A day after my conversation with the Obamas, I headed up to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, to interview Mitt and Ann Romney at their vacation home -- six bedrooms and a guesthouse -- right on Lake Winnipesaukee. Since I'd never met the former Massachusetts governor or his wife, I didn't know what to expect, but I was happily enveloped by a strong family vibe the minute I walked in. Two of their five sons were there, plus a few daughters-in-law and a passel of grandkids -- in swimsuits, reaching for slices of watermelon on the table outside, running to their granddad and hugging him around the waist. Cute little kids just seemed to keep coming out of every nook and corner!
There was a big boat in a slip right out front, a trampoline on the lawn, what looked like 100 bikes in the shed, and a kitchen stocked with Ann's homemade goodies, including her famous Welsh skillet cakes. You can tell that a lot of family fun happens here.
But that's not the Romneys' only mode. For a while now, Ann has been balancing the details of family life with her battle against multiple sclerosis, with which she was diagnosed in 1998. And the Republican presidential nominee, although a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, is probably best known as a very successful businessman who believes he can bring that expertise to running the country (when I arrived, he had just returned from a four-day campaign swing through Colorado, Texas, Montana, and Wyoming). With twilight approaching and the little ones happily scattered here and there, we settled into the comfy lakefront living room full of framed photos of the tight-knit clan and began.
Oprah: [To Ann Romney] So when's the last time you saw him? Other than on TV.
Ann Romney: I don't watch TV anymore.
O: You don't?
AR: Yeah, I've turned it off.
O: Because it's too much?
AR: I can't. I just can't deal with it, if I'm going to have the calmness and peace that I need to have.
O: Yes. Because calmness and peace is the whole reason you're here on this lake [gestures at the view]. You can't enjoy it if you're gonna let the TV in.
AR: I can't let the TV in. It's just too much noise.
O: So what would you be saying to him if you were talking on the phone?
AR: He'd only be asking about the children and what'd the grandkids do, and what'd Nate say this week, because everything Nate says is hilarious. He's 4.
O: How many grandkids are there now?
O: Eighteen. And the youngest is?
AR: Two months, and they're twins. Twin boys.
O: Okay, so at any moment when a grandchild comes into the room, do you immediately know their name exactly?
AR: Oh, yes.
Mitt Romney: We used to mix up the names of our own sons. "Josh, come here right now!" But grandkids, no. It's funny, I don't know why that is. We're not smarter.
AR: There isn't the stress of raising them. You're just enjoying them, so it's a lot easier.
MR: It's like, "Oh, this one has a poopy diaper. Here you go!"
O: "Go to your mom!" Are you calmer now?
AR: Much calmer. Actually, I did a pretty good job as a mom being calm. [To Mitt] Don't you think that's my nature?
MR: Well, Matt...
AR: He loved pushing [my buttons]. But that was as a teenager when he was little he didn't do that. There was always this anxiety because you want to teach them to play the piano, you want to teach them to be moral, you want to teach them to study well, and so you feel responsible for every activity they do and who they're playing with and everything. It's such an awesome responsibility.
O: And you kept having boys. Did you ever think, Gosh, it would be nice to have a girl?
AR: Well, it was in those days when you never knew what you were having, and so each time I'm like, you're kidding. No, you're kidding. By the fifth time I was like, I'm finished! This isn't changing, this isn't gonna get any better. And it's so funny that Craig, who was my fifth, was the most delightful, the most easygoing, the most wonderful child, and I was so disappointed that he was a boy. But you get over it.
MR: I'm sure Mary [Craig's wife] is happy that he's a boy. Where'd Mary go?
O: Are you a good mother-in-law?
AR: Very. [Mitt laughs.]
O: What makes you so?
AR: Because they know how much I love them, and how much I've been waiting for them to come into my life.
O: Are you a mother-in-law who's in their business or out of their business? Can they come to you?
AR: I'm in their fun business. But even when there's a problem, they'll talk to me about that, which is nice.
O: Really? That's good.
AR: I'm in their business in a good way.
MR: There are lots of daughters-in-law here, so it's only fair that we let them weigh in. [Mary Romney is summoned from the kitchen.]
AR: Mary, Oprah wanted to know am I a good mother-in-law?
MR: Oh my gosh, she is the best mother-in-law in the world, are you kidding? She gives a lot of advice when you ask for it, and other than that, she's out of your business. And she gets us great little gifts. [Indicates the bracelet she's wearing.] She's a great shopping companion.
O: That's great. I want to know from you, Governor...
MR: Time to go! [Laughs.]
O: I want to know from you, what were your dreams growing up? When did you know you wanted to be president? That's a high calling.
