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Republicans: Where George Was

3 minute read

The letter was two years old, but last week it was must reading for most politicians—and Republicans in particular. Sent by Michigan’s Governor George Romney to Barry Goldwater after the G.O.P.’s disastrous 1964 showing, it explained in twelve lucid pages just why Romney had declined to support the party’s presidential ticket. Its contents were a secret until the New York Times obtained and published a copy from sources whose identity remains a mystery. Highlights:

> Stressing his conviction that neither major party should be exclusively conservative or liberal, Romney warned: “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation.” The real challenge for the G.O.P. “lies in the expansion of voter support in all parts of the country, urban or rural, North or South, colored or white. Without common dedication to this fundamental, our rehash of 1964 positions may become of interest only to the historians of defunct political institutions.” Nevertheless, Romney complained, the Goldwater campaign “never effectively deviated from its Southern-rural-white orientation.”

>Romney absolved Goldwater of personal blame for the 1964 convention’s failure to adopt a strong civil rights plank—but at the same time damned him as an indifferent campaigner. He recalled how the G.O.P. standard-bearer had admitted to him that he, Goldwater, “read only a few sections of the platform and didn’t know what amendments were being offered”—incredible as that seems. He also exonerated Goldwater of making a “deal” with Southern segregationists because “you were obviously leaving many vital things almost entirely to others.”

> Romney recalled that he had never questioned Goldwater’s private dedication to racial equality. “I did my best,” he said, “to point out the inconsistency between your personal record and public record.” In the letter, Romney repeated a statement that he had urged Goldwater to make during the campaign: “The rights of some must not be enjoyed by denying the rights of others. Neither can we permit states’ rights at the expense of human rights.” Speaking for himself, Romney said, “the chief cornerstone of our freedom is divinely endowed citizenship for all equally regardless of pigmentation, creed or race.”

> Romney, disturbed by the issue of “extremism,” recalled that he had urged Goldwater after the convention to paraphrase his famous acceptance speech. The original read: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Romney’s version read: “Extremism in defense of liberty is not a vice but I denounce political extremism, of the left or the right, based on duplicity, falsehood, fear, violence and threats when they endanger liberty.”

> Goldwater had written to Romney earlier, demanding to know: “Where were you, George, when the chips were down and the going was hard?” Retorted George, who was busy that fall trying to get himself and other Republican candidates elected in Michigan: “Well, Barry, for a long time I’ve been right on the firing line.” While Goldwater was clobbered in Michigan, Romney was re