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“The Real Romney”: Veteran Reporter Michael Kranish on Mitt Romney’s Embrace of GOP’s Rightward Turn

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Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish is the co-author of the recent book, “The Real Romney,” which examines the political trajectory of presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney and of the party from the time his father, George Romney, walked out of the 1964 Republican National Convention in protest at the party’s sharp turn rightward and its attitude toward civil rights. Unlike his father, Kranish writes, Mitt Romney is not “the moderate voice seeking to rein in the extreme forces in the GOP; he has become, as he called himself earlier this year, a 'severely conservative' man looking to win the complete trust of the dominant right of his party.” Although George Romney had been concerned by the impact of the right-wing John Birch Society on the Republican Party, his son is indirectly its beneficiary. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” Democracy Now!'s special coverage from the Republican National Convention in Tampa. As we continue our coverage, we take a look at evolving positions within the Republican Party. Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish is the co-author of a recent book called The Real Romney, which examines the political trajectory of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and of the party from the time his father, George Romney, walked out of the 1964 Republican National Convention in protest at the party's sharp turn rightward and its attitude toward civil rights.

Unlike his father, Kranish writes, Mitt Romney is not, quote, “the moderate voice seeking to rein in the extreme forces in the GOP; he has become, as he called himself earlier this year, a 'severely conservative' man looking to win the complete trust of the dominant right of his party.” Although George Romney had been concerned by the impact of the right-wing John Birch Society on the Republican Party, his son is indirectly its beneficiary. The Society was founded by Fred Koch, founder of Koch Industries. His billionaire sons, Charles and David Koch, are key donors to the Republican Party and to Mitt Romney.

Michael Kranish spoke Sunday at the Poynter Institute for Media in St. Petersburg, Florida.

MICHAEL KRANISH: So let me talk a little bit about the subject here today of Mitt Romney. This is an individual who the Globe has covered for 18 years, if not more, since when he first ran for office and back. And people still ask the same question, that really is the title of this book: “Who is he really? Who is the real Romney?” So the publisher came up with this title, because that seems to be the question that people are still asking. So, playing off that, I want to tell you a little bit about a story that actually was in this morning’s Boston Globe, which you can go online and see, but I’m going to frame my talk for a few minutes around that story, because it builds out of what I wrote in the book.

And that is, the time is the summer of 1964, and the Republican convention is being held in San Francisco. George Romney has gone back and forth about whether he wanted to contest Barry Goldwater for the nomination. In the end, he decides not to do so, but there are people constantly pushing him and saying, “You know, we want to vote for you anyway.” So George Romney goes to the convention in San Francisco. He had been the governor of Michigan for just two years.

George Romney—the Romney family was really not a terribly politically ideological family. When George Romney was thinking of running for governor in 1962, he gathered his family around, including young Mitt, who was then, I guess, around—let’s see, I guess he would have been about 15 years old or so—and had a decision to make: should I run as a Republican or a Democrat? Because they really had been neither. And the decision was made that he would run as a Republican in Michigan, which was a pretty Democratic state. And Mitt was part of that decision-making progress.

And having done that and having been welcomed by the state Republican Party, it must have been really something to go to the 1964 Republican convention, which was dominated by conservatives and obviously by the nomination of Barry Goldwater. So, George Romney’s role there was he went to the platform committee, and he took Mitt with him. And this is why it’s so relevant. Mitt Romney is 17 years old, and he’s by his father’s side. And Mitt Romney sees the war unfolding within the Republican Party at this convention. And there’s a wonderful picture that I came across some weeks ago in researching the story that I hadn’t seen used in profiles, and it certainly wasn’t in our book, of young Mitt at the convention wearing his suit and tie with a badge on his lapel and so forth, watching earnestly as his father talked at the convention. And that picture is used in this morning’s story in the Globe.

And what he—what Mitt sees is his father take on the conservative forces in the party at that time. He urges the platform committee to adopt a plank basically favoring civil rights legislation. Just weeks earlier, Barry Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act had been passed with a combination of more liberal Republicans and moderate Republicans and some moderate Democrats, and it had passed. And George Romney was very concerned about the fact the Republican Party seemed to be positioning itself at the convention against that legislation. So he urged the platform to adopt basically a plank that essentially said that they would be supportive of civil rights legislation. And the platform committee refused.

And then George Romney got up and said, “I’d like you to adopt a plank against extremism.” And the reason for that was that he was concerned about the influence of the John Birch Society that they were having in the Republican Party. And again, the platform committee refused to do so. During the convention, of course, Barry Goldwater famously said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. So it was a rebuke not just to George Romney, but also to Nelson Rockefeller, who had famously gotten up and given a speech on the convention floor about the need to adopt the same amendments that George Romney had tried to get pushed through.