MR: Not any time during my youth. I never imagined that. As a little boy, I wanted to be a policeman. And then as I got older and I saw my dad in the car business, an automobile executive. I love cars, I like the idea of manufacturing something, having a product, a hard product to sell and promote, but as time went on I recognized that car companies are so bureaucratic and so ossified that it would take forever to work your way up. And so I went into consulting.
O: Kudos to your dad for being able to move up in a car company.
MR: My dad was phenomenal. Born in Mexico, lived poor, didn't graduate from college, and becomes head of a car company and then governor of a state. I can't imagine I would have ever thought about running for office had I not seen my dad do it.
O: So this calling to be president, do you feel you're called, or is it something else? Is it a yearning? What is it?
MR: It's not that. It is that I feel I have an obligation, given the experience I've had, to help get the country back on track. And Ann was the one who really pushed it.
O: [To Ann] I was going to ask you that, because in 2008, didn't you say, "Never again"?
AR: Never again. Never again. Emphatically, never again.
O: Yes, and then what changed?
AR: It's this women's thing, like intuition. I felt like he was the person that had the right answers for the right time. That there was an economic crisis, there was a jobs crisis, and there were millions of Americans in need of someone who knew how to turn things around.
O: But at the end of 2008, you'd had enough?
O: Why, because it was so grueling?
AR: It's hard on families. It's hard. You know, I've known this guy since we were kids. I was 15 when I met him and he was 18, and I know his heart. I know how good he is. And I know how committed he is, I know how hard he works, I know how conscientious he is. And I think that the most amazing thing he did in his life was literally walk away from Bain Capital and say, "All right, I'm gonna take no pay and go for three years and just do something totally different" [run the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City]. I think we would never have done anything like that if it had not been for his dad, showing that making money is all good and well, but as soon as you sort of feel like you've got enough, then it's time to give back. And it just seemed like a natural progression, even though most people thought we were crazy to do that.
MR: By the way, this is also her. She called me at the office, at my work, enjoying myself at Bain Capital, and she said, "Now, don't say no. I think you should consider going and running the Olympics in Salt Lake." I said, "That's the craziest idea I've ever heard." They had called her...
AR: Knowing that he would say no.
O: Because they were having all these problems.
MR: They were having problems. And I had no experience in running a sporting event. I wasn't a particularly gifted athlete. My oldest son called when it all came out in the newspaper and said, "Dad, I called the brothers. We want you to know there's not a circumstance we could have conceived of that would put you on the front page of the sports section." [All laugh.] But Ann recognizes those things before I do and said, "This is something you're really going to want to do." Ultimately, the Olympics was probably the best professional experience of my life. I think it had a huge impact on Ann as well.
O: How so?
MR: It changed her life.
AR: Well, having just been diagnosed with MS maybe three months before, I was going downhill fast. Really, really sick.
O: What does MS do to you?
AR: For me, my whole right side was numb. I was having difficulty walking. But beyond that it was the fatigue. No one understands, unless they have MS, what fatigue is.
O: It's a weariness in your spirit, your bones, everything.
AR: In your bones, deep to your bones. Your brain doesn't work, your mouth doesn't work, your tongue doesn't work. Everything is an effort. I mean, to stand up is an effort, to talk is an effort.
O: It's like your body is physically depressed.
AR: I think a lot of women have autoimmune diseases. I think what happens is, women have five balls up in the air all the time, and they can do it for a while. And then all of a sudden the body just says, Sorry.
O: That's it.
AR: Done. It gives you a few warnings, and then your body goes, I'm gonna make you crash to the ground where you can't even pick your head up. Women try to push through so many things, and our bodies physically can't do that.
O: So how are you managing it now, and are there things that you can't do?
AR: Well, there's some. I can't stay on the trail with him, for sure.
O: Wears you out?
AR: Absolutely, yeah. I can go three days, maybe.
O: That's enough. See ya!
AR: But yeah, I've learned. I went all the way, crashed, and then in the three years Mitt was with the Olympics, I slowly, slowly, slowly built my strength to the point where I could function again.
O:It seems like a presidential campaign would be the last thing you'd want to say yes to.
AR: The prescription for MS is no stress, have a normal life, eat well, and exercise. So yes, it was a huge consideration.
O: A huge consideration, whether to do it a second time around.
AR: We would not be doing this if I were not doing well.
O: [To Mitt] We know your resume, and we know your pedigree; what do you want us to know about you that we've likely not heard?
MR: I think there's a character one has if you're a chief executive officer. Movies would suggest you're a bad person if you're wealthy, if you've done well, oh, you must be bad. And frankly, winning the lottery doesn't change who you are; you're the same person inside. And I'm the same person I was as an 18-year-old who fell in love with Ann.
O: How frustrating is it to you that people don't seem to get you?
MR: You know, that's just part of the political process. I'm not worried about it.
