Mitt Romney’s political and ideological squishiness has been examined since he first started running for president more than five years ago. Often, the certitude and principled hard-headedness of his father, George Romney, the governor of Michigan and himself a presidential candidate, is conjured to make a stark contrast between father and son. George Romney storming out of the 1964 Republican National Convention has become a central detail to draw the comparison, and a founding block of the Romney creation story.
Except that it appears to be nothing more than a myth.Per the historian John Bohrer in a new Buzzfeed story:
George Romney did not walk out of the 1964 Republican National Convention. He stayed until the very end, formally seconding Goldwater’s eventual nomination and later standing by while an actual walkout took place. He left the convention holding open the possibility of endorsing Goldwater and then, after a unity summit in Hershey, Pennsylvania, momentarily endorsed the Arizona senator. Then he changed his mind while his top aides polled “all-white and race-conscious” Michigan communities for a “secret” white backlash vote against LBJ’s civil rights advances — a backlash that might have made a Goldwater endorsement palatable at home. Finding the Republican label even more unpopular than civil rights in Michigan, Romney ultimately distanced himself from the entire party, including his own moderate Republican allies.
The story goes beyond that telling detail and explores how George Romney’s own political shape shifting bugged Eisenhower, how Goldwater thought George Romney was too much like Eisenhower, and how other Republican governors considered him an opportunist, positioning himself as the principled stop-Goldwater candidate and then entertaining the endorsing of Goldwater when another moderate candidate emerged. When surveys showed that it was better to oppose Goldwater and the Republican brand if he wanted to win reelection in Michigan, the then-governor veered toward that path.
Bohrer depicts Romney as a candidate as dependent on polls as on his gut, and makes the case that Romney père et fils are not so different after all. The difference, he concludes, is that Mitt has the decency not to be self-righteous about his reversals.