When Mitt Romney was preparing to run in the Republican presidential primary in 2008, a campaign adviser summed up his problems: Mormon, Millionaire, Massachusetts. Romney never did figure out how to defuse widespread unease about his religion (a non-Christian cult to many Evangelicals), his vast wealth at a time of economic hardship, and the centrist, technocratic policies he pursued as governor of one of the bluest states. He barely made it past Super Tuesday before conceding to John McCain and aiming for the vice-presidential slot. Well, we all know how that turned out.Four years later, with the nomination locked up, Romney faces those same problematic Ms, and more. There's Mistrust: lots of people think Romney is a phoney who'll say anything to get elected. There's Mislike: his family and friends say he's delightful, but on the campaign trail he comes across as detached and wooden. His gaffes are legendary ("corporations are people too, my friend!"), and he says strange things ("this feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height"). The New York Times columnist Gail Collins has made sure everyone knows about the time he drove to Canada with the family dog caged on the roof of the car. (When critics called her husband too stiff, Ann Romney uttered the immortal words, "We better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.") It all adds up to a great big Meh: even the people who vote for him seem to be choosing him not because they love him, but because they think he has the best shot at beating Obama, the secret Muslim Kenyan communist.Who is the real Mitt Romney? This well-researched biography by two Boston Globe reporters offers useful clues. There's much about his close relationship with his father, Michigan governor George Romney, a moderate Republican (remember them?) who famously torpedoed his own 1968 presidential campaign when he said his support for the Vietnam war was due to "brainwashing" by the military. Mitt's sister Jane thought that watching his adored father's downfall because of a single word made Mitt, by nature reserved, "more cautious, more scripted". Pundits have suggested that his gaffes might represent some kind of Freudian wish to share his father's fate. But they may just be the result of being way too insulated – by hereditary privilege, wealth, class, extraordinary good fortune and his tight-knit Mormon social world – from ordinary people and their concerns. After all, Romney made hundreds of millions of dollars as head of Bain Capital, a leveraged buyout firm that purchased troubled companies, firing people and closing factories while reaping enormous profits. To him, the bad news is the good news, so it's not surprising that he doesn't seem to relate to today's hard times, even while claiming Obama has bungled the economy and he's just the man to fix it.Readers curious about Romney's real views on so-called social issues will not get much help from Kranish and Helman, who tend to avoid drawing conclusions. A serious Mormon who eschews alcohol, coffee and tea, Romney quit left-leaning Stanford after one year to do the two years of missionary service required by his religion (he was sent to France and later said, "it's quite an experience to go to Bordeaux and say, 'Give up your wine! I've got a great religion for you!'"). He finished up at strait-laced Brigham Young University (fun fact: he majored in English – you've got to like him for that). He's tithed many millions to the church – exactly how many is unknown, because he refuses to make his old tax returns public – has served as a bishop, and has many ties to powerful church leaders in Utah, where he lived for three years while heading the organising committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics.So to what extent does he share the reactionary views of the church hierarchy on women's rights, abortion and gay rights? Before he entered politics, he tried to bully a young woman into putting her baby up for adoption because she was unmarried; around the same time he berated a mother of five who was scheduled for a medically necessary very early abortion, even though the procedure had been approved by a church higher-up. But in his failed 1994 race for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, he presented himself as passionately pro-choice, citing the 1963 death from illegal abortion of a relative. Hmm. By 2005, as his governorship was winding down and his thoughts turned to the presidency, he had turned anti-choice, attributing his views to a discussion with a Harvard scientist about stem-cell research. Hmm. (Bear in mind that his much-loved wife has multiple sclerosis and had signed a call for more stem-cell research. What kind of husband values a fertilised egg over a cure for his wife?) Now, he's totally anti-abortion, even to the extent of supporting a sweeping ban such as the one voted down in South Dakota. He's made a similar about-face on gay rights.These flipflops are now coming back to haunt him, especially the biggie: how can he inveigh against Obamacare when it is based on Romneycare, the universal health-insurance plan, complete with individual mandate, he successfully implemented in Massachusetts? (His explanation that his own plan was OK because it was tailored to one state is not persuasive. Why isn't what's good for Massachusetts good for the nation?) In order to win the nomination, Romney has moved so far to the right he comes across as insincere to true believers and alarming to the centrist voters he needs – on immigration, for example, he was more severe even than Newt Gingrich. Now he has alienated Latinos, gays and women – the latest polls show Obama 18 points ahead among women in swing states.Asked on CNN if Romney could still appeal to moderate voters, an aide said, sure: he would simply "hit the reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch." In other words, there may be no real Romney after all, just someone who really, really wants to be president. The problem is, even if Romney is not a sexist, a bigot and an evil plutocrat, he will have made so many promises to the far right that once he's in the White House he'll have to act as if that's exactly what he is.