Speed Read

10.15.12

Speed Read: Seven Bits From Buzzfeed’s Deconstruction of George Romney

Turns out Mitt's dad never righteously stormed out of the 1964 Republican National Convention, as the old story goes. 

Buzzfeed departed from its short-form formula on Monday when it published a nearly 11,000-word exposé that blew the myth of George Romney apart like an abandoned automotive plant. Taking aim at the moderate Republican halo that has come to surround presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s father—the auto executive, Michigan governor, and presidential candidate in his own right—the thorough going-over by BuzzFeed contributor John R. Bohrer delivers a comprehensive drubbing to the man who has repeatedly been held up by left- and right-wingers alike as an admonition and cautionary tale to Mitt. Have core principles, the ghost of George was supposed to whisper to his son. Be resolute. Stand firmly in the middle.

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George Romney, 1968. (Bettmann / Corbis)

Whether or not George himself did any of these things may suddenly again be up for debate.

The Daily Beast pulls a BuzzFeed and mines the essential insights from this must-read piece that lands just a day before the second presidential debate.

1. George Did Not Walk Out of the 1964 RNC
An oft-repeated tale about how George Romney charged out of the 1964 Republican National Convention in a principled stand for civil rights ain’t necessarily so, according to Bohrer. The story has been repeated in numerous profiles, articles, columns, and Mitt biography The Real Romney. But “I don’t remember him walking out, no,” former George Romney aide Walt DeVries tells BuzzFeed. In fact, the onetime Michigan governor stayed until the end of the 1964 party gathering, seconding Barry Goldwater’s nomination. “Every time I see that quote from Mitt, I just don’t remember,” DeVries said. “I’ve searched my mind, and I think I would have.”

2. Mitt Perpetuated the Walkout Story
One of the first positive mentions of a morally untouchable Romney striding out of the RNC appears in a 1994 interview with Mitt Romney when he was running for the U.S. Senate, according to BuzzFeed. Romney told a Boston LGBT magazine that his father “walked out of the Republican National Convention in 1964, when Barry Goldwater said, ‘Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.’”

3. ‘Families’ Flub
George took a rain check on the Republican gathering at the 1962 Governor’s conference because it was held on a Sunday, a decision that annoyed fellow governors. In response, Romney put out a press release that said, “I have a special commitment to reserve Sundays for church activities and for my families …” —an accidental plural that must have stung, especially for George, who was born in Mexico because his parents had left Utah after the Mormon Church banned polygamy.

4. Sunday Sanctimony
When Martin Luther King Jr. visited Detroit for a civil-rights march in June of 1963, George declined to participate because it was on a Sunday and he abstained from politics on Sundays—even if the Reverend King was marching. His absence left tongues wagging, and Romney showed up at a march he belatedly called himself a week later. “This is where we’ve been trying to get him for a long time,” the head of the Detroit NAACP said at the time. “And with all due deference, he’s going to tell you that he has been out in front of us all along.”

Romney finally broke his lifelong vow not to work on the Sabbath at the most politically expedient time—when he was worried another candidate was about to step in front of him to run as the moderate alternative to Goldwater, telling reporters he’d made the decision because “I have serious reservations about Senator Goldwater’s positions,” and waning that of “the suicidal destruction of the Republican Party as an effective instrument in meeting the nation’s needs” if it were to nominate the Arizona senator. If Goldwater didn’t moderate his views, Romney said, “I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the party’s presidential candidate.”

5. George Was Open to Backing Goldwater Until Michigan Polling Showed It Could Hurt Him
After holding back from endorsing Goldwater at the '64 convention, Romney delivered his blessing at a Pennsylvania confab. It didn’t last long. After aides polled Michigan neighborhoods to see how civil-rights legislation played there, and he realized that supporting Goldwater would cause him more in-state problems that it would fix, Romney backed off from his party’s presidential nominee and the rest of the Republican establishment. But well after the convention, he had remained open to the idea of backing Goldwater. What’s more, Romney, who’d built a brand on political independence, also avoided endorsing the more moderate Richard Nixon in 1960—casting further doubt on the narrative that Romney had bravely walked away from Goldwater as a principle civil-rights stands.

6. ‘Rambling Romneyism’
When George was campaigning, his ability to somehow miss the mark repeatedly with audiences was noted by voters and newspaper columnists alike—leading to the above sobriquet coined by columnist Bob Novak. Journalist David Broder wrote that, “Romney appears to operate off a limited inventory of rather simple economic and political principles collected hither and yon in the course of his career”—and ...  this is starting to sound familiar!

7. The Benefits of Socialism
When serving as a Mormon missionary in London, George would fake arguments with a socialist pamphleteer to draw a crowd. Then the helpful red would shout at Romney while he spread the gospel of Joseph Smith. The ersatz competition drew crowds for both. According to Bohrer, “Romney had learned the value of picking a fight.”

Read the full story at Buzzfeed.