This will not be Mitt Romney’s first Republican National Convention. Forty-eight years ago this summer, 17-year-old Mitt went with his father, Michigan Governor George Romney, to the party’s 1964 convention in San Francisco. As the party prepared to nominate Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the presidency, and to embrace a platform that was even more extreme in its positions than those taken by its standard-bearer, Mitt watched as his father fought a valiant battle to prevent the party’s lurch to the right.
It was a battle of ideology, idealism and honor. George Romney, a committed supporter of the struggle for racial justice that he traced to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, believed that Goldwater’s opposition to federal civil rights legislation meant that the presumptive nominee’s “views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our party.” He argued that the party needed to fully embrace the civil rights struggle and to explicitly reject the extremism of far-right groups such as the John Birch Society.
“There is no place in either of our parties for the purveyors of hate,” George Romney argued, to no avail. The Republican Party rejected platform planks proposed by the elder Romney and the moderate wing of the Republican Party and went all-in for extremism. With that, he walked out of the convention, displaying the resolve that would lead the future president of the United States Gerald Ford to say “[George Romney] has never let the temporary glitter of expediency obscure the path which his integrity dictated he must follow.”
Even allowing for the overheated rhetoric of nominating speakers, there will be no such pronouncements this year regarding Mitt Romney. Nor will there be any meaningful efforts to dial back the extremism of a platform that one of its drafters, Oregon delegate and Tea Party activist Russ Walker, says “appears to be the most conservative platform in modern history.” The Washington Times echoed that assessment, as Republican US Senate candidates such as Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Laura Lingle of Hawaii scrambled to distance themselves from a platform defined by its
* no-exceptions approach to abortion and a “personhood” section that seeks “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children”
* militant opposition to marriage equality and a refusal even to acknowledge civil unions
* call for limiting the role of women in the military
* celebrations of election suppression schemes such as Voter ID laws and proof-of-citizenship requirements
* endorsement of Arizona-style anti-immigration laws
* support for overriding popular democracy and local lawmaking in the District of Columbia
* proposal to constitutionally restrict the ability of Congress to write budgets, with “exceptions for only war and national emergencies”
* pining for a return to the gold standard
* full embrace of soon-to-be vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s proposals to begin the process of undermining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—along lines advocated in 1964 by Goldwater but opposed by George Romney.
Unlike his father, Mitt Romney will make no effort to guide his party back toward the mainstream. The man who just a decade ago was identified as the brave new champion of the centrism, even liberalism, that his father once espoused will make no demand for moderation. There will be no stance on principle. No show of integrity.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus admits that the platform is frequently at odds with Mitt Romney’s stated positions—if not with those of Paul Ryan. “This is the platform of the Republican Party; it’s not the platform of Mitt Romney,” says Priebus.
But isn’t Mitt Romney effectively the leader of the Republican Party at this point, in the same sense that Barack Obama is (as Republicans so frequently suggest) the leader of the Democratic Party? Why isn’t Romney exercising leadership? Why isn’t he saying that he will not run on a platform that is at odds with his stated positions on critical social policy, economic policy and international policy issues? Why isn’t he objecting to stances that “deviate…from the heritage of our party”?
The answer is not that Romney—who once declared, “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush,” who began his own political career as an enthusiastic supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, whose Massachusetts healthcare reforms laid the groundwork for “Obamacare”—is some kind of right-wing purist.
Romeny’s lack of a coherent conservatism going into the 2012 race is what scared conservatives so much that they supported, literally, Anyone But Romney—from Michele Bachmann to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum. Ultimately, Romney bent enough to the demands of the right to secure the nomination. And he threw conservatives a bigger bone with the selection of House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, who is a true believer, as the party’s vice presidential nominee.
It is that determination to make himself acceptable to the right that distinguishes Mitt Romney from his father. And it is what would distinguish a Romney-Ryan presidency, were the ticket to prevail in November.
Mitt Romney defers to the extremism that George Romney battled as a matter of principle. Where George Romney defended the heritage of a great American political party, Mitt Romney will this week “let the temporary glitter of expediency obscure the path which his integrity dictated he must follow.”