What did Mitt Romney really tell President Obama on Election Night 2012?
In a forthcoming memoir, former Obama adviser David Axelrod writes that the president was “shocked and irritated” by Romney’s concession call that night. Axelrod reports that Obama told him that the Republican presidential nominee said: “You really did a great job of getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee.” To Obama, that was racial code: “‘In other words, black people. That’s what he thinks this was all about,’” the adviser recalls the president saying.
But according to one of the three people in the room with Romney when he made his concession call, the former Massachusetts governor never said anything of the kind.
Garrett Jackson was Mitt Romney’s personal aide for four years and notoriously press-shy. The soft-spoken Mississippian was more far comfortable in the background, handing a homemade peanut butter and honey sandwich or a Sharpie to Romney when needed, than being in the spotlight. Even after the campaign, Jackson has remained press-averse, but he decided to come forward when he saw Axelrod’s account of Romney’s exchange with Obama.
As Jackson described the night to The Daily Beast, once it became clear Romney was not going to win, Jackson was asked to reach out to his counterpart in the Obama campaign. Jackson and Romney retreated into a spare bedroom in the candidate’s Boston hotel suite with vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Romney’s oldest son, Tagg
“I called Marvin [Nicholson, Obama’s body man] and asked for his boss,” Jackson said. “Then I handed the phone to Mitt.”
Jackson described a short call in which Romney congratulated the re-elected president. In Jackson’s recollection, Romney “called [the president] out, telling him he had ‘tough decisions to make,’” but he followed that by saying, “I’m here to help however I can.”
Romney ended the call by telling Obama he was in both Mitt and Ann Romney’s prayers. “And that was it,” Jackson said.
“He definitely did not talk about Cleveland or Milwaukee,” he said, noting that the information was not there at the time.
“It didn’t happen,” Jackson said, describing the concession call as “humble.”
The conversation was not on speakerphone, so Jackson couldn’t hear what the president said to Romney. And obviously, Jackson had no insight into Obama’s state of mind as the president celebrated his re-election victory 1,000 miles away in Chicago. The aide just knew that what Romney said on that phone call and had nothing to do with turnout in Midwestern cities.
Looking back, Jackson said Axelrod’s account left him “shocked and disappointed.”
“I was by Mitt’s side for four years,” he said. “Axelrod created enough of a lie to distort who Mitt is during the campaign. That is enough. Your guy won.”
“But,” he added, “I shouldn’t have been surprised, coming from Axelrod.”