“Romney: A Reckoning,” by McKay Coppins, $32.50
“Enough,” by Cassidy Hutchinson, $30
These two best-selling biographies share the stories of two Republicans who publicly rebuked Donald Trump. Trump responded by castigating Mitt Romney — even though Trump had endorsed Romney for president in 2012. Trump also trashed Cassidy Hutchinson — even though Trump had praised Hutchinson for her effective work as a young, well-placed White House aide on his staff.
The two individuals, Romney and Hutchinson, are now outcasts in the Republican Party (the party they still belong to).
Romney grew up as the privileged son of two Michigan Mormons who were also Eisenhower Republicans. His dad, George Romney, won acclaim as president of American Motors, an automobile manufacturing firm. In the early 1960s, the elder Romney served as a popular three-term governor of Michigan. He later was briefly the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination for president in 1968.
Romney’s mother ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 1970.
Mitt Romney’s early years were shaped by capitalism, religion and his family’s pro bono public service ethic.
Romney served as a Mormon missionary in France for a couple of years, and later graduated with high honors from Brigham Young University. He then earned both a law degree and MBA from Harvard University.
Romney joined the Boston-based management consulting firm of Bain and Co., later becoming president of spinoff Bain Capital, a leveraged buyout company that specialized in buying troubled companies, turning them around, and then selling them for a profit.
Romney became wealthy and successful. He devoted considerable time to lay leadership responsibilities in the Mormon church. He and his wife, Anne, raised five sons in their suburban Boston home.
Romney was proud of being a successful capitalist, and he would later say, “I’ve been extraordinarily successful, and I want to use that success … to help the American people.”
He challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in 1994, losing, but the campaign served as boot camp for future campaigns.
Romney won national praise for his leadership in running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. These games were in trouble because of some bribery scandals. Romney was brought in and turned the situation around.
Romney then ran and was elected governor of Massachusetts, serving 2003 to 2007. He polished his moderate credentials by instituting a publicly financed health insurance plan for the state, after which “Obamacare” was modeled.
Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He had to modify some of his views to to appeal to national Republicans. His rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, joked that Romney was most assuredly “the candidate of change.”
McKay Coppins, a respected staff writer for The Atlantic, has written an excellent portrait of Romney, who allowed Coppins, a fellow Mormon, to interview him more than 40 times over two years.
This is a sympathetic memoir. It captures Romney acknowledging and sometimes apologizing for the political gaffes he made during his many election campaigns. The gaffe and quote Romney most regretted was in his 2012 campaign for president, against Democrat Barack Obama, when he told donors:
“There are 47% of the people who will vote for Obama no matter what. … (They) are dependent on government, who believe they are victims, who believe that the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing …”
Romney did not know he was being secretly taped. Democrats seized on his statement and accused him of denigrating old people, the disabled and military veterans. Coppins describes how Romney became depressed and even considered dropping out of the race.
Romney lost to Obama in 2012 but won 47% of the vote, and nearly 59% of the White vote.
This invaluable gem of a biography does an especially good job of capturing the trials and occasional joys of a presidential candidate. Romney admits he disliked the retail politics of campaigning in Iowa. He did not care for having to ask for endorsements.
Romney admits to being lonely and frustrated on the campaign trail. He was especially upset by the smears, prejudiced and mean-spirited aspects of national campaigns. He acknowledges he had to make compromises.
This may be the most revealing as well as intimately candid portrayal of a candidate running for the White House.
Romney worked to help other Republicans try to defeat Donald Trump in 2016. Early that year, Romney declared Trump a “phony, a fraud.”
Coppins shares the extensive and ultimately unsuccessful behind-the-scenes efforts by Romney to deny the nomination to Trump.
In 2018 Romney won election to the U.S. Senate from his “new home state” of Utah. Romney, like many former governors and business executives before him, found the Senate poorly run and a disappointing experience. But it became even more challenging as he branded himself one of the main, and sometimes the only, Republican critic of President Trump.