O: Do you feel like you have been mischaracterized?
MR: I just think people have an immediate perception, which is, this guy is well-off financially, so he must not care about people. But the truth is, I care very deeply about people; my life has shown that. As people see me in debates, as we talk about what needs to be done to make the country stronger, they'll get a better sense of that. I hope I'll be able to communicate that.
O: As we sit here today, do you believe inside yourself you're going to win?
MR: I do believe I'm going to win. But I don't define myself by whether I win or lose. I'm disappointed that so far the campaign from the other side has been all diversions from issues and policy and direction for the country. But ultimately, I think in the debates we'll be able to get down to what do you believe and how can you help the country? And I think when we do that, we'll end up winning.
O: When you were asked a while back what grade you would give President Obama, I recall you said you'd give him an F.
O: And I remember thinking at the time, I wonder if you've ever had an F. Did you ever get an F in anything? [All laugh.]
MR: I got an F on a paper once. Political science, actually.
MR: I'm not a political scientist. I'm a leader and a business guy.
O: The reason I ask is that, to get an F, it means...
MR: You've failed.
O: Well, not just failed, it's like you didn't show up, you didn't try, you did nothing. So I'm just wondering if you want to reconsider the F.
MR: Well, let's say there's pass and there's fail. And the idea is, the president did not get the economy turned around. Here we are now, 41 months of unemployment above 8 percent. We were supposed to be at 5.6 percent by now. He set the standard, and he didn't achieve it. And the reason he didn't achieve it, in my opinion, is that instead of focusing on the economy and jobs from day one, he did all these other things. Cap and trade, card check for union members, Dodd-Frank, Obamacare... the list goes on. And, interestingly, almost every single one of these things made it harder for entrepreneurs to start a business, or for a bigger business to decide to expand. The things he did were counter-job-creating. And so we're struggling. I see businesses every day that say to me, can't you get the government out of the way?
O: So what is the one thing you can say that you actually like about your opponent?
MR: Well, I'm glad he got Osama bin Laden, that's one. A man's been in office three and a half years, he does hundreds of things. I'm sure there are a few that are fine.
O: Let me ask you, the latest survey I saw said that about 62 percent of Mormons believe that Americans don't understand what it means to be a Mormon. What does it mean to you to be a Mormon?
MR: Well, it was the faith that I grew up in. It taught me a deep and abiding love of God and his son Jesus Christ, and I did my best to be a better person in part because of my faith. My faith teaches me to serve, to give of myself to others. We pretty much throughout our lives have given about 10 percent of our gross income to our church and 10 percent or more of our time to serving in our church and our community.
AR: Then we give to charity, too.
MR: And then we give to other things as well, but the church gets 10 percent of our gross income.
O: Still to this day.
MR: Still to this day.
O: Okay. And what is your relationship with God? Would God be a part of your process in making decisions?
MR: I believe deeply in the value of prayer, and I pray regularly and contemplate important issues. But I have to tell you a story about one of the leaders of our church, and that was Brigham Young. It is said that as he was leading the wagon train to the West, one of the wagons that was going through the North Platte River got caught by a current, and as it was beginning to be swept away, the person who was driving the wagon got on his knees to start to pray, and Brigham Young rode out into the river on his horse and grabbed the man by the back and said, "This is no time for prayer." [Laughs.] So we're a very hands-on, get-the-job-done, take-personal-responsibility kind of people. But of course, in the meditation of prayer, I hope to seek the kind of guidance that comes from the Divine.
O: What's your proudest achievement as a parent?
Josh Romney: [Standing at the back of the room, listening.] I'm right here. [All laugh.]
MR: [To Ann] Answer her question, sweetie.
AR: Raising sons that are good husbands to these beautiful girls.
O: That's your proudest achievement?
MR: Oh, no question. Mine, too. But she deserves most of the credit for that. There's no question that's the greatest source of joy and accomplishment in our lives, raising our sons and seeing them become the men they are.
O: [To Ann] I don't know if Mormons get pissed off, but I'm just gonna ask this: When Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen criticized you for not having a job outside the home, did that kind of tick you off a bit?
AR: Frankly, it was rather humorous to me. Because it was like, maybe she should visit my house once and see what it's like. Raising children is the hardest job that there is on the face of the Earth. There's no question about it, and I think Mitt would agree. I think it's why we have such a strong partnership, he valued very much my work and reminded me all the time that it was more important.
O: Because he knew it was work.
MR: I knew her job was more important than my job. My job was temporary, I was getting money and whatever so we could have a family and have a home and provide for them, but her job is eternal. She's raising the people who will be part of our life for the eternities. It's the most important thing that you do.
O: Planned Parenthood has said that you are just wrong for women. What would you say to the 14 million readers of this magazine to reassure them that you're not?
