Don’t miss the long, interesting, and ultimately very sad look at the careers of George Romney and his son Mitt on today’s Globe’s front page. I came away from it in a place that I did not expect: pity for Mitt. Mitt’s father George was, as the article makes apparent, someone who held strongly to his principles to the point that he was willing to lose because of them.
George Romney was a rich man speaking up for those who were not; a white man speaking up for minorities. He was, in short, a moderate out of sync with his party’s increasingly rightward tilt….
With Mitt watching earnestly from his seat — in a moment captured by an Associated Press photographer — his father implored the delegates to adopt a plank supporting civil rights for black people. The Goldwater delegates refused. George also failed in a bid to pass a plank calling on the party to reject “extremists.” It was mostly an effort to get the party to push out the far-right John Birch Society, which Romney and other moderates feared had increasing influence on the party….
George Romney was aghast at the party’s direction, predicting that nominating Goldwater would lead to “the suicidal destruction of the Republican Party.” The convention ignored Romney. As Mitt watched from his seat in the Cow Palace, his father received 41 votes to be the party’s nominee. Goldwater won with 883….
After Goldwater lost the general election in a landslide to Lyndon B. Johnson, he wrote an angry letter demanding that Romney explain why he never endorsed him. George responded in a 12-page letter that included a warning that perhaps is even more relevant today than when it was written:
“Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress,” George wrote.
Remarkable. And how tragic that what Mitt appears to have learned from his father was not that principles are important, but rather that principles can cost you an election. Emphasis mine.
Presidential ambitions, as well as a keener focus on the kind of national politician he wanted to be, were key factors in the policy shifts [from Mitt's 1994 and 2002 Massachusetts campaigns to his presidential campaigns], according to a Romney adviser who participated in numerous discussions about the policies.
“The change in the philosophy, ideology, was driven by the fact that he was exploring national office and he came to the realization that to be successful seeking the nomination, you had to become conservative,” said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not an authorized spokesman. “As he got deeper into the process it became readily apparent to him that something had to happen.”
The adviser couldn’t say if the changes in positions were heartfelt “because I don’t know if the original positions were heartfelt.” The bottom line, he said, was that Romney viewed social matters such as abortion as “nuisance issues” but that he remained constant and firmly rooted in his economic beliefs. “He was driven to get into politics on economic and fiscal issues,” the adviser said. The danger of flip-flopping was central to the discussion of each change. “Certainly there were considerations about changing positions; that is the oldest attack in the book,” the adviser said. But the consensus was that there was “no way” to win the Republican nomination unless changes were made.
Romney’s view seems to be, basically, “nice guys finish last.” Or, alternatively, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Mitt Romney, unlike his father, is obviously unwilling to accept the possibility of sticking to a dearly-held principle and losing an election because of it.
George, who failed in his national ambitions precisely because he was unwilling to compromise his principles, probably would have been a pretty good president. The same cannot be said about his son, who may just pull off the win that eluded his father as a direct result of his unwillingness to demonstrate exactly the traits that made his father so admirable. It puts one in mind of the great Beatles song, written by George Harrison:
We were talking
About the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world
And lose their soul