So, during the convention, George Romney actually got a small number of votes. It was in the 40s. And he essentially, according to Mitt—these are Mitt’s words—that George, quote, “walked out of the Republican convention.” He was so upset, he thought that nominating Barry Goldwater would be, quote, “political suicide” for the Republican Party. So, that is the war that Mitt saw as a 17-year-old going on before his eyes at the first convention—at least I think it was the first convention he went to, but as a 17-year-old going to that convention in San Francisco.

So, now, fast-forward 48 years later, and the storyline has turned on its head. Mitt Romney is coming into this convention calling himself, quote, “severely conservative,” unquote. He is trying to ensure that—the conservatives in the party, that he is one of them. So he’s not a moderate coming in, trying to get them to go back as his father had; it’s quite the opposite.

And so, that’s part of the story that I wanted to talk about. Why is that? Who is he really? Because when Mitt Romney first ran for the U.S. Senate, he ran as a liberal-to-moderate politician. He said that he was to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights. He was for abortion rights. He had a whole host of positions that put him basically at the left end of the Republican Party spectrum. Of course, he was running against the liberal lion, Ted Kennedy, so he was trying to defeat him. But this was where the family came from. George Romney had been moderate. Mitt Romney was running exactly in his father’s mold, as his father had successfully done for governor and unsuccessfully, frankly, obviously, for president back in 1968.

So, when Newt Gingrich, for example, in 1994—this was the same time—running—when Mitt was running for the U.S. Senate, Newt Gingrich was starting up with his Contract with America. So where was Mitt on that? Mitt was against that. He said that he was very concerned that this would be too much of a taking sides, that it would pit one party against the other. So he did not think that that would be a good idea, and he opposed Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. So, it’s interesting, in this campaign, in the primaries, we saw that conflict play out. Mitt Romney has since said it was a mistake to oppose the Contract with America, but it gives you a sense about where he was coming from. Running for the U.S.—excuse me, the governorship in 2002, Mitt Romney called himself a moderate who’s progressive. He referred to himself as an independent, you know, for a number of years before he himself joined the Republican Party in late 1993, just before he ran for the U.S. Senate.

Let me read you one thing that—harking back to George Romney, to give you a sense about sort of the Romney family legacy on this issue. I mentioned earlier about how Barry Goldwater and George Romney had fought with each other during that convention. After the convention was over, Barry Goldwater wrote a very angry letter to George Romney saying basically, “Why didn’t you endorse me?” And George wrote back a 12-page letter to Barry Goldwater, explaining all of the reasons why he had refused to endorse Barry Goldwater. So George wrote to Barry Goldwater, “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”

So that letter, written so many years ago, certainly resonates today. And it’s something that a lot of people are still concerned about, understandably so, because it’s one of the great issues of our time, just as George Romney was concerned about all those years ago. And you hear from time to time Mitt Romney talking about how, if he’s elected president, that he would want to be pragmatic, get the parties to work together. And candidates always say that, of course, you know, when they’re trying to win. The question is, what will happen? But that is—that was sort of the philosophy imbued into Mitt by his father. So, I do feel you can’t sort of overestimate how important it is to understand the relationship of the father to the son.

So, on the—by the same token, what did Mitt learn from George Romney? Well, he certainly learned how to run and win to be governor of a Democratic state. He followed in his father’s mold very much. But he also saw that his father had run for president and failed. And one of the reasons, of course, that his father failed was, in part, he was disliked by the party, the whole war with Barry Goldwater and so forth, and also, when he had made the infamous comment about having gone to Vietnam and gotten the greatest brainwashing anybody ever had, by the generals and so forth. Mitt’s sister Jane told another Globe reporter some years ago that that moment, that—the fact that that basically undermined George’s presidential hopes, had made Mitt much more careful in what he said. He’s more cautious, more scripted, according to Mitt’s sister. So, that also you can see play out. People have talked about Mitt Romney and said, you know, he seems very careful, scripted, and so forth, in what he says. And when he goes off the script, obviously, he could have problems. Just a couple days ago, he made a joke that some people interpreted as a birther joke regarding President Obama. And Mitt had tried to be very careful throughout the campaign not to talk about this issue. He knew, obviously, that others were happy to talk about it. But also, quite frankly, Mitt’s father, George, was born in Mexico and didn’t come to this country ’til he was five years old, and yet had run for president arguing that he was qualified. And we can talk about that if you want to. So, this is not a territory that Mitt was really wanting to enter, yet he made that off-the-cuff comment. So, when he does that, he sort of gets a lot of criticism, and then he goes back obviously into his more scripted mode.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish, co-author of The Real Romney. He spoke Sunday at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. Poynter Institute owns the Tampa Bay Times. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

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