GOP Ghosts in Tampa Bay

Summoning Goldwater?

In 1964, George Romney, then the governor of Michigan, walked out of the Republican National Convention during Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech. He was protesting his party's sharp turn rightward and its weak platform plank on civil rights.

This week, 48 years on, Mitt Romney is set to achieve what his father never could. But this great family triumph will not represent a vindication of his father's principles. Mitt Romney reached the summit not by battling the GOP's staunchest conservatives but by accommodating them. Nothing better captures the absolute victory of the forces of Goldwaterism than a Romney triumph on the basis of Goldwater's ideas.

There will certainly be no speeches akin to the one offered by Nelson Rockefeller, the champion of liberal Republicanism. He was booed and hissed by the Goldwater legions who dominated the 1964 gathering.

Scorning the militants of a new right, Rockefeller pronounced their views "wholly alien to the sound and honest conservatism that has firmly based the Republican Party in the best of a century's traditions, wholly alien to the sound and honest Republican liberalism that has kept the party abreast of human needs in a changing world, wholly alien to the broad middle course that accommodates the mainstream of Republican principles."

Liberalism cannot speak its name at a Republican convention anymore. And the contemporary figure closest to the liberal Republicanism of old may well be a man named Barack Obama.

Nowhere is it written that a son must follow his father's political creed, and the times that shaped Mitt Romney were very different from the post-World War II era of social solidarity that set George Romney on his course in business and politics. The capitalism of Bain is not the capitalism of the auto industry during the '50s and '60s in which the elder Romney made his mark.

And to get to the top of a far more conservative GOP, Mitt Romney had to make his peace with the tea party, the Christian Coalition, the Club for Growth and all the other forces that have produced the most radically individualistic brand of politics our country has seen since the Gilded Age.

Romney sealed this pact by choosing to run with Paul Ryan, the one-time devotee of Ayn Rand's self-regarding philosophy. Thus will this election be as large in its implications as Goldwater's was -- but against an incumbent presiding over an economy far less carefree than the booming prosperity machine that helped Lyndon B. Johnson to his landslide and liberalism to its high tide.

The Romney top brass, however, is contemplating not 1964 but Ronald Reagan's convention of 1980. That's when the Gipper, a proud Goldwater disciple, used a truly exceptional speech to begin reassuring the nation that he was no extremist while reaching out to the restive constituency that came to be known as the Reagan Democrats.

A Romney who badly needs to reintroduce himself to voters has a lot of work to do this week. It will be difficult work in an era when party conclaves do not draw the audiences they once did. Partisan polarization (and the multiplication of programming options) has sharply limited convention audiences, tilting them toward the already decided.

So far, Romney has used the campaign to make negative arguments -- first against his primary opponents and then against Obama. He has not made the case for himself, he has seen his business experience transformed from an asset into a liability, and he cannot seem to escape curiosity about his reluctance to release more tax returns. He has let the summer campaign dialogue get away from him, most spectacularly last week when the political media was focused not on the sluggish economy but on the bizarre comments of Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri who put forward the concept of "legitimate rape."

So Romney's tasks will be both biographical, presenting his best self, and thematic, turning the campaign toward Obama's shortcomings rather than his own.

But above all, Romney must solve his authenticity problem. Through all his transformations since 1994, when he first sought public office in Massachusetts, Romney has seemed more a politician who would do whatever it took to close a deal than a leader driven by conviction and commitment.

This is a problem George Romney never had. For all of Mitt Romney's impressive achievements, he will not emerge successfully from Tampa unless he can persuade voters that what they are seeing is a real person and not an image cleverly crafted for the sole purpose of getting to 270 electoral votes.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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Goldwater would be only slightly more welcome in today's GOP than would George Romney (Mitt's Dad). Barry was pro-choice, pretty much pro-gay rights, and had this wonderful comment regarding gun control:

”I’m completely opposed to selling automatic rifles. I don’t see any reason why they ever made semi-automatics. I’ve been a member of the NRA, I collect, make and shoot guns. I’ve never used an automatic or semiautomatic for hunting. There’s no need to. They have no place in anybody’s arsenal. If any S.O.B. can’t hit a deer with  one   shot, then he ought  to  quit  shooting.”

That said, I have some optimism regarding Mitt.  Rather than labeling him a flip-flopper, a more charitable description would be to call him the ultimate pragmatist. If you want to know what's really in his heart of hearts, though, look to George Romney (Mitt's campaign bus has a huge portrait of George, prominently displayed). 

Mitt learned a lot of positive lessons from his father, but Mitt also learned from George's political failures, at the national level.  Say what you want against Mitt, he did get the GOP nomination, which is something his father never did, and the Presidency is within his grasp, if not a sure thing.

I think that, if Mitt gets into office, he could actually be good for the country (I say this as an Obama supporter).  If it took Nixon to open up a relationship between the USA and China, it may be Romney's opportunity to re-introduce bipartisan compromise back into governance, if ever so slowly.  Obama tried to do this, but failed, because the GOP did everything possible to oppose him on virtually everything. 

I think that the Dems would be more open to working with Romney than the GOP would ever be open to working with Obama.  I'll predict that, if Romney is elected, he'll pretty much be forced to toe the Tea Party line for the first two years.  But the GOP will then suffer badly in the 2014 mid-term elections.  This will give Romney the freedom he needs to follow his own natural inclinations, which are much more aligned with the politics of his father than with the politics of the Tea Party.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

 

It is truly amazing to see the elements of the 1964 GOP convention playing against the one now in progress.  George Romney walked out of the "64" convention because he opposed Goldwater when Goldwater was ardently backed by Ayn Rand.  W. Mitt Romney is grasping at the current nomination by kissing the hems of Paul Ryan's garments, Ryan who has based his political career on his RC adaption of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  It was really strange to watch Bill Moyers last night (the Nuns on a Bus program) and see the Bishop of the Diocese of Madison endorse Paul Ryan as good Catholic layman by claiming in a very direct way that love of God and Man does not interface with the political and economic practice.  I thought it extraordinary that Moyers did little or nothing to identify his guest to counter Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Robert Royal as one closely tied with Father C. John McCloskey.  

 

I was wondering when the Opus Dei organization was going to enter Republican politics again.  It ties together: Justice Scalia's canon lawyer son, Justice Clarence Thomas conversion to Catholicism and their strong connection to the Bush Vice-Presidency.  It looks like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith are waiting in the wings to lead their Light Brigade into Tehran.  And good Sister Simone has only Jesus.  (And this was overtly mentioned in "Nuns, Faith and Politics

CAN WE TRULY BELIEVE THAT MITT HAS LEARNED ANYTHING OF IMPORTANCE FROM HIS FATHER? I DO NOT THINK SO.

 IS THE BISHOP IN BACKING RYAN STEPPING ONTO A LANDMINE THAT COULD BE A DISASTER FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH?RAND DID NOT BELIEVE IN GOD BUT HAS CONVERTED RYAN,A "CATHOLIC" INTO BELIEVEING THAT HER WAY IS THE BEST WAY FOR AMERICA. CAN WE TRULY FOLLOW THESE TWO AS THEY LEAD US TOWARDS OBLIVION?

RYAN IS FOR RYAN AS MITT IS FOR MITT.THEY CLAIM THEY WANT TO SAVE SOCIAL SECURITY BUT THEY DO NOT OFFER A PLAN TO PUT THE MONEY BACK IN THAT HAS BEEN TAKEN OUT OVER THE YEARS.

 WITH ALL OF OUR TECH ACHIEVEMENTS DO WE REALLY NEED TO BUILD UP AN ADDITIONAL ARMY OF 100K? ONLY IF MITT/RYAN WANTS TO START ANOTHER WAR.A WAR WE CAN NOT AFFORD IN TREASURY AND BLOOD.

 I HOPE THAT BY THE BISHOP BACKING THESE TWO JOKERS WE DO NOT HAVE ANOTHER CRUSADES ON OYR HANDS.

Holy moly, Larry, I did not know that about Goldwater!  Thanks for the info.  I share your optimism about Mitt Romney.  Like you I would have worried a great deal about the influence of the dark forces (in the shape of rotund fellows) who have so distorted all that was once alive and well in the American version of conservatism.  I sometime fear it has been crippled so badly only several generations will set it right again.  I am more liberal than conservative but age is moving me along.

Oddly enought it seems to me Elizabeth Warren exemplifies what was once considered conservative notions.  That is to say, grand ideas and a great education are required but if one forgets the value of a near unyielding devotion to simplicity found often in the best of middle American one is clearly shooting oneself in the foot.

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About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).