MR: I'd tell them I want to get good jobs for women who want work, and I want good jobs for their kids who want work, and I'm concerned that if we stay on the path we're on, there will not be good jobs with rising income for the women and children of America. This campaign is about jobs and kids. It's not about attacking people for being in the 1 percent. It's about the middle class of America and good jobs for women and their families. And that's what I hear women care about. In my days in office, from the very beginning, all my energy is going to be focused on getting this economy turned around. I haven't got some conservative reformation of some program I'm going to put in place -- I'm gonna focus on jobs.
O: How are you going to get us the jobs?
MR: There are five key areas that you have to touch to get jobs. One, we have a huge ace in the hole: massive energy resources, natural gas, oil, coal, as well as nuclear and renewables. Pursuing those aggressively is going to bring back manufacturing. Number two, trade. It's good for us to be able to trade with other nations. It creates jobs here. Number three, cutting back the size of government and its deficit because high levels of debt, as a percentage of the GDP, slows down GDP growth. You've got to rein in the size of the government or the economy will grow more slowly, and that kills jobs. Number four, I call it human capital. In a capitalist system, we have financial capital, but we also have people capital, meaning skills, know-how, ambition. And we're losing that. Our schools are failing us, our families are failing us, our training programs for adult education are failing us -- I've got to fix that. And by the way, the teachers' unions don't give a hundred million dollars to my campaign, so I can just focus on the kids. Finally, and this is a big one, and the most important in some respects: economic freedom. You've got to restore a sense that entrepreneurs have that in America you can achieve your dreams. That there's nothing wrong with being successful, that we're going to have taxes that are fair and appropriate for all the people, that we're not going to go after some people more than others, we're going to have regulators that see their job as encouraging enterprise, not crushing it.
O: Fair enough. I certainly agree that there's nothing wrong with being successful! Now let's shift gears and head into the speed round.
MR: Oh, speed round.
O: Favorite food or meal to share?
MR: For her, it's salmon. For me, it's meatloaf cakes.
O: Meatloaf cakes?
MR: Yes, she makes little meatloaf cakes with a sweet sauce on top. Meatloaf cakes and mashed potatoes. Best thing in the world.
O: Wow. Breaded?
AR: A little bit of bread in the meatloaf itself, not on top.
O: Got any of those in the kitchen? Did you make any today? [Laughs.] Okay, song that makes you turn up the volume.
AR: Roy Orbison, actually. Yes, anything with Roy Orbison we just really, really love.
MR: "In Dreams."
AR: "In Dreams."
MR: "Pretty Woman." "Crying'."
O: Roy Orbison, okay. Household chore that you know you're good at?
MR: Painting. I've painted rooms, stained floors. Oftentimes I don't even need to put down a drop cloth. I'm good enough at it. Right?
AR: Yes, that's true. However, I will tell you that when we moved to Tyler Road in Belmont [Massachusetts], you were really busy and I had Ben, who was a newborn baby, and I painted the entire house with one arm. The paint fumes may have done something to that child but that accounts for a lot.
O: Okay, hidden talent.
MR: Water sports. I grew up in Detroit, near the Great Lakes. So whether it's water skiing or disking, yeah. I have a round piece of wood, four feet in diameter, and I can stand on that and be pulled behind a boat and turn around in circles. But I also can put a stepladder on it, climb the stepladder, get to the top, turn around in circles on the top of the stepladder while being pulled behind the boat.
AR: Just think how much time this took to learn how to do.
O: That is something I've never heard of.
AR: Me driving the boat, like, "faster," "slower"... this is how we spent our youth.
MR: [To Ann] Do we still have that movie, with your brother and me doing that?
AR: I think so.
O: Okay, all-time-favorite TV show?
AR: Oh, all-time favorite, "Seinfeld," you think?
MR: "Seinfeld." Absolutely.
AR: It's so funny. We still watch it.
O: In reruns?
AR: Yeah, the reruns. We're like, "Oh, wait until he says this."
MR: Love "Seinfeld."
O: Okay, finish this sentence: "To my critics, I say..."
AR: You're wrong. [All laugh.]
MR: Just you wait and see.
O: "Just you wait and see." Okay, "My vision for the world is..."
MR: More liberty. More freedom. Opportunity. And hope.
O: Do you have a personal mantra?
MR: Not really. [To Ann] Do you think?
AR: Yes, you do.
MR: What's that?
AR: Pray, always be believing.
MR: Oh, yes. It's in a book of scripture in my faith, and it says, "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good."
O: "What I know for sure is... "
MR: God lives, my wife loves me, and my family is the most important thing in my life.
O: Perfect. Thank you.
AR: Now we're taking a tour through the kitchen.
AR: Yes, because there's veggie trays.
O: And the meatloaf cakes are in there.