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'Mormon Rivals' — Romneys and Huntsmans: Political dynasties in the making?

Published June 28, 2015 6:26 am

Future rivals? • Next generation could boast office seekers in Josh and Tagg Romney and Abby Huntsman.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mitt Romney never reached the political pinnacle, and who knows if Jon Huntsman will give it another shot. But neither man believes he will be the last in his family to seek elective office.

Romney's sons Tagg and Josh have caught the political bug and Huntsman's daughter Abby could envision her name on a campaign sign some day as well.

In many ways, they see politics the way a young Mitt did — an extension of father George Romney's successful run for governor and failed presidential bid.



"Like a relay team where the baton passed from generation to generation," Mitt said. Republicans in Massachusetts and Utah were ready for Romney to pass the baton soon after his 2012 defeat.

Massachusetts had a Senate seat to fill when President Barack Obama named Sen. John Kerry secretary of state. The state's Republicans turned to Ann Romney, but Mitt's wife wasn't interested. Next they courted Tagg Romney. He thought it over, but passed. "The timing is not right for me," he said, "but I am hopeful that the people of Massachusetts will select someone of great integrity, vision and compassion as our next U.S. senator."

The state eventually elevated Democratic Rep. Edward Markey to the Senate, not exactly whom the Republicans had in mind.

Josh Romney, Mitt's third son, also came close to launching a campaign. Even before his father's second White House bid, he thought about running for lieutenant governor in Utah on a ticket led by Kirk Jowers, who had headed Mitt Romney's leadership PAC. The Jowers-Romney duo never organized a formal run in the 2010 election.

"In a lot of ways," Josh explained, "it wouldn't have been the right fit for me."

That fit matters, says Mitt Romney, who wants his family's next generation to approach politics the way he and his dad did.

"If one of our boys or our daughters-in-law finds themselves in a position where they could make a real contribution," he said, "and they are needed — school board, mayor, Congress, whatever — I'd expect them to stand up and volunteer."

Ann Romney isn't as gung-ho. She says her sons have young children at home and should stay out of politics until they're older. Still, she said, she could see Tagg seek office some day.

Tagg Romney • In the same way Mitt idolized his father, Tagg has become the mini-Mitt. When he went to Brigham Young University, he rented the same basement apartment his parents did 20 years earlier. He served a mission in France, went to Harvard Business School and made a career in venture capital. Just like his dad. It's not a big leap to say he eventually will enter politics.

Tagg was the only son on hand to see Mitt Romney announce his second presidential bid. Tagg and Ann were the only Romneys who initially supported a 2012 run, and they were the duo who pushed him to the brink of running again in 2016.

Whether Tagg wants to make the jump is one thing; whether he has a place to land is another. Massachusetts hasn't gotten any less liberal since his dad became governor there in 2003, and the Romney name has lost some of its sheen.

"He is in a tough position," said Josh Romney. "I think being a conservative in Massachusetts is not an easy thing to do."

Tagg Romney bought some land in Park City, though he has yet to build on it. If he decided to relocate his wife, Jennifer, and their six children to Utah, he would live in a conservative bastion where he instantly would be a top-tier prospect for any elective office.

His younger brother brushed off that suggestion quite abruptly. "He's not a Utah resident," said Josh Romney, in what easily could be seen as protecting his own home turf.

Josh Romney • Josh had relished his time on the campaign trail, where he talked up his dad in rallies across the nation. But he hated being separated from his wife and now six children. He also laments a campaign system that seems fixated on insignificant details and gaffes instead of big issues. It's an argument he uses to contrast Barack Obama, the more engaging politician, with his father.

"We look at the wrong things as important," Josh said. "You know, reading a teleprompter speech is not necessarily as important as having the experience of having run something in an executive position."

Josh got a taste of the attention political celebrities receive on Thanksgiving night 2013. He was the first person on the scene of a dramatic car accident in Holladay, where an SUV carrying a family of four plowed into a home, finally coming to a stop in the kitchen.

"I opened the car door and spoke with the four passengers inside the car. Miraculously, they appeared to have no major injuries," Romney said. "I was able to help each of them get out of the car and lift them to the ground.

"What I did to help the people involved in the accident is what anyone else would do who witnessed such a potentially dangerous situation."

But what he did next was something that would cause social-media followers to cringe. He tweeted out a picture of himself smiling next to the wrecked car. The reaction was predictable: He was scolded for turning a tragedy into self-promotion.

Like Tagg, Josh runs his own business. Romney Ventures is a real-estate development firm focusing on properties in Utah. He also has kept a toe in state politics, endorsing Republican candidates and getting involved in a group seeking to rebuild or move the homeless shelter in Salt Lake City.

The most telegenic of the Romney boys, Josh remains careful and consistent when he talks about politics. He said he would consider a run for office if the right opportunity appeared. But he wouldn't hint if he's leaning toward an executive role such as governor or mayor or maybe a House or Senate seat. And while not closing the door to anything, he makes it sound as though he won't be a candidate anytime soon.

