do that - they often falsely claim rape. Anyway it's just...

HELMAN: I mean it sounds like...

GROSS: Yeah.

HELMAN: It sounds to me, you know, all those things sound like you're reading something from some, you know, 17th-century encyclopedia. I mean it's just amazing...

GROSS: It was 1971. Yeah.

HELMAN: Right. Exactly. I mean it's incredible, I think, some of the things people are saying about rape in 2012. One thing I will say that Romney, in the last campaign, you know, he really set out in that 2008 race to establish himself as the top candidate for social conservatives. I mean that was where the space was. When he looked at the race he saw Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and John McCain, the senator from Arizona, they were the big boys in the center, if you will, in the Republican Party. There was no room for Mitt Romney there. Where there was room was on the right and that's why we see this real recalibration of Mitt Romney as a political figure because he had to fill that space. And in part of the effort that he went to to do that was to court people like this doctor and people like Joe Arpaio, the very rabidly anti-immigration sheriff in Phoenix.

HELMAN: I remember flying out with Romney when he did an event with Joe Arpaio. These were the people he was courting in that campaign. And, you know, we've seen him moderate that to some extent this time around, but I mean that just gives you a sense of the lengths that he went to to appeal to the hard right of the Republican Party.

KRANISH: And in this campaign, he has tried to back out, not change his position on that. He's already changed that position once. But he hasn't focused on it as much as he did in 2008. So for example when he wrote his book "No Apology," at the end he has a list of 64 action items, as he calls them, and abortion is not on the list.

He does talk about his anti-abortion views in the text of the book, but the fact that it's not on that list of 64 action items gives you a sense that they made a political calculation that there are certain social conservatives who would simply not support Mitt Romney and that they needed to focus more this time around on the economy.

So certainly, you know, he maintains his same position, but he hasn't focused on it in quite the same way that he did in 2008.

GROSS: Mitt Romney recently said in Michigan: No one ever asked me for my birth certificate. Were you surprised that he said that?

KRANISH: I was surprised, and the reason that I was surprised is that Mitt Romney has stayed away from this issue entirely. He well knows that there are plenty of other people in the party who are happy to take it on and that he can maintain his distance, although obviously he's appeared onstage with Donald Trump, who has endorsed him.

And the reason I was particularly surprised is that it was Mitt's father, George, who ran for president despite being born in Mexico and did not come to this country until he was five years old. At the time, his father's campaign took some questions about that, and it never really came to a complete conclusion because George dropped out before the first primary.

But I look back at newspaper stories from the time, and there were serious questions being raised about whether George was qualified, since he was born in Mexico and didn't come here until he was five, whether he could fit the definition of being a native-born citizen and so forth.

And their explanation was that George's parents had lived in the U.S. at a certain time and that he qualified under that. But I think he's been particularly sensitive because his father went through some of these same questions when his father ran for president.

GROSS: So doesn't Romney run the risk of having people, having journalists use that statement as an opportunity to go back to the George Romney question about whether he legitimately ran for president because he spent his first five years in Mexico where he was born, and in a community that was founded as a polygamist community so that they could have freedom of polygamy outside of the government of the United States?

KRANISH: Well, it's interesting. If you look back, Mitt Romney for many years didn't focus very much on the fact that his father was born in Mexico. In this campaign he's mentioned it a number of times, particularly before Hispanic audiences, mentioning that his father was born in Mexico, although his father obviously was not an Hispanic. But he's pointed that out, that there is some heritage in the family.

He certainly has not focused on the fact that his great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, established that colony to evade the laws against polygamy in this country. Mitt's father and Mitt's grandfather were not polygamists, but the colony was initially founded on that. And to this day there are Romneys, I've been to that colony in Mexico, there are quite a number of Romneys who still live in this colony, in a very beautiful part of Mexico about four hours from the U.S. border.

HELMAN: And I think there's a bigger risk, Terry, here, and that is that every time Mitt Romney does something like this, it just puts him more into this, you know, extremist camp within the Republican Party. I mean, this - Mitt Romney now should be focusing on the middle of the country, on independents. This is a group that he's done well with in the past. And yet we see him pushing himself further and further, I think, to the right.

And it's going to be really interesting to see how he tries to swing this back at the convention because to the extent that he's associated with the birther movement, and, you know, now he's picked in Paul Ryan someone who is very, very conservative not just on fiscal issues but also on women's issues, on abortion rights, somebody who has favored bills that allow no exceptions for rape or things like that, you know, this puts Mitt Romney exactly where President Obama and his team want him, which is in this far right of the Republican Party, out of the mainstream, somebody who cannot win a general election in the fall.

