When I interviewed Susan Crown in March, Mitt Romney was about to win the Illinois primary and she was set to introduce Ann Romney at their victory celebration in Schaumburg. Crown then sounded confident about a Romney victory in November. When I talked to her last Friday, she described Tuesday’s contest as a “nail-biter,” adding that she’ll be voting here Tuesday morning before flying to Boston for what she expects to be a “long night” that, she hopes, will be capped by a victory party.
During our conversation, Crown, the head of her billionaire family’s philanthropy arm (and involved in such issues as educational reform, healthcare, the Middle East, programs for women and girls in developing countries, and a social investment organization tasked with connecting “talent and innovation with market forces to drive social change”) reconfirmed that she is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and that she is a staunch independent, not a Republican.
I was eager to ask Crown, a Yale grad and trustee for 12 years, how she could support a man whose party is offering up such U.S. Senate candidates as Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana—men who have said, respectively, that the female body has a system to block conception during rape, and, in any case, should conception occur during rape, that it is something that God intended to happen. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:
CF: How can you support a man whose party includes such men as Akin and Mourdock whose views on abortion exceptions are so bizarre and scary?
SC: I think that’s crazy talk and I dislike extremism in any form…. And I think that [Romney/Ryan] plan is to really "80/20" the issues that will receive the most attention, and obviously the federal deficit and the economy are top of the list—and jobs. I’m making a bet that the law of the land, Roe v. Wade, will not be changed. I don’t believe government belongs in peoples’ personal choices on lifestyle or reproductive choices. I just don’t see them as priority issues [for Romney/Ryan].
CF: Until he joined the Romney ticket Paul Ryan’s views on abortion did not allow for exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. Granted Ryan has now adopted Romney’s more liberal view in those three areas, but, still, as a pro-choice person, are you comfortable with Ryan as next in line to the presidency?
SC: I don’t know him as well as I know Romney. But what I am most comfortable with is his intellect and understanding of the budget.
CF: What about Israel; anything happen since last March that gives you more or less confidence in President Obama? [Crown had return two days earlier from a trip to several countries in the region.]
SC: It’s absolutely precarious, and after being in the Middle East and hearing people speak, [I’ve come to understand that] the number one object for a lot of Middle Eastern countries is to eliminate the state of Israel, period. I still don’t believe the U.S. has been a stand-up partner to our ally.
CF: Were you at any of the debates?
SC: We were at the first debate in Denver. We were in the third row. We saw loads of friends from Chicago, although they were sitting on the other side, the Obama side. [She explains that the hockey arena in which the debate was held was divided in two, and, as if it were a wedding and bride’s guests were on one side of the aisle and the groom’s on the other, Obama’s supporters were on one side and Romney’s on the other.] The candidates flipped coins for whether they wanted to be on the right or left and so we were sitting in front of Obama’s podium…. It was so clear that Mitt brought his game, and Barack, it was sort of hard to tell whether he was completely unprepared and low-energy or whether he thought this is kind of insulting that he had to explain himself. It was obvious from his posture he knew he was losing as he started sort of hunching over and his eyes were cast downward.
CF: Whether Obama wins or loses, the pace will pick up on efforts to bring his presidential library to the University of Chicago. There will likely be opposition to the museum part of the package, which historically tries to put the best gloss on an administration, being housed in a university. Would you support the Obama Library at the University of Chicago?
SC: I think the most appropriate place for that library would be in Hawaii, which is the President’s birthplace, where they don’t have those kinds of resources.
CF: It would be a difficult place for people to reach.
SC: It would be an attractive place for people to reach.
CF: In an effort to humanize Mitt Romney, there have been a bunch of campaign-generated anecdotes about Mitt, the person. The last time we spoke you told me about Mitt caring for his mother while multi-tasking after the floor collapsed in a Michigan vacation cottage. Any others to share?
SC: Over the summer, in August, he was shooting a commercial in a friend’s yard in Boston, and it was really, really hot out while they were setting up. They said, “Governor, we don’t want you to overheat. Why don’t we put you in the garage where at least there’s shade?” So he went into the garage and when they came back to get him 20 minutes later, he had totally cleaned the whole place up.
CF: So who’s going to win?
SC: We had our last national council call yesterday, and heard from Neil Newhouse who’s the Romney pollster, who’s cautiously optimistic. It’s very close in a lot of key places.
CF: If Romney loses will he run again?
SC: Absolutely not. They have stated in no uncertain terms that this is their last campaign.
CF: If Romney is elected, do you see a place for yourself in his administration?
SC: Oh, I’m not even thinking about that.
CF: Would you like to be an ambassador?
SC: Haven’t even considered that. Really, I just want the right guy in charge.