"The thought of running for office doesn't sound very fun and even governing would be very hard," he said. "But the impact you could have as a good leader, the impact you could have for generations, that's what drives me."

Abby Huntsman • Like Josh and Tagg Romney, Abby Huntsman, the second eldest of Jon Huntsman's children, wouldn't mind following in her father's footsteps.

She said if she ever did run, it would be in Utah, though she now lives in New York. Her family, from grandfather Jon Huntsman Sr. on down, has stressed public service, and she's listened.

"There's the saying, 'Where much is given, much is expected,' " she said. "I think about that all the time. I have been given a lot. And if I can in turn serve and give back in some way because I've been given so much, I feel that's what I hope to do."

Her father would be supportive if she tried her hand at politics, saying, "Abby would, I think, be a very, very good candidate at some point."

Some have also speculated about the political future of Huntsman's two sons.

Jon Huntsman III graduated from the Naval Academy and is training to be a pilot. His younger brother, Will, also attended Annapolis, where he plays football and hopes to become a Navy SEAL.

At this point, Huntsman finds it hard to believe his sons would seek the national stage.

"The boys are about as nonpolitical as any two people I have ever met, but that kind of stuff comes out later," he said. "They're beginning careers in the military, and they are going to learn a whole lot about national defense and the intersection between politics and security."

Unless Jon III or Will shifts course, Abby seems like the best bet for a future in politics, which could be years, if not decades, away. She hasn't yet hit 30.

For now, she's following her first love, TV news, a career that supplies her with a daily dose of politics.

After her father's 2012 campaign collapsed, Abby found a gig with HuffPost Live, a daily video segment on the left-leaning Huffington Post. At the same time, she acted as a personal assistant to her father.

Those two responsibilities collided on live TV in 2012, when she appeared on the now-defunct Current TV's "The War Room," a program hosted by former Michigan Gov. Jan Granholm. On this liberal network, just three months from Election Day, Huntsman let slip that her father had been disinvited to a GOP event.

"I might get in trouble for saying this," she said, "but [Jon Huntsman] was supposed to speak at a fundraiser in Florida and the RNC [Republican National Committee] contacted him and said, 'Because you are speaking out about the need for a third voice, you're no longer invited to represent us at the fundraiser.' In fact, he's actually been disinvited to a lot of events."

She said the Republican Party was one of "noninclusion" that has left people like her and her dad sidelined. Granholm invited Abby to join the Democrats. Abby responded: "I will join you there. I will join you."

The conservative media pounced, and Abby Huntsman responded to The Daily Caller by email, saying it was just playful banter and that she wasn't leaving the Republican Party. She then threw in a dig at the current state of the GOP, which had Mitt Romney as its nominee.

"I've always been a Republican, but like many Americans right now, I feel without a home this election cycle."

Abby received a promotion in 2013, when MSNBC hired her to be the GOP voice on its show, "The Cycle," geared to millennials. She has used that platform to push a Huntsman brand of Republican politics, complete with occasional on-air visits with her pop. It has allowed her to explore her own political viewpoints, with self-described "rants" under the title "Abby's Road."

In one salvo, she argued throwing the tea party overboard would be a good way to start reviving the GOP. She directed her ire at Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, her dad's former general counsel in the governor's office and the architect behind the strategy that shut down the government in 2013.

Her grandfather has called Lee "an embarrassment," while her father has endorsed Lee.

"I hear Mitt Romney's son Josh Romney has been looking for an opening to run for office in Utah," she said. "Challenging the not-so-popular Lee actually sounds like a pretty good opportunity."

Future rivals? • Josh saw the bit and — while he declined to run against Lee — he thanked Abby for the shoutout.

"It was very nice of her," he said. "Very kind."

In many ways, the Huntsman and Romney offspring grew up in parallel circumstances, coming of age in prominent political families with a shared faith. They lament that voters never saw their fathers the way they did.

"What is very similar is that we love our dads so much, and we just want the best for them and we also see the best in them," said Abby Huntsman. "I definitely saw that in the Romneys during the campaign, and I sort of connected over that."

Josh and Abby barely know each other and have little of the shared history of their fathers. Still, that history matters.

These families may not be part of a dynasty on the level of the Kennedys and the Bushes, but, for Utah and Mormonism, the Romneys and the Huntsmans are royalty. They have a shared lineage and an intertwining history that has spanned generations. Yet they are separate and distant. The icy feud between them has lasted almost a decade.

It's intriguing to think about a future when Abby Huntsman and Josh Romney square off in the latest iteration of this rivalry, particularly since both have so thoroughly absorbed their fathers' respective political sensibilities.

Josh, who is about 10 years older than Abby, doesn't envision that race and won't talk about hypotheticals. But Abby's game.

"That," she quipped, "is when things are going to get really ugly."

 

 

 

 

 

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