Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election on November 6, Tevi Troy would be busy working right now as director of domestic policy on Romney’s transition team. Fate had other ideas, though.
Troy, who served as special policy adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank. An Orthodox Jew who grew up in Queens, Troy has served in a number of government positions over the past 15 years, including deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush’s administration. At one point he was also the White House’s lead adviser on healthcare, labor, education, transportation, immigration, crime, veterans affairs, and welfare.
Troy is also the author of two books: “Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?” (2002) and “What Washington Read, Eisenhower Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House” (forthcoming, 2013).
The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.
The Jewish Press: What exactly did you do for Romney?
Troy: I advised on a host of issues, including health policy, domestic policy, and also Jewish issues. I made TV and radio appearances, spoke to the media on Governor Romney’s behalf, and even debated Jack Lew, White House chief of staff, at a Cleveland shul a few days before the campaign ended.
What was Romney like as a person?
Well, it’s hard to say what he’s like on a trip to Disney World or something like that.
In terms of policy, he’s very bright and knowledgeable and picks up stuff very quickly. I was in a series of policy meetings he had in Washington where he met with experts on various issues; I headed the healthcare briefing. He walked into that room with no notes, spoke off the cuff very knowledgably about healthcare, and then took questions from experts and responded knowledgably, skillfully, with facts and figures.
How many times did you meet him?
Not that many. Three, four, or five.
Why do you think he lost?
It’s very hard to beat an incumbent president. A president has four years to prepare for an election campaign. Only one incumbent Democrat has lost over the last century, and that was Jimmy Carter.
I also think the torrent of negative ads that hit Governor Romney over the summer at a time when he did not have the funding to respond was very damaging. Finally, the American people tend to want to give first-term presidents a second chance.
Some people think his toned-down performance in the second and third debates may have hurt him as well.
I don’t think he toned it down at all. I think he was equally good in the second debate, and in the third debate I thought [Romney] had the right strategy, which is you don’t want to get in an ugly brawl over foreign policy when you’re trying to show the American people that you’re ready to lead.
But it seems to me that we’re in a more knuckle-baring era, and maybe the American people do want to see that kind of fighting in a foreign policy debate.
How would you compare Romney to George W. Bush?
It’s hard to say because I spent more time with Bush. Bush was very good at getting to the heart of an issue very quickly. He asked very tough questions in policy meetings. He also seemed to have more of an easygoing manner than Romney. He was very good with people – the backslapping, “hey, I’m your buddy” kind of thing. That’s a real skill in politics.
In other words, Romney is, as some people argue, a bit stiff.
I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t say anything against Romney. I’m just praising Bush for being a very good retail politician.
One of the reasons many Orthodox Jews voted for Romney was Obama’s alleged anti-Israel bias. Yet, some people argue that Obama’s position vis-à-vis Israel is identical to Bush’s; that Bush, too, supported a two-state solution.
I don’t buy that at all. First of all, President Bush worked much better with the Israelis. Second of all, President Bush supported a two-state solution, but with the Palestinians having corresponding obligations. And third of all, President Bush did not want to have preconditions before getting to the negotiating table, whereas President Obama presumed to draw what the final lines were in his speech before Netanyahu’s visit a couple of years ago.