Mitt Romney, a gangly 17-year-old, looked neat and businesslike in his dark suit, white shirt, and narrow tie, with a badge on his lapel, as he took a seat at the 1964 Republican convention. He watched his father, George, representing the party’s moderates, exhort the platform committee to adopt an amendment rejecting “extremists.” The effort failed, Barry Goldwater became the nominee and, as Mitt later recalled it, his father “walked out of the Republican convention.”
This week, 48 years later, Romney is walking into his own nominating convention as the Republican Party gathers in Tampa. But the story line has turned upside down. Mitt Romney isn’t the moderate voice seeking to rein in the extreme forces in the GOP; he has become, as he called himself earlier this year, a “severely conservative” man looking to win the complete trust of the dominant right of his party, the Goldwater wing of his day. It is as if winning requires purging a key element of his father’s political legacy. But an examination of the forces behind Romney’s striking shifts on key issues makes it clear it is much more than that.