Why Beth Myers Really Is Romney’s Perfect Work Wife

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Myers, at right. Photo: Brian Snyder/REUTERS

The last time Mitt Romney ran for president, in 2008, his campaign was criticized as disorganized, internally divided, and in need of a strong hand at the helm. The woman in charge was his longtime aide Beth Myers, 55, a political operative who learned the ropes from Karl Rove. This time around, Myers has been demoted — of her own volition, it seems — to a more limited but key role: She's in charge of Romney's vice-presidential search. There may be no one better suited for this role than the woman the Washington Post described as his "office spouse."

That characterization is probably not coincidental. Yes, like Romney's actual wife, Myers is careful, relentlessly on message, and unassuming, and after a decade of working with Romney and his confidants, her identity is very much subsumed in her boss's. But this public blank slate is convenient, because it means that the campaign is free to paint Myers as a political den mother in a manner that could, they hope, help his problems with women voters. In a recent Times profile, her considerate office habits were highlighted — "she is the one who remembers birthdays and knows who might need a lift home." Romney aide Peter Flaherty said, "If maternal means thoughtful, caring, loving, and in charge, which it does in my house, then Beth is maternal."

Myers is indeed a mother, and in fact took several years off from her career to spend at home with her kids, but that sentiment is also very on message with the Romney campaign's recent efforts to go after female voters by suggesting that Democrats don't appreciate maternal skills. (It also manages to deflect any criticism of Myers's handling of the big-ego rivalries that plagued the '08 campaign, by implying in a sort of sidelong way that she is perhaps too nice for such stuff.) Call it the Karen Hughes effect — at least in certain conservative quarters, having such a woman in a close advisory role is thought to diffuse the GOP's difficulty appealing to female voters.

While Myers's gender is a happy PR coincidence, her circumspection and loyalty (which, who knows, very well might have been her own canny strategy!) make it easy to retrofit such a narrative onto her and suggest why she's really in the inner circle. The Romney campaign declined requests for an interview with Myers; she does press quite sparingly and has mastered the art of the content-free sound byte. (Sample line, to Washington Post blogger and Romney cheerleader Jennifer Rubin: "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.” ) She's tweeted just once, to announce her new role on the Romney campaign. AND she told the National Journal that the ultimate veep choice will be Mitt's: "He is the decider.” (An odd shout-out to George W. Bush, especially since Myers's early mentor Rove famously opposed the choice of Dick Cheney on the ticket.)

Myers, who was Romney's chief of staff during his gubernatorial years, remained in the Romney orbit even when not on his payroll. She formed a political consulting group — credited with masterminding Scott Brown's successful 2010 Senate campaign — with Flaherty and Eric "Etch A Sketch" Fehrnstrom between the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. The three, along with Romney's old buddy Bob White, compose what is widely considered to be Romney's closest circle of nonfamilial advisers. Rove, whom she worked under in Texas during Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, has said Myers "is capable of taking a large volume of information and distilling it." Here, too, she seems to be a mirror unto her boss: a detail-oriented, data-driven technocrat defined by competence and execution.

In her latest task, that large volume of information includes not just potential VP dossiers, but also an intense, personal knowledge of how Romney's strengths and weaknesses could be augmented and balanced, respectively, by the different candidates. Here, too, the cautious sensibility Myers shares with her boss could help. Myers learned about the vice-presidential vetting process when she worked as Romney's liaison to the McCain campaign, and it's seriously doubtful that either she or Romney would be remotely inclined to repeat a Sarah Palin–type Hail Mary selection. It's a less sweeping job than she had in 2008, but perhaps, a more intimate one — she's a work wife turned yenta.