If you want to understand who Mitt Romney really is, go beyond the position papers, stump speeches and preposterously presidential coif, and start with muffins.
For most eaters, a muffin is consumed unthinkingly, in big messy bites, pawing last crumbs off the wrapper because, well, they taste good. For Mr. Romney, however, a muffin is an analytical challenge — a risk to be weighed.
Indeed, eating muffins the Romney way takes discipline: He consumes the top, and only the top, to better avoid the unhealthy butter that supposedly flows downward during baking, according to an account by one of his biographers.
“I was flying somewhere, I think Iowa, and Romney was on the same flight,” said Scott Helman, a staff writer at the Boston Globe and a co-author of “The Real Romney.” “We were chitchatting in the waiting area. He was eating a muffin, and he starts talking about, ‘Hey, did you know that the butter sinks to the bottom?’”
Mr. Helman laughed.
“It makes sense,” he said. “It was a little throwaway moment. But I thought it was sort of revealing.”
When Mr. Romney takes the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Florida this week to accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, he will stand before America as many things. Proud father. Devoted husband. Wealthy financier. Devout Mormon. Self-styled economic turnaround artist. Threading through all that, however, the 65-year-old Mr. Romney stands as something else: a non-maverick.
Four years ago, Republicans coalesced around John McCain, Mr. Maverick himself, and Sarah Palin, for whom going rogue was both the title of a memoir and a seeming campaign philosophy. Two political personas seemingly written in flickering neon; two candidates willing to saddle up in the casino of contemporary American politics and let it ride.
This time, the GOP has a steadier, less flashy standard-bearer. Mr. Romney does not act impulsively. Nor does he take needless, heedless risks. Ambitious and accomplished, he is less a reckless slot-puller than a careful card counter.
Case in point? In 1981, a park ranger told Mr. Romney that he couldn’t lower his boat into Massachusetts’ Lake Cochituate because the craft’s license number was too hard to read.
Eager to go boating with his family, Mr. Romney asked how much the fine would be.
Fifty dollars, he was told.
Frugal enough to reportedly wear winter gloves patched with duct tape, Mr. Romney nevertheless did some quick mental math. The price of a ticket, he concluded, was worth an entire day of enjoyment. Clad in swim trunks, he began to move his boat into the water — only to have the agitated ranger take him into custody for disorderly conduct, a case that subsequently was dismissed.
“He’s just so hyper-strategic,” said Mr. Helman, who describes the incident in “The Real Romney,” who co-authored his Romney biography with Michael Kranish. “That outlook has brought him tremendous success in many parts of his life. But it also brought him many challenges in the political sphere. Strategic can pretty easily cross the line into being seen as calculating and opportunistic.”
‘Not for cameras’