On a recent Thursday in Derry, New Hampshire, Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, was engaged in a conversation about milkshakes. It was early afternoon at a nineteen-fifties-themed diner called MaryAnn’s, and Romney, surrounded by cameramen and reporters, went from table to table introducing himself to voters. Before running for office in Massachusetts—unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994 and, successfully, for governor in 2002—Romney made a fortune as a management consultant and leveraged-buyout specialist, and, in twenty-five years in the business world, he learned to love information-gathering. “There are answers in numbers—gold in numbers,” he wrote in “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games,” his 2004 memoir. “Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow.” His campaign manager, Beth Myers, told me recently that Romney regularly checks Mittromney.com, and sends off e-mails to aides, asking them to add more detailed information to the site.
At MaryAnn’s, Romney, his suit jacket removed and his sleeves rolled up, made his way swiftly through the restaurant, methodically quizzing the patrons. He sat down with two gray-haired women in a booth and pointed to a creamy drink on the table. “Is this a malt or is this a milkshake?” he asked.
“It’s a frappe,” one of the women replied.
“We call that a milkshake in the Midwest,” Romney, who has lived in Massachusetts for the past thirty-six years, said. “It’s a frappe here, right? This is ice cream and, and—”
“And milk,” the woman replied.
“And milk, yeah. How are you doing? I’m Mitt Romney.”
Romney is smart. He was chosen as the speaker for his graduating class at Brigham Young University. He pursued joint graduate degrees at Harvard, in law and business, graduating cum laude in law and in the top five per cent of his class at the business school. “I like smart people,” he wrote in “Turnaround.” “A lot.” But, like many smart overachievers, especially in politics, he sometimes tries a little too hard. The conversation turned from frappes to health care, and he asked, “Is it O.K. here in New Hampshire?”
“I live in Vermont,” one of the women responded.
“I live in Massachusetts,” the other said.
Undaunted, Romney cheerily pressed for their views on how to improve the health-care system. One of the women made a pitch for more government spending on care for the elderly. The poor, she argued, benefit from government programs, and the rich can afford their own care. “I think the middle people need some help.” Romney perked up and patiently explained the details of a 2004 law that provided more state assistance for home care. His new friends were smitten. “That’s a nice idea,” one of them said. Romney did not mention that the new rules applied only to the poor. ( Collapse )