GROSS: The abortion question is actually kind of confusing now about where everybody stands. The party platform, the Republican Party platform, says that there should be no exceptions made for incest or rape. And Paul Ryan, who supports that and has sponsored legislation like that, defers to Romney. You know, Romney supports an exception in cases of rape or incest, but Paul Ryan, who doesn't, says, you know, Romney's the person who'd be president, it's about him, it's not about me. But the Republican Party is Ryan's position. So can you figure out what the position of a Romney administration would actually be?

HELMAN: Romney would, you know, be the one to - there is no tie-breaking. You're the president or the vice president. So Romney's position certainly would prevail. His position has been, and they've restated it this week despite the platform, that he has exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and so forth.

So, you know, taking him at his word, that would be the policy of the Romney administration. Obviously that's a - you know, that is a limited position, certainly. So that seems to be where they would be headed with that.

KRANISH: But politically it's a disaster for them because Todd Akin's comments about what is rape and legitimate rape versus illegitimate rape, now you have the party platform, which takes a very hard line on abortion, and he's picked Paul Ryan, who in the past has voiced a very hard line on abortion.

This is exactly what Mitt Romney does not want to be talking about, because it's a risk on the right, because it reminds people of how firmly in support of abortion rights he once was in his - not very long ago. And it's a disaster on the left and certainly in the center because Mitt Romney wants to talk about the economy and how President Obama has failed and how it's time to fire him and get this country working again, all those slogans, and yet here we are trying to parse, you know, the party's views and his views on abortion.

And every moment that he has to spend talking about that is a losing moment for Mitt Romney.

GROSS: My guests are Boston Globe reporters Scott Helman and Michael Kranish, authors of "The Real Romney," which has just been published in paperback with a new afterword. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. They both are with the Boston Globe, and they're authors of the new book "The Real Romney," it just came out in paperback with a new afterword.

So you're both covering the Republican convention. I'm just wondering, like, how do you like covering conventions?

HELMAN: I always wonder - Michael's more of a political junkie than I am, so I think he enjoys it a bit more, maybe, than I do. But I mean, it is theater, and I think it can be hard, but it's important to try to suss out the substance and try to figure out what the message is and what the policies are going to be and how it, you know, might differ from what President Obama would bring were he re-elected.

You know, as you know, logistically as a reporter, it's very, very difficult. The security is crazy. Now it looks like we're in for a few days of rain, which of course is going to be fantastic as we're all, you know, waiting in these long security lines. So, you know, it's fun on one hand, but I will also be happy when it's over.

KRANISH: Well, if I can add one thing, Terry, and that is going back to where we started, in 1964, Mitt was there when his father was at the epicenter of a war within the Republican Party that was exposed to all. And there was booing of Nelson Rockefeller when he gave a convention speech, and Barry Goldwater said extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

At this convention, certainly there are people who are - you know, disagree with Mitt Romney, but they're trying to do everything they possibly can to have one central, smooth message. They want to, you know, stifle any idea that there's great disagreement within the party after the brutal primaries. So that's what they're trying to do.

You know, clearly, you know, there are disagreements within the party, but they want to present a certain message. It's up to us to, you know, to make clear what's really going on beneath that surface.

GROSS: And what do you think are the major disagreements in the party that we won't see on stage?

KRANISH: Well, Ron Paul has a lot of supporters here. So a lot of those people are still active. They had a big event during the week. You know, there are people who are not terribly enthusiastic about Mitt Romney who are supporting him because he's the nominee, that some of them are more enthusiastic about Paul Ryan.

That's always the case. You know, you often have, you know, nominees that, you know, the party, some of the people are not enthusiastic about. They want to present it now that they're all unified coming out. They obviously want to rally their base. I mean, they have basically made the decision that this is in the large part a base election, and by that I mean that if they get out, you know, their strong supporters that they believe they can win.

There was some thought before Ryan was picked that they might have a strategy that looks a lot more to the middle, and they might have picked someone who's more moderate, and they hope that Paul Ryan can fill some of that. But the overall belief is that they basically have made the strategic decision that it's a base election that they can win by turning out their base, especially in key swing states.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for joining us. Scott Helman, Michael Kranish, thank you. I hope you have a good convention in terms of finding very interesting things to write about and analyze. Be safe, be well, thank you so much.

KRANISH: Thank you, Terry.

HELMAN: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Michael Kranish and Scott Helman are the authors of "The Real Romney." It's just been published in paperback with a new afterword. You can read an excerpt of the book on our website, freshair.npr.org. Or you can also download podcasts of our show. And you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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