WASHINGTON — You have to wonder what George and Lenore Romney would have made of their son the candidate.
The last week has brought two insightful profiles of Mitt Romney's parents, offering an implicit, and disappointing, contrast with their more successful son.
New York magazine's Benjamin Wallace-Wells describes the force of nature that was Michigan Gov. George Romney, headstrong in his convictions and at odds with an increasingly conservative Republican Party.
In Time magazine, Barton Gellman focuses on Lenore Romney and her relationship with her youngest son, soon to obtain the Republican presidential nomination that eluded her husband.
Both authors posit that the parents' losing campaigns — George Romney's disastrous 1968 presidential race and Lenore's reluctant, husband-propelled bid for the Senate two years later — shaped young Mitt and his approach to politics.
“No presidential nominee until now has grown up with two parents who ran for high office or so much early exposure to the craft,” Gellman writes. “Their public ruin seared him and schooled him. The lessons he drew have shaped his ambitions, his calculations of risk and his strategy for achieving what his mother and father could not. Bluntly put, he learned from each of his parents how to lose an election … it became his prime concern to avoid their mistakes.”
The tale of two generations of Romneys in politics is, of course, a parallel story of the changing ideology of the Republican Party and its relentless shift rightward. In fact, as Wallace-Wells describes, George Romney's Republican Party, the embodiment of the moderate establishment, was collapsing even as he ran, supplanted by the party of Goldwater and Reagan. Like his father, Wallace-Wells writes, Mitt Romney is “caught in a similarly uneasy negotiation with conservatives.”
Here is the telling difference, and the sad, perhaps inevitable, trajectory of any political dynasty, from idealism to expediency. George Romney railed — indeed, he battled — against what he saw happening. Mitt Romney has adapted to it.
Wallace-Wells tells the story of George Romney's efforts at the 1964 convention to promote a plank in the party platform denouncing extremism of all types. Romney lost — and, with 17-year-old Mitt in tow, walked out of his party's convention.