April 11, 2008

George Romney: the fall of a friendless man

George Romney was briefly like his son, Mitt, (the two are pictured together above) a leading contender to be US President. In 1966 the Governor of Michigan rose to be the leading light of the Republican party, supported by the last Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower and with the support of large majorities in the opinion polls. By 1967 though Romney had fallen back to third and he too, like his son, withdrew from the Republican contest before it really got going, falling on his sword like his son before the Spring in late February. He burnt out quite spectacularly, accusing state department officials of brain washing him on a trip to Vietnam and eventually losing even the support of Dwight Eisenhower. His campaign is an interesting specimen though, as Chris Bachelder suggests, Romney fell apart in part because what worked in Michigan would not work nationally and because he underestimated the virtues of being a party man.

Romney became governor in Michigan after a successful career as a self made businessman. He became governor on the back of attacking established interests. Michigan was a state trending democrat over the period that Romney was governor, when he was elected in 1962 he was the first Republican governor since 1946 and the state voted strongly for Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election. Romney ran against his own party in Michigan, he argued that he was the more practical 'Democrat' and suggested that the Republican establishment were in part to blame for the state's problems. Consequently Romney ran on his electability and against both a Republican party establishment he saw as extreme and corrupt and a Democrat party establishment he saw as incompetent and corrupt. He ran against politics and for competence. In some sense he reminds one of a figure like Mike Bloomberg in New York today: he was the man you could trust. Romney ran on his strong ethical principles- he spent hours praying before he ran for governor and on his practical experience.

Coming to national politics, he followed the same lines. He made a point of a rather quixotic stance against Senator Barry Goldwater, arguing against Goldwater publically only after Goldwater had beaten Nelson Rockefeller in the crucial California primary earlier in the year. Furthermore after Goldwater acheived the nomination Romney failed to support his party's candidate, Goldwater was furious writing to Romney after the election and reminding him that he (Goldwater) had supported Nixon in 1960 and expected every Republican to do the like when the party had chosen a candidate. But as Bachelder suggests Romney enjoyed prickly relations with some of the leading members of his own faction within the party. He didn't like Nelson Rockefeller because Rockefeller had been divorced, he annoyed fellow governors and never really fitted in with the press core. Unlike Goldwater who made friends across the isle with ease, Romney's assurance and prickliness irritated. Like his son he was unable to get on with even those who agreed with him. His attempts to run against the establishment worked in Michigan but did not work nationally, where the party mattered more than the candidate.

Bachelder convincingly dismisses the two other possible reasons why Romney didn't succeed. His intervention on Vietnam was maladroit- but occured after the decline in his popularity and after his main supporters had abandoned him. A more adroit or popular politician might have even survived it. Perhaps more significantly his Mormonism didn't seem to really feature in the campaign- to be honest Romney unlike his son didn't seem to survive for long enough for his religion to matter.

Romney's failure ultimately was down to success in the Republican party. He couldn't get enough politicians to actually like him enough to support him- he couldn't do what politicians as diverse as Rockefeller, Nixon, Goldwater and Reagen could, ie build a constituency of friends and followers who would follow him in a national setting. As a Michigan governor he ran on his principles and against the establishment: but the Republican Presidential campaign required compromise and comradeship. It required him to support people who he naturally found antipathetic: he was from the beggining weakened by the fact that he had not supported and had publically slighted Goldwater in 1964, if others had not supported the Arizona senator, then they had not allowed their staff to openly solicit split votes (Johnson, Romney) as Romney had in Michigan. That kind of arrogance sometimes can come across as independence- but even the most independent member of a political party who has political sense knows to curry favour with other politicians- to campaign for them and furthermore to avoid irritating them too much (John McCain the current nominee from the GOP stumped for George Bush in 2004 and for other Republicans in 2006). Romney failed that basic test- and even at the height of his popularity that earned him rebukes from significant Republican figures like Ronald Reagen. His arrogance also led him to insult and thus alienate even longterm supporters like Dwight Eisenhower, in the autumn of 1967 Romney got a strongly worded letter from Eisenhower when he implied in a speech that the President hadn't controlled foreign policy in the 1950s, he ignored the warning and Eisenhower ended up in opposition to his candidacy.

Bachelder suggests that Romney's failure demonstrates the power of the party machine- but I'd go further and suggest that both his and his son's fall demonstrates the importance to any politician of friendship amongst politicians and between politicians and journalists. Clubbability matters in the social world of politics: Romneys, pere et fils, have not attained the heights of US political power partly because they lack that ability to make their own kind feel happy in their company. Its a talent that is underrated in our democratic age, because we do not like the realisation that politics is often a sport played for a few people's minds and hearts- but the failure of George Romney to get anywhere in US national politics demonstrates the importance of personal tact and party loyalty. Ideology played a part in both their falls but the personal angle was also significant- especially as Bachelder suggests in the case of the father.

10 comments:

Semaj Mahgih said...

