A half century ago, George Romney went to the Republican convention to fight the nomination of Barry Goldwater, a radical who had taken over the party. Now Mitt Romney has a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps, to stop someone who has built his campaign around demeaning the vulnerable and banning whole groups of people from entering the country.
The younger Romney has already directly called out Donald Trump for his dangerous vision for America, but says he will sit out the convention later this month. That would be a mistake. Romney should go to Cleveland and stand up for what he believes in.
As George Romney’s campaign strategist, pollster, and executive assistant when he was Michigan’s governor, I had a front-row seat with Mitt when his dad challenged Goldwater. Said the elder Romney to a packed convention hall: “Goldwater’s nomination will be a disaster for the Republican Party.” Emotions ran high that hot August day in San Francisco as the delegates chanted slogans back and forth. When Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York tried to reason with Goldwater supporters, those supporters intoned, “In your heart, you know he’s right!’’ His opponents countered: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts!”
I’ve been critical of Mitt’s campaigns because I felt he had deserted his father’s progressive philosophy and balanced use of government. But now it looks as though Mitt is reprising his father’s role in the 1964 Goldwater campaign as he continues to critique Trump’s behavior and business practices, his lack of transparency with his tax returns, and where he stands on the issues. Good for him.
But if Mitt really wants to be a leader, he will have to go to the convention. Even if he and other GOP leaders can’t stop Trump’s nomination, they should at least try to write a platform that state and local Republican candidates across the country can live with.
That’s what George Romney did in 1964. Back then, eight prominent Republicans — Romney, Rockefeller, Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Senator Hiram Fong of Hawaii, Representative Walter Judd of Minnesota, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen — had the guts to oppose Goldwater at the convention. That was a group of distinguished, principled, courageous leaders.
Mitt, however, is practically alone among the GOP leadership in taking on Trump. He, like his father, is under enormous pressure to get in line to support the party’s candidate. But George Romney stuck to his principles. When Goldwater lost in spectacular fashion, the elder Romney worked to salvage the wreckage and reconstruct the party in 1965.
Now the national GOP needs to reassure the many Republicans across the country who are in a state of despair over the direction of their party’s direction that Trump’s nomination isn’t the sum total of what the party stands for. Like Goldwater, Trump too shall pass. As the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney must be active, principled, and outspoken in the national convention.
Go to Cleveland, Mitt. Your dad would be proud.
Walter de Vries is a political consultant, university professor, and cofounder of the American Association of Political Consultants.