Q&A with Ben Coes, author and ex-Romney aide

Ben Coes might have a new political fiction book, but he isn’t new to politics. The Last Refuge author began his career in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses as a speechwriter to the Energy secretary during the Gulf War. Coes also served as campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts. Coes recently spoke with The Hill about his past experiences in politics and his new work in political fiction.

Q: What made you decide to get out of politics and into writing political fiction?

It was a choice. When you’re in politics, you’re … investing in someone else’s career. … I knew I wanted to be a writer but that I also wanted to do something which at the end of the day had my imprint on it, had my name on it, my identity.

Another big reason is just that I love politics. … But politics is all-consuming. … If I had stuck around Mitt-world after 2002, I would not have three books. …


On a personal level, I have four kids under the age of 13, and politics is one of those professions where … it’s [a] seven-day-a-week, 18-hour-day type of thing, and the people who pay the price for that tend to be the families. … I was determined not to do that, because I wanted to be around and watch [my kids] grow up.

Q: You write fiction, but how much did you take from your work in politics and use in your novel?

A lot. … I’ve learned a lot in politics and I learned a lot about the fact that it’s not necessarily glamorized. … People are just like you and I … so I try to portray that real world in my writing.

I remember seeing, when I was in the White House, [then-National Security Adviser] Colin Powell. He came walking over, and he had a big … coffee stain on his suit, and I was like, “Colin Powell spills things too!” That was a great little moment.

Q: How have your experiences working in the White House and as a campaign manager for Mitt Romney influenced your writing? 

Working at the White House, because I was so young and such a bottom rung on the ladder … I saw some of the details of how things work from a more mundane perspective, and it allowed me to … ground my books with that knowledge. … Working for Mitt, where I was at the other end of the spectrum in terms of responsibility. … I saw how decisions are made and how people react.

Q: What’s harder — writing a speech for a politician or writing fiction?

Oh, writing fiction is harder. … At the end of the day it’s a heck of a lot easier to give one speech to an audience — you’re trying to get three or four main points across. … [Fiction is] much more complex. It’s not just about delivering a message to one audience.

Q: As campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, what are your thoughts on his presidential campaign and his odds of becoming president?

I think he’d make a great president, and I think he’s going to be the next president. I think a lot of the stuff that’s going on now where the current president is trying to tarnish Mitt’s private-sector career is all kind of background noise to the bigger issues. … Like him or not, Mitt is going to revive the economy. … I think generally if you look at his track record, he’s got just an amazing list and level of accomplishments, and I think he would continue that streak as president.

Q: Has Romney read your books?

Yes. I don’t know if he’s read all of them. … It’s funny because every time I see him, really all he wants to talk about is my writing. He’s been very supportive.

Q: Do you see yourself returning to politics?

No, I like what I’m doing. I’m sitting up here at our summer house looking out at the beach. I got up at 5 in the morning and … got my writing in for the day. … I’m having a blast and it’s also professionally fulfilling. … I could possibly see getting back involved to maybe someday run a presidential campaign or to run the campaign of a friend or relative. … Other than that I’m really happy with what I’m doing now.