Mitt Romney’s choice of Beth Myers to lead VP search highlights his small circle of trust

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens to a conference call on Jan. 29 with senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, left, and Beth Myers, right.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens to a conference call on Jan. 29 with senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, left, and Beth Myers, right.
Brian Snyder/ Reuters via Newscom

In Mitt Romney’s steadily expanding corps of advisers, there remains a small circle of trust.

Beth Myers is in it, and that explains a lot about why the presumptive Republican presidential nominee tapped her to lead his vice presidential search.

Sure, having a prominent campaign woman heading such an important process is just another subtle jab at Democrats who criticize his policies toward women.

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But that is also a critique that ignores Myers’s longtime association with Romney, as well as the repeated big responsibilities he has entrusted to a person who would equally want to be known in public as a wife and mother of two.

In sum, Romney knows that he can trust the 55-year-old Myers to lead a search that will be comprehensive, tactful, and—perhaps most importantly to him—discreet.

As the “decider,” as Myers described him in one interview, and as someone who likes to “wallow in data,” as the candidate has said of himself, Romney wants the first public expression of his presidential decision-making to be devoid of drama but acclaimed by would-be voters.

That contrasts with the chaotic process that led John McCain to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, but it echoes the way George W. Bush ran things as he marched from being governor of Texas to becoming president of the United States in 2000.

While he entrusted his vice presidential search to Dick Cheney, who ended up as vice president himself, Bush counted on other longtime friends to reach that point and make numerous other important management decisions.

Bush was famously surrounded by an “Iron Triangle” of advisers that included political strategist Karl Rove, communications specialist Karen Hughes, and campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.

Another top adviser was Don Evans, a personal friend who was there when Bush piloted his last airplane flight and had his final drink of alcohol.

Romney’s triangle is more of a wheel, with him, wife, Ann, and eldest son, Tagg, at the hub, and a team radiating out on spokes that includes Myers, communications specialist Eric Fehrnstrom, conservative outreach specialist Peter Flaherty, and longtime friend Bob White.

Additional longtime advisers include fund-raiser Spencer Zwick, ad-makers Stuart Stevens and Russ Schreifer, and campaign manager Matt Rhoades. But Myers joins Fehrnstrom and Flaherty as sharing a long tenure with Romney.

She and Fehrnstrom brought experience in the limited world of Massachusetts Republican politics when they transitioned to Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign after Joe Malone’s two terms in the state Treasury. Flaherty, a former prosecutor, came aboard in the State House as deputy chief of staff, and all three helped plot Romney’s emergence onto the national stage.

Romney first tapped Myers to serve as his gubernatorial chief of staff. She was by his side at the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., in December 2005 as he was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which allowed travel in 2006 that preceded his 2007 White House campaign announcement.

For the 2008 race, Romney first asked Myers to run his Commonwealth PAC, which financed his pre-campaign maneuvering. The group worked out of an office in Boston’s Old City Hall. When Romney became an official candidate for president, Romney tapped her to serve as his campaign manager.

After that race fell short, Romney and his top advisers began to pursue their separate interests—but never far apart.

The former governor and would-be 2012 presidential candidate set out to write his book, “No Apology.” Myers, Fehrnstrom, and Flaherty created The Shawmut Group, a political consultancy from which they would eventually help Scott Brown win the 2010 US Senate special election in Massachusetts.

Nonetheless, they all worked out of the same office park in Lexington, the same address for a new private equity firm set up by Tagg Romney. It also served as headquarters for Mitt Romney’s new political action committee, the Free and Strong America PAC.

This time around, Myers has ceded the campaign manager’s duties to Rhoades, who served as communications director for the 2008 campaign.

Fehrnstrom has handed off traveling press secretary duties to Rick Gorka, who was spokesman for Charles Baker’s 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign.

Flaherty has retained his responsibilities as Romney’s chief point of contact with social conservatives, but despite any changes or similarities in roles, Myers, Fehrnstrom, and Flaherty remain a group that is first among equals.

That is the way it was with Bush, whose Iron Triangle stayed with him all the way to the White House.

Rove became senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, Hughes became White House communications director, and Allbaugh served the administration as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Evans was Commerce secretary.

Even though the latter two worked outside the White House, they remained presidential confidantes.

Rove, who once worked with Myers in Texas, described her to the Globe as “very meticulous, very well organized, someone who can take complex information and put it in a digestible format.

“She is also someone who can ask a tough question in a skillful manner,” said Rove. “Talk about someone who has abilities that are important in this kind of function, there it is.”

Myers was sparse in her public reaction to her new role Monday.

The first tweet on her new Twitter account was typically restrained: “As someone who has worked in partnership with @MittRomney for years, I am honored to lead his search for a VP,” she said.

But she also gave two interviews that lifted the veil a bit.

“I think Mitt asked me to do it because I have worked with him for 10 years and he trusts me to bring him all the information and allow him to make a decision,” Myers told Jessica Rubin, who writes The Washington Post’s conservative “Right Turn” blog.

She added: “He expects to hear both sides of an argument. He is best able to make decisions in that way.”

In another interview, she was more succinct in defining her new role, and how it fits into her longtime relationship with Romney.

“I’ll put all the information on the table,” Myers told Rebecca Kaplan of the National Journal. “He is the decider.”