Donald Trump has a daddy problem. Mitt Romney does not.
Could George Romney’s example be what compelled his son to march past the Trump Hotel—where protesters had stacked body bags six long weeks ago, when a very different pandemic than police violence was at the center of the country’s attention—to the White House?
Now it’s enduring racism that’s commanding our attention and the younger Romney, humming along to “This Little Light of Mine,” is a far better guide to responding than the son of real estate developer Fred Trump, who had applications for apartments marked with a “C” for colored to be sure Donald didn’t rent to them. Fred milked his properties for the last nickel, exploited handymen, and fought inspectors. The tenant was always wrong.
After getting to the Michigan state house in 1963, the elder Romney encouraged Dr. Martin Luther King to come to Detroit to march with 120,000 citizens (George had to miss the march, because it was on a Sunday), a prelude to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech two months later. In his State of the State address that year, Gov. Romney said that “Michigan’s most urgent human rights problem is racial discrimination—in housing, public accommodations, education, administration of justice, and employment.” When the GOP’s candidate for president Barry Goldwater refused to put an anti-discrimination plank in the party’s platform, Romney refused to support him.
By contrast, Fred Trump provided much in the way of money to his son but little in the way of character. On Memorial Day in 1927, the president’s father was arrested on a charge of “refusing to disperse from a parade when ordered to do so” at a gathering of 1,000 white-robed Klansmen in Queens. Now Donald, who’s denied that happened despite contemporaneous reporting on his old man’s arrest, is all about using force to “dominate” Black Lives Matter protesters.
To Trump, there’s no such thing as a peaceful protester, only looters and agitators attacking the 99% perfect police. About that 75-year old man in critical condition after a Buffalo policeman pushed him off of his feet? He’s probably antifa, Trump tweeted hours before Floyd was eulogized in Houston, and he probably faked the fall that left him unresponsive with blood gushing from his ear.
On one hand, you could ask how hard could it be to walk in his dark dad jeans and a N95 mask among thousands of evangelicals and others to protest something so obviously wrong as a police officer snuffing out the life of a man who posed no threat, as three other officers watched? Hard enough that no other Republican of note joined him. Attorney General William P. Barr organized a violent police crackdown so that Trump could march triumphantly across Lafayette Park, with his secretary of defense and chair of the joint chiefs as props, to hold a Bible upside down like a dead mouse. Beyond Washington, a dozen Republican country chairs in Texas republished postings calling Floyd a brutal criminal” and his murder a “staged event” designed to detract from the “rising approval rating of President Trump.” The state Agricultural Commissioner, too.
When Trump learned that Romney had hitched up with the protesters, he immediately called him a loser, although Romney won more of the popular vote with 47% than Trump did with his 46. And Romney has company. Sen. Lisa Murkowski murmured that she is no longer afraid of Trump’s big, bad tweets and just might—but don’t press her—vote against him.
And in a sudden reversal reverberating around Washington, Tom Cotton, one of Trump’s fiercest supporters who just days ago favored using federal troops to halt the protests, stood up at the GOP’s weekly Tuesday lunch, according to reporter Jake Sherman, and said, “Young black men have a very different experience with law enforcement in this nation than white people… we need to be sensitive to that and do all we can to change it.” Republican consultant Frank Luntz, who branded “death taxes” and the Contract with America, observed that in his 35 years polling, he’s “never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply. We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.”
In his campaigns, Mitt hasn’t always risen to his father’s heights. The elder Romney dropped out of his presidential race honorably after saying he was “brainwashed” about our involvement in Vietnam, which almost everyone was, but that was too much candor for the time. The younger Romney went further and won his party’s nomination in 2012 but in the process made light of Obama’s birthplace, derided the 47% who need government help, and courted the endorsement of Birther-in-Chief Donald Trump, who always sinks to his father’s level.
While Mitt readily acknowledges he “stood on the shoulders” of a man born in Mexico who rose to run a car company, and for president, Donald, the son of a millionaire developer, is too invested in being a self-made “billionaire” to admit he was born on third base. Part of the reason lawyers argued to the Supreme Court that Trump is too busy being president (and tweeting) to turn over his tax returns is that they would also show how many laws were violated in the bequests. A New York Times investigation found that Trump received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father, much of it through tax fraud, paying about 5 percent in taxes.
Both sons succeeded beyond their fathers. The mountaintop Trump reached is not the one Dr. King spoke of, but the one he told his father he would climb when he first looked from the old neighborhood to the twinkling lights of Manhattan, a trip he parlayed, in the Age of Kardashian, into a TV show and now a presidency which is much like a TV show.
Mitt Romney lost his race to be president and, at 73, is unlikely to ever run again. But from his father he inherited a conscience and that’s priceless. No matter how high Trump climbs, he’ll never have one of those.