This biography details Romney’s memorable vote to convict Trump in 2020 for alleged abuse of power when Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on its launching an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden.
Romney said that judging Trump on this allegation would be one of the most difficult decisions he would ever have to make. But he concluded that shirking his constitutional duty would “expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
Romney concluded that Trump had committed high crimes and misdemeanors. “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s office that I can imagine.”
Just recently, he decided not to run for reelection.
This biography celebrates Romney for his public service, but it also shares his vulnerability and his agonies over his gaffes, compromises and failings. Kudos to both Romney and Coppins.
Cassidy Hutchinson was raised in a Republican household and says Romney especially appealed to her as she began to follow politics. She was a political science major in college, but says she really learned about politics when she served as an intern for both U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2017.
Hutchinson won an internship in the Trump White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows had liked dealing with her when he was in Congress. She was efficient, hardworking and had exceptional people skills.
Thus Hutchinson, when still in her mid-20s, was improbably promoted to be the “chief of staff” for Trump’s chief of staff. She knew she was in over her head, but she loved it. And she worked tirelessly to promote and protect Meadows and Trump.
She also acknowledges that her views were more moderate than those of Meadows and Trump.
Her position at the White House did not encourage her to express her own more bipartisan views, although she tried, but Meadows ignored her views.
As a communication “booker” between members of Congress and the White House, Hutchinson developed especially strong ties with Rep. Kevin McCarthy. She also had a friendship with Rep. Matt Gaetz, whom she gradually came to consider a rogue Republican.
Hutchinson may have been a “Romney Republican” initially, but she admits she and Meadows worked hard to protect Trump and help him reassure his allies and demonize his opponents. But they also were painfully aware that the moody maverick president they worked for often liked to operate on the edge. At one point, Meadows leaned against his door and rubbed his temples and told her, “Cass, if I can get through this job and manage to keep Trump out of jail, I will have done a good job.”
In retrospect, she concluded Trump was unfit for the task of leading the country out of the COVID pandemic. And she wishes he had shown more bipartisanship, especially in dealing with Congress.
Hutchinson, at age 25, came forward in 2021 to be a star witness before the House hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. She had a front-row seat at the White House as Trump’s legal advisers and attorney general kept telling Trump he had lost the 2020 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump apparently knew they were right but was infuriated by their message. Hutchinson saw firsthand how Trump would throw food at the wall and how he would take out his anger on many of those around him.
Her book, written with the help of longtime McCain speechwriter Mark Salter, details Hutchinson’s torment as she struggled to be loyal to Trump and Meadows but decided that her loyalty to the Constitution and country had to come first.
Hutchinson, who admits she had once “adored the president,” wrote that her views changed as she witnessed “his selfish, relentless threatening of the country’s constitutional order.” She had had “enough.”
She told Congress that Trump knew his supporters had weapons and he wanted them allowed into his Jan. 6 rally. She told of Trump wanting to go himself to the insurrection at the Capitol. She had learned, too, that Trump had skirmished with his Secret Service aides when they refused to allow him to go to the Capitol. She shared her disillusionment that Trump failed to stop the insurrection and showed no interest in helping or protecting Vice President Mike Pence, one target of the rioters.
Her testimony was riveting.
But the price she paid for speaking out honestly led to immediate smearing from Trump and the White House. She had become a hero for many Americans but a pariah for Trump’s band of election deniers.
This memoir will not win prizes for writing but, as Rep. Liz Cheney noted, it is an example of what it means “to love this country and what it really means to be a patriot.”
Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote that, in the larger scheme of things, Hutchinson was a nobody. “And yet such people can upend empires. She showed a lot more guts than the men at that White House.”
This is an important book.
Both Romney and Hutchinson have had to live in fear of physical violence — and they have painfully shared the loneliness that has resulted from their doing what they believed was the right thing to do.