This post was originally published on The Ballenger Report on January 7, 2018.
As the political chattering class well knows, freshman U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) didn’t even wait until he was sworn into office to take a swipe at Donald Trump, assailing the President’s lack of “character” in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on New Year’s Day.
Timing aside, criticizing the Republican Party’s leader isn’t anything new for the Romney family. Anyone who remembers former Michigan Gov. George Romney’s differences with 1964 GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater leading up to the latter’s rout by President Lyndon B. Johnson in that year’s general election knows that it can be hard for Romneys to bite their tongues.
For that matter, Mitt Romney’s Post comments drew approval from many in his party, particularly Trump-haters like conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, who wrote her own piece in the Post a few days earlier offering The Mittster unsolicited advice on how to conduct himself in office.
One of those who read the Rubin column was George Romney’s one-time senior policy guru when he was Michigan’s governor. He is Dr. Walt DeVries, who has co-authored a couple of highly-regarded books on ticket-splitting and who went on to create an Institute of Politics in North Carolina that has received national acclaim.
DeVries promptly sat down and wrote Mitt his own letter of advice, delivering it just before Mitt’s column appeared in the Post. Was there collusion? Did the public column follow DeVries’s letter? We may never know, but here is what the professor/political scientist wrote the new senator from Utah, published here for the first time:
The Honorable Mitt Romney
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
December 30, 2018
Several events and concerns prompt this my first letter to you as the most prominent member of George Romney’s family and legacy.
…First, an extensive interview with me by Bill Ballenger for the Michigan Political History Society in July, 2018 about your father’s campaigns and gubernatorial administrations. I was interviewed and videotaped (enclosed) as the last living senior member (others: Milliman, Harmon, Danhof, Van Dusen, Allen, Seidman, et al, have all passed) of George’s colleagues. Your brother, Scott, was also interviewed as part of this historical series.
…Second, that interview made me painfully aware that if I were going to ever tell you of my dedication to and concern for the George Romney political, governmental, business, church, and, yes, family legacies in America, I had better speak up now. George was eighty-eight when he passed, and I am now eighty-nine but he, of course, led a healthier life style life than mine.
…Third, an opinion piece in the December 27, 2018 Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin on her suggestions on how you might conduct yourself in your six-year term as the new U.S. Senator from Utah. She argues that you have the principles, sanity and gravitas to help re-elect GOP senators; work for bipartisan, stable, constitutional governing; and cleaning up—through rigorous oversight—the confirmation process of Cabinet members, judges and other presidential appointments. That is good advice, but not the only reasons for this letter. More on that later.
For over 50 years now, I have held the belief that George Romney was one of the best, most principled, program-oriented political, governmental, church, and business citizens in this country. I believe that as strongly today as I did in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Had George been elected president in 1968, this country would have been set on a moral positive course unlike that of today. I did not arrive at this conclusion hastily. I first met and worked with George in the Citizens for Michigan volunteer movement (1959-61) and when they got a Constitutional Convention for Michigan, I was elected as a Republican Delegate from Grand Rapids. I was elected Chairman of the Committee on Administration and became part of the Con-Con leadership group (your father was Vice President) that ran the convention. George made me his 1962, 1964, and 1966 gubernatorial campaign strategist. In December, 1967, I dropped out of his presidential campaign because I disagreed with its strategy. From 1963 to the end of 1967, I was also his Executive Assistant for Program Development and Agency Liaison in the Executive Office of the Governor. All of that by way of saying I worked with and for George Romney for ten years and got to know and respect him…
I used to kid George that you and your sons would be creating another political dynasty of Romneys (much like the Rockefeller and Bush families) which would follow your father’s example and career. George, of course, pooh-poohed that, but that surely was in the back of his mind. And, certainly you and Ann have speculated about your five sons’ possible entries into politics. I foresee another family legacy for the Romneys, but it will depend on you.
Now, back to Jennifer Rubin’s suggestions about your new role in the Senate. Actually, there is an historical precedent for a Romney to help rebuild the Republican party because your father, Michigan Governor George Romney, did just that in 1965-66 following the crushing national defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. George, along with President Eisenhower, Governors Rockefeller, Scranton, Rhodes, several U.S. Senators, Congressmen, and GOP party officials.), was a key player in the formation and activities of the Republican Coordinating Committee. They assessed what had gone wrong in the 1964 election, met regularly in Washington, set up task forces on programs and institutions and reshaped the Republican party which then went on to extraordinary national and state 1966 election victories. George and myself were very active in the Committee’s formation of program and campaign strategies. I believe the same role for you is in order for the next two years. It would be a unique challenge after Trump’s 2018 massive 2018 election defeat—Trump made that midterm election a referendum on himself– and another defeat certainly is in the cards again, if he runs in 2020.
Now, of course, you can argue this rebuilding of the GOP was principally done by moderate or progressive Republican officeholders. Today, they just don’t exist, or do they?
When you first ran for the Senate against Kennedy in 1994, and George was one of your principal strategists, you struck me as someone who truly believed in what your father had proposed, fought for and accomplished as Michigan’s Governor and a presidential candidate.
You took the same moderate course when you ran, won, and served as Massachusetts Governor in 2002. Like George, I thought you were a problem-solving governor. Whenever I presented a policy, budget, program or speech draft to your father he would say: “Walt, don’t tell me about the problem, I want solutions, and bipartisan ones if possible.” That was my impression of your approach to politics and government until you decided to run for president and made sharp, political, right turns that, in my hindsight, did not need to be made. I had personally supported your policies and actions until you chose to do what I believed to be the opposite of what George Romney would have advised and it was reported in the New York Times (October 15, 2002). I still feel that George would have not advised you to make that strategic decision had he been alive. That may be presumptuous of me, but I was close to his philosophy and positions on life for many years.
Surely, you recall—as I still do vividly– sitting on that 1964 GOP convention floor at the Cow Palace in San Francisco when Governor Rockefeller tried to make some sense to the Goldwater delegates. Amidst the catcalls, boos, and hatred which arose to the ceiling of that hall, you could feel the doom and despair that was about to overtake the Republican party at the approaching election. George Romney wanted no part of that movement and personally told Goldwater that on several occasions during that campaign, just as you did with Donald Trump. To me, the 2016 Trump delegates reappeared as just another generation of the Goldwater delegates in 1964. Same problem and same solution, right?
Do you see anyone in a national position (e.g., in the U.S. Senate) taking such a position today or in the future? The GOP senators are in lockstep with McConnell and Trump and will continue to march along with them. They seem unwilling or unable to change. Most of them (and some Democratic Senators as well) are utterly obsessed with hanging onto their Senate seats and will vote and support only those policies and actions they believe will ensure their re-elections. Some of your advisors are certainly advocating such a course for your life in the Senate. It would, of course, be an easy and pleasant one.
But, your father heard– and rejected– that same advice throughout 1964. George Romney knew what was right and did it. Parenthetically, as you know, we won by a large margin in a state that voted heavily for Johnson.
Well, you ask, why should I, Mitt Romney, take on such an onerous and politically dangerous task? Because, there is no one else who could and will do that for the next two years. I would also add that you owe it to the Republican party to help reshape and repopulate it with candidates who are principled and closer to the people of this country.
In short, Mitt, I don’t see anyone on the horizon who is in the position of leading and rebuilding the national Republican party for the next two years. You can be a moderating, bipartisan, sensible, moral, voice in the Senate—a statesman among politicians, if you will.
You may wonder why I—as an Independent—want to see a strong Republican party emerge once again. This country will need two vibrant and representative political parties after the destructive Trump campaigns and administration have ended. When I moved from Michigan to North Carolina, I had been a Republican for twenty-two years but, then, I met Jesse Helms and became a Democrat. Then, for another ten years was a Democrat, and finally—as many American voters have done—moved to Independent status for the past twenty-two years.
Yet, I write this to you because I want George Romney and his family to be recognized and seen as a model for what we need in our political leaders. Only you can do that.
A reprise of George Romney, his life and work? Sure. Like father, like son, why not?
Walt de Vries, Ph.D.
Dr. Walt de Vries is a political consultant, author, university professor, and founder of the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership (1974) and co-founder of the American Association of Political Consultants (1969). He has co-authored two books on ticket-splitters (1972 and 2000) and another on Southern Politics (1976). Walt has done public opinion polling since 1960 and formed his own political consulting company in 1967. He has polled in all 50 states and several foreign countries. He currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina.