Mitt Romney has got it right when it comes to his stand opposing Donald Trump’s candidacy for the GOP nomination and then later as his party’s nominee for the presidential campaign. Mitt’s father, Governor George Romney (R-Mich.), fought a similar uphill fight against Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Finally, Mitt: Like father, like son?
I have been critical of Mitt’s campaigns because I felt he had deserted his father’s progressive philosophy and his balanced use of government. Add to that, George’s solid mantra to always campaign with honesty, directness and absolute openness–with no flip-flops–or endorsements by the likes of Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson for Mitt’s father.
But that was then. Now, it looks as though Mitt is reprising his father’s role in the 1964 Goldwater campaign within the present 2016 Republican presidential contest as Mitt continues to critique Trump, his behavior, business practices, income taxes, issue stands and campaign techniques.
I say: good for Mitt. Examine with me the parallels between Mitt’s father George’s actions and positions in the 1964 Goldwater campaign–during that year’s national convention and presidential election–with what is happening now. Indeed, compare the current role and stands of his son, Mitt, in what is becoming a very lonely campaign for him against the 2016 GOP presidential nominee, Trump. Some of these parallels are downright eerie.
(DISCLOSURE: I was George Romney’s Campaign Strategist and Pollster in the 1962, 1964 and 1966 Michigan gubernatorial elections and his Executive Assistant in the Office of Governor from 1963 to 1967. When I moved to North Carolina in 1972, I met Jesse Helms, quickly switched parties, and became a Democrat. Now, I am an Unaffiliated/Independent voter.)
Mitt says he will not attend the GOP convention in Cleveland—he should. Because it will remind him that when he, as a young man, and I, as Romney’s Executive Assistant, sat with the Michigan delegation on the San Francisco convention floor that hot August day in 1964 we heard and watched what the Goldwater convention delegates did to Governor Nelson Rockefeller (R-New York), when he tried to reason with them. It was frightening and unforgettable.
Stand by for a replay of that scene this July in Cleveland when any of the delegates or–perhaps, one or two of the few courageous remaining Republican leaders–try to nominate someone other than Trump or challenge his platform. Already the temptation and strategy to stay away from this 2016 convention by Republican office-holders and candidates seems unprecedented. Even GOP political consultants are recommending that their Republican candidate-clients– up for election in November–stay home and rationalize their notable absences with convoluted and dishonest explanations. To my political consultant colleagues pushing this cop-out strategy I can only say: “Nice try.”
How about the national parties (and I include the Democrats) require all statewide and congressional candidates–who will be on the ballot with their presidential candidates–MUST attend their national conventions? After all, they take the GOP’s brand, nominations, endorsements, services and lots of money from the Republican National, Senatorial, Congressional, Gubernatorial, state, local and other party organizations, don’t they? Some even beg for it. It would be a small step to demand the candidates’ pledges of loyalty and commitment to attend their party’s national convention. Do you think that idea would fly with this year’s Republican state and local candidates?
Return with me then to the 1964 convention. I still hear the chants on the convention floor and in the hotels of the delegates. For Goldwater supporters it was: “In your heart, you know he’s right!” Countered by Goldwater’s opponents: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts!” Emotions ran high and lasted for months and years to follow. For those of us old folk who remember that convention and election of 1964, those memories are still vivid.
Once again, I fear and yet predict the frightening and vile behavior of the 1964 Goldwater delegates will be equaled or topped by the Trump delegates of July, 2016. Indeed, they even seem to have the same personal demographics and ideology of that older Goldwater generation. I suspect that their hatred, catcalls, and spite for anyone but Trump will rise and stick to the ceiling of the Quicken Loans Arena just as those of the Goldwater delegates did in the Cow Palace fifty-two years ago. The 2016 TV convention viewers will not forget this because it will pave the way for the next three months of conflict and repulsive campaigning just as in the 1964 presidential election. I believe the 2016 election will–once again, as in 1964–leave the Republican party and its candidates in shatters and defeat.
Mitt Romney should go to the 2016 Cleveland convention. If he, along with the few other Republican leaders opposed to Trump who may be left then, cannot successfully fight Trump’s nomination, they should at least try–as his father, George Romney, along with Governor’s Nelson Rockefeller and Bill Scranton and other moderate Republicans did in 1964–to write a platform that state and local Republican candidates across the country can live with. In the 1964 convention, I was Governor Romney’s liaison with Rockefeller, Scranton, and the convention Platform Committee—an exhausting exercise in futility and frustration. We got nowhere. However, this time may be different, for Trump what it is in the platform won’t really matter because he may consider them just “suggestions.”
Of course, there are real, substantive and character differences between the leaders of the Republican parties of 1964 and 2016. Back then, nine Republican leaders had the guts, by being nominated, to oppose Senator Barry Goldwater (Arizona) in the convention. They were: Governors Rockefeller (N.Y.), Romney (Mich.) and Scranton (PA.); Senators Margaret Chase Smith (Maine) and Hiram Fong (Hawaii); Congressman Judd (Minn.); Ambassador Lodge (Mass.) and former Governor Stassen (Minn.). For me, that was a group of distinguished, principled, courageous Republican leaders. So far, almost every one of the 2016 elected GOP leaders–when it comes to dealing with Trump–remind us of the TV reality show: Naked and Afraid. These GOP “leaders” are unclothed of principles, afraid of being primaried, and petrified of losing their elected jobs. The Republic be damned—political survival always comes first. And, now, we also need to note that so far this year, more than twenty million (20,000,000) voters have voted for Trump or Bernie Sanders, which is an alarming protest of more than just numbers. The primaries are–along with all of the public opinion polls–strong and clear referenda on how Americans reject their politicians and elected governments.
However, as of May 16, 2016, I cannot find any GOP governors opposed to Trump; and only two Republican Senators who are opposed and one undecided about him. Among the current Republican Members sitting in the Congress, there are two opposed to Trump and one undecided. Hardly what you would call a strong bench of principled, gutsy, open, responsible, issue-oriented, Republican leaders willing to fight Donald Trump as their party’s nominee. All of the other 2016 GOP presidential candidates have caved (Kasich and Cruz say they are “undecided”). There aren’t many GOP “leaders” left who have not kissed Trump’s ring (or whatever); although the Bush ex-presidents and some prominent conservative pundits have yet to capitulate.
Perhaps, my analogy of the 1964 and 2016 conventions loses a bit of its explanatory power when we compare the Republican leaders from then with those of today. It is diminished first of all because Mitt says he won’t even attend the 2016 GOP convention and, of more importance, will not be nominated as his father was in 1964. But, I bet he and his followers still hope for a draft Mitt effort. So, Mitt is practically alone among the official and presumed GOP party leadership in taking on The Donald. Mitt needs to re-read what his father did before, during and after the 1964 GOP convention. George Romney, under enormous pressure by the GOP officials and Goldwater himself, stuck to his principles during that presidential campaign—a position that still has much to say for it. Mitt should also remember that after the disastrous November, 1964 election, his father worked–with many of those courageous, progressive souls who had opposed Goldwater–to salvage that election wreckage and reconstruct the party through the Republican Coordinating Committee in 1965. Who says history won’t get to repeat itself?
But, back to the 2016 convention and Donald Trump. He will not care what is in the platform, but will make every effort to control the convention and all of its various committees and activities. Trump promises entertainment as well. Should we stand by for an encore from Clint Eastwood?
Donald Trump must now prove that he is the face and new owner of the 2016 Republican party and he will brook no vocal or even subtle opposition to his control. Isn’t that inevitable in this year of his unpredictable and unstable politics?
Yet, it seems to me that the national party GOP needs to demonstrate to those many Republicans–who despair of their party’s direction and Trump’s nomination–that what is going to happen in the Cleveland convention and November election isn’t the sum total of what the Republican party stands for. Like Goldwater, Trump too shall pass. N’est-ce pas? Republican leaders, like their 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, must be active, principled and outspoken in their own national convention.
Want to bet that will happen?
For Mitt Romney: Like Father, Like Son?
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.