When Mitt Romney began seriously considering Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate earlier this summer, many of the political professionals who staff his Boston headquarters were skeptical. They realized the political liabilities posed by Ryan's controversial budget. They worried that his status as a Capitol Hill mainstay would undermine the candidate's Washington outsider image. And they recognized that adding a bold conservative visionary to the ticket could well kill any notion that this election was a referendum on President Obama.
But while Romney's staff had their doubts, the Congressman had the support of a separate, and increasingly influential set of advisers who have long had the candidate's ear: His wife and five sons.
According to people close to the family and campaign, Ann Romney and the most politically engaged of the brothers were early advocates for Ryan to join the ticket, having grown friendly with him and his wife over the course of the summer's vetting process. Mrs. Romney and Janna Ryan "got along famously" as they got to know each other, said one source, while Tagg Romney — an increasingly crucial adviser to his father this year — grew to like and respect Ryan as he crossed paths with him on the campaign trail.
Romney, who has long trusted his wife's "people instincts," gave substantial weight to her endorsement, which, combined with his own personal preference for Ryan, was enough to overrule his advisers' concerns, said one source.
The campaign did not respond to BuzzFeed's request for comment on its internal conversations. And dynamics between political staffers and family members are notoriously complex: Experienced political hands typically strain to make family members feel respected and involved without actually letting them near the levers of power. But politics at its highest level is also deeply rooted in personal trust, and candidates have always leaned on their spouses and, in some cases, their children. George W. Bush came of political age as a wisecracking aide to his father's 1988 campaign. Andrew Cuomo learned the trade as his father's precious, hard-edged chief-of-staff. And Dick Cheney leaned heavily on his daughter Liz, now widely viewed as a woman with a future in statewide office.
And so it is with Romney, whose pattern of political decision-making has long established his family members as key advisers, according to people involved at various stages of his career.
One senior aide to Romney's 1994 Senate campaign who remained close to the family for years after said Mrs. Romney has always been the candidate's "number one sounding board." And a family friend who is in regular contact with the Romneys today told BuzzFeed, "In the final analysis, if Ann actually felt very strongly against something, she would generally get the last vote, even if the campaign said, 'Do it.'"
In many ways, the veep pick offers a glimpse at the power dynamics inside Romney World, where a small, loyal cadre of advisers in Boston shapes the campaign's strategy — but the family gets the last word. While that's always been the case with Mrs. Romney, a long-suffering political spouse who has sharpened her campaign reflexes immensely over the past two decades, it's also becoming increasingly true of the couple's oldest son, Tagg.
More than perhaps any of his siblings, Tagg Romney, 42, has followed in his father's footsteps, tracing a path that took him from BYU to Harvard Business School, and then on to start a private equity fund, Solamere, that was launched with $10 million in seed money from his parents. In the 2008 election, he played the role of a smiley, lightweight surrogate, updating the "Five Brothers" campaign blog, and posing for photo-ops with his goofily wholesome siblings.
But if 2008 was something of a lark for the brothers, it also offered a political training grounds — and a key confidence-booster — for Tagg, who has moved from the periphery (where political family members are often confined), to the middle of the action, sources said.
This cycle, Tagg has reorganized his entire life to accomodate the campaign and pursue a more central role in the effort. He and his wife are home-schooling their 16-year-old daughter, Allie, so that she can hit the campaign trail with the family, according to one of their friends in Belmont. And he's all but cancelled his social life — down to his involvement in a movie club he and his wife helped start in their Mormon ward — so that he can devote more time to the campaign.
And no longer is he simply posing as scenery for his dad's speeches; sources close to the family say he's taken an active role in advising Romney on strategy — something that comes through in his private conversations about the election.
"A year ago, when I would just say to Tagg, 'How are things going?' his response would be about how this article, or this debate, or this interview went well or didn't go well," one friend said. "And I really have seen as the campaign's gone on, he has taken a more strategic view... he's much more likely to talk about the bigger issues."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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