In the New Yorker, Mitt being Mitt

A profile finds Romney "direct and pleasant and engaged"

Published September 24, 2012 8:34PM (EDT)

Mitt Romney is often seen awkwardly discussing tree heights and clouds when travelling on the campaign trail. But in an interview with Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker, Romney comes across as somewhat more comfortable when discussing his business background.

In the profile, Lemann observes: "Just about the only thing in life that Mitt Romney is obviously not very good at is the public aspect of running for office. During his four campaigns for office--U.S. senator, in 1994; governor, in 2002; President, in 2008 and 2012-- he must have undergone endless hours of training and practice, but the magic just isn't there." Except, that is, in smaller groups: "He was direct and pleasant and engaged. His voice sounded husky, rather than flat. His gestures seemed spontaneous, not staged."

Here are some key qu0tes from the interview:

On his father:

"I remember, as a boy, saying to him, 'Dad, we make the best cars, don't we?' And he said yes. And I said, 'Then why don't we sell the most cars?' And he said, Well someday we may. And he said, 'Because Mitt'--and this is a quote--'there's nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.' And the auto industry, in particular General Motors, was so successful for so long that it didn't recognize the need to innovate, to become more productive, to become more efficient, or it would ultimately be vulnerable to foreign competition. So the industry itself, its managers, made some critical mistakes."

On business executives:

 "They agree to actions which are good on a  short-term basis but may be more hazardous long term. And so, for instance, if you're the chief executive officer of General Motors back in the nineteen-seventies and a contract comes forward which has onerous legacy costs, why, you know that those costs are not going to be borne on your tern, because it's going to be done for future retirees. And so you might agree to something that is harmful to the company long term but, by the way, beneficial short term, because who wants to take a strike, to prevent a provision that's going to hurt ten years or twenty years down the road?"

And how that relates to politics:

"This is particularly true, by the way, in politics," he went on, " where politicians regularly agree to huge contracts with back-end-loaded benefits, and the day of reckoning finally comes, but they're long gone. While they were there. Everything was great. But look at the contracts they entered into!"

More on business vs. politics:

"The private sector is less forgiving. If you make serious mistakes in the private sector, you'll lose your job, or, if you're in a position of responsibility, you might lose other people's jobs. In politics, politicians make mistakes all the time and blame their opposition, or borrow more money, or raise taxes to pay for their mistake. In the business world, the ability to speak fast and convincingly is of little value. I remember the first time I met Jack Welch. I expected him to be a super-salesman. Instead, he spoke quietly, somewhat haltingly, but brilliantly. Stuff matters a lot more than fluff in the private sector."

On running for office:

"I can't imagine making politics my profession. I can't imagine having to think about winning elections through a lifetime, to be able to put food on the table and provide for my family…I don't get wound up about winning an election. Instead, I think about what I want to do, hopefully communicate that as well as I can to people, and, if they vote for me, find, and if they don't they don't. That's their right."

On welfare:

"Government, by and large, is less efficient than churches and private institutions and family members. A family member can say to someone, 'I'm not going to give you another dollar until you clean up your act, son!' A government can't do that. A government has to say, "If you qualify, you get it.' And, that being said, one has no choice but to have a safety net provided by government for housing needs, for food needs, for welfare to get people back on their feet. I recognize that, support that."

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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2012 Elections Bain Capital Barack Obama Mitt Romney Welfare