Yes - an example of a man who told it as it was and lost out, just as I did on the gay mafia issue. I feel for this man but in a metaphorical sense.

Semaj Mahgih said...

Romney ran on his strong ethical principles- he spent hours praying before he ran for governor and on his practical experience.

Herein lies the real key. True Christians are excluded or marginalized from the upper echelons of power in the states, controlled, as they are by the illumined CFR and similar manifestations of the other side.

This is what happened to Ike. Converting to Presbyterianism just before accession, he was always to be marginalized. Little did they know a war hero would go that way.

To cite the Bill Grahams of the world as Christian is, of course, not to understand the nature of Christianity.

Rommey fell prey to the party machine - yes he did - but the underlying reason is that there were things, due to his Christian conviction, he just wouldn't do to claw his way to power.

Contrast that to the unprincipled illuminist Clinton and the "new man" Obama.

Semaj Mahgih said...

I forgot to add that the LDS v Christian Right issue clouds things here because the Christian Right is not Christian in most cases.

Gracchi said...

James you didn't tell it as it was on the 'gay issue'- but away from that, you get some of the reason there why Romney fell.

Obama is a true Christian- George Bush was a Christian, Tony Blair was a Christian, Dwight Eisenhower wasn't marginalised and would have been horrified if you had said that to him. Sorry James I don't beleive in what you argue here.

Semaj Mahgih said...

Tiberius - Ike was very much marginalized and Obama has many question marks.

You need to be inside to know. Liz knows for example who is and who is not. It's an insider's thing. Non-Christians can't decide who is or who is not.

Gracchi said...

Eisenhower abandoned Romney because he Romney said that Ike was marginalised. Eisenhower actually changed US foreign policy and in particular Republican policy greatly- becoming a much more internationalist Republican than his primary opponent Taft or his predecessors as Republican candidates Wilkie, Dewey, Hoover or Coolidge had been. Just for a second look at Norman Graebner's characterisation of his policies as Eisenhower's and that characterisation was one that Eisenhower himself agreed with when he rebuked Romney. Where is your evidence?

As far as knowing who is and isn't a Christian- James do you read the bible, Matthew verse 7.21-23 tells you quite explicitly that though many shall prophesy in the name of the father and many shall claim religious merit, many of those will not be Christians and that it is not for you to decide who is a Christian or not, but only for God. To arrogate such power to yourself or to Liz is pharasiacal James- it is arrant heresy and far from Christianity, it is not for you to know what people are in their innermost hearts. Obama says that he is a Christian and has delivered at least one speech which has a very Christian ideological tinge to it: it is not Christian to agree with him because of that, but I find scriptural evidence to demonstrate that it is not Christian to say that he is not a Christian- it is blasphemy, and arrogates the power of God to a mere mortal.

Gracchi said...

James I apologise that was too harsh- but I hope you see the point I'm making.

Semaj Mahgih said...

To arrogate such power to yourself or to Liz is pharasiacal James-

As usual, Tiberius, you have this amazing ability to misconstrue or misinterpret what is said, to turn it roud to mean the oppostite of what was intended. Many have noted this ability.

Indeed, if you had not quoted what you did htere, I should have. With your humanist perspective you think I claim to myself any powers whatsoever?

This is indeed gross misinterpretation and I apologize to Liz. But you miss one crucial element in this, as a non-Christian, and that is the nature of redemption.

There is a process which occurs and the "social" Christians have not experienced it. I'm going to write of it today.

What almost everyone misses is that a change occurs and it's almost impossible to define the way of it but the point it occurs - even you must know from your deep reading.

You're well read and it's as clear as day within the gospels - explicit in fact.

So things are shown to be true ater that, not by Liz, not by me [the humanist angle again which can only interpret with man as the focus], not by any human.

If we know anything, it is merely through revelation, not by claiming any G-d given power.

He said it Himself - my kingdom is not of this world. So the atheist and humanist will mock but it changes nothing - as the Ents hurling themselve upon the Orthanc Rock, so it ever was.

And it's not a closed shop. You can join the club at any moment of your choosing. It's all in your perception.

semaj notlimha said...

Ah! So THAT'S why people say "Christ on a bicycle"!

Gracchi said...

James I don't understand what you wrote. You told me that Obama was not a Christian. I dispute the fact that you can say that- I dispute the idea that you can in either my or more importantly your own belief systems judge someone's religious faith like that. You accuse him presumably of hypocrisy when he says he is a Christian- its for you to make that charge stick. You brought Liz into this not me- you need to provide evidence that Obama is not a Christian- not that he disagrees with you about Christianity (which unless you are God is pretty inevitable within your own religion) but that he is not a sincere Christian- what is your evidence?

As far as I can see he is a regular church goer who believes in Christ, God and the Holy Spirit and tries to live by scripture- now what exactly makes him a non-Christian.

And incidentally I am not a humanist and do not understand what that term means.