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What I learned as the lead researcher on the new Romney biography

Plus, why Republican presidential candidates are flocking to Las Vegas this weekend

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, attends the HELP Hearing: Implementing the 21st Century Cures Act on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 26, 2019.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

I’m taking a slight step away from campaign coverage in today’s newsletter to write about something fun: the release of “Romney: A Reckoning,” the new bombshell biography by McKay Coppins. I’m in New York this week for the book launch. More on that below.

Here’s the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Mitt Romney, Unveiled

About two-and-a-half years ago, I first spoke to McKay Coppins about a new, secret project of his: a tell-all biography of Mitt Romney. The book, Coppins explained, had Romney’s full cooperation — the senator had offered up troves of his journals, emails, text messages and other personal documents, providing Coppins with as clear and unblemished a picture of the Republican Party posterboy-turned-pariah as possible. It would be a historic book — one with an “unheard of” level of access, one national publication reported when the project went public.

When Coppins said he needed a lead researcher, I signed on without hesitation.

We spent the next two years researching, digging and writing. Coppins and Romney met more than 40 times — in Romney’s Washington, D.C. townhome, in his U.S. Capitol hideaway, at his lakehouse in New Hampshire, and over Zoom when COVID-19 hit the Romney office. I transcribed every minute of the interviews, read every page of the journals, and reviewed every word of the manuscript several times. I once joked to my girlfriend that I knew more about Romney than I did about her. 

The cover of “Romney A Reckoning,” written by Atlantic writer McKay Coppins, is shown.

Simon & Schuster

This was all hush-hush until February of this year, when the book was announced. Subsequent leaks and excerpts built excitement. And this morning, the book was officially released.

Last night, on a stage at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan, Coppins celebrated the book’s launch. NBC’s Chuck Todd served as moderator, and the two talked through the book’s details and themes for over an hour. “I couldn’t put it down,” Todd gushed.

I agree, albeit with some bias. I’ll note, though, that Coppins does an exceptionally great job at providing readers with a uniquely intimate view of Romney. “I feel as if this was Mitt Romney’s inner dialogue,” Todd said. A good biographer helps a reader know about his subject; a great biographer helps the reader get to know him. Coppins tends to the latter. “Romney: A Reckoning” has plenty of chronology and history, but it also provides a window into Romney’s mind and heart. It shows him grappling — sometimes vulnerably, and other times stubbornly — with his own political aspirations. It narrates his thinking at key, history-altering moments in Romney’s career: Election Night 2012, the Trump impeachment trials, January 6, his decision to retire.

By the end of the book, readers are presented with a trove of things to know about Romney, but in a small sense, they come to know him, too — as a man who looks at the future of his country with real concern. Coppins and Todd listed off a number of emotions that Romney, and readers, experience throughout the book: introspection, vulnerability, anxiety, even anger.

I haven’t written much about Romney in over two years, in large part to avoid conflicts of interest. My Deseret News editors have been accommodating on that front. When Politico asked me last spring to write about Romney mulling reelection, I had to decline. Now, it’s all in the book — Romney’s painstaking decision to retire from the Senate, his honest views on his party, his relationships with Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden. It’s all there.

But for every juicy, newsy nugget, there’s a bit of humanity. The title comes from Romney’s very real reckoning about his own political career — where he’s found success, where he’s made compromises, and even where he’s faltered. “How do I look at my life?” he asked Coppins. “I look at my relationships with my family, but also my descendants, and what I leave for them.” Whether you agree with him on politics or not, it’s a respectable way to view a life. This book, and his honest reckoning within it, is one of those things he leaves behind.

Poll pulse

The most accurate poll yet? A new poll from Utah-based Y2 Analytics caught my attention. This early in the cycle, general election polls are rarely accurate, the study’s authors note; instead of taking a poll of the electorate generally, they focused on “pivot voters,” or those who live in swing states and have voted for candidates of different parties in 2016 and 2020. (Think of the Pennsylvania Clinton-Trump voters.)

Y2’s findings:

  • Only 30% of pivot voters view Trump favorably, the lowest of any political figure tested (including all of Trump’s major GOP challengers).
  • Nikki Haley fares best against Biden of all Republicans in a potential general election matchup, in an effective tie (trailing by one percentage point). Other candidates trail Biden: Tim Scott (-3), Mike Pence (-4), Ron DeSantis (-13) and Trump (-17).

Read more of Y2’s findings here.

What I’m reading

Joe Biden’s pro-Israel calculus in handling the ongoing war in the Middle East coincides with most Americans’ views on the situation. But many of Biden’s Arab American backers are beginning to waver. “I feel betrayed,” one Palestinian American donor said. “I feel like my humanity is not equal to anyone else’s humanity.” ‘The man broke my heart’: Biden’s Arab-American boosters begin to leave his side (Holly Otterbein, Politico)

The largest newspaper in South Carolina released a significant editorial Saturday, calling for all GOP candidates (not named Donald Trump) to drop out and endorse Nikki Haley. It’s the same argument Will Hurd and George Will have already made, and similar to Mitt Romney’s (sans the explicit Haley endorsement): the longer other candidates stay in, the more likely it is that Trump wins the nomination. The Post and Courier’s endorsement is notable, though, as Sen. Tim Scott — a local hero, to many — is still in the race, and because the paper’s editor has declined to endorse Haley four times previously. One GOP candidate can defeat Trump. Clear the field for Haley. (Editorial, The Post and Courier)

Mike Pence was once the darling of the religious right. Now, he’s “desperate,” a long-time GOP strategist told Politico: his crowds are shrinking, his money is fading and his debt is piling up. “When he drops out,” one Pence ally said, “he’s going to have to do debt-retirement fundraisers.” Inside Mike Pence’s Sad, Dwindling Presidential Campaign (Adam Wren, Politico)

What to watch

The Republican Jewish Coalition will host its annual leadership summit in Las Vegas this weekend, and most of the GOP presidential hopefuls are expected to attend: DeSantis, Haley, Christie, Ramaswamy, Pence and Scott.

The RJC hasn’t maintained the same national notoriety since Sheldon Adelson’s passing in 2021. But the ongoing Israel-Hamas war — along with Nevada’s ongoing conflict over how it will select a 2024 GOP nominee — may make this the marquee political event of the month. More on this soon.

Any election-related questions for our Friday Mailbag? Send them my way — onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.