Power Players

The White House that never was: A behind-the-scenes tour of the would-be Romney administration

Power Players

Top Line

Though Mitt Romney’s candidacy never turned into a presidency, there was a temporary Romney White House complete with a fully operational staff who were building the blueprints for the early days of a Romney administration months before the election that decided his defeat.

In this special edition of Top Line, the chair of the Romney transition efforts, Gov. Mike Leavitt, R-Utah, takes us on a tour of the White House that never was—where he says the Romney transition team built “a federal government in miniature.”

“If you had walked down these halls in the day before the election, you would see the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Department of Defense,” Leavitt says, standing inside what was the former transition headquarters in Washington, D.C. The space was provided for the Romney campaign by the federal government under the guidelines of legislation passed in 2010 to allow for smooth presidential transitions.

Leavitt says his team was already working on plans for how to turn Romney’s campaign promises into policies, and had even created “inter-agency task forces” to work through anticipated conflicts.

“A whole series of executive orders had been written,” he says. “There were regulations that were being developed. There was a list of things we wanted to change. There was a checklist. It was a tick-tock, if you will, of things we wanted to see unfold in a very orderly way.”

As for the scramble that inevitably follows an election to fill coveted cabinet positions and other critical posts within the administration, Leavitt says they had lists of potential candidates ready to present to Romney the Thursday after the election.

“We set an objective that we would have in place in a very short time, a White House staff, the cabinet, the top 100 positions within the government,” Leavitt says. “We were prepared to begin on Thursday at 10 o'clock after the election in presenting a series of alternatives that would have been pre-vetted.

“If you went a couple floors down from here you'd see what we called the bunker, which was a highly secure area where no information exited, no one took anything home,” Leavitt adds. “It's the place we kept the lists.”

Though Leavitt’s blueprints for a Romney presidency never evolved beyond the planning phase, he has turned the lessons learned into a textbook guide for future presidential transitions, “Romney Readiness Project: Retrospective & Lessons Learned.”

For more of the interview with Leavitt, including a tour of what would have been Mitt Romney’s temporary Oval Office had he won the election, check out this episode of Top Line.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Hank Brown, Pat Glass and Freda Kahen-Kashi contributed to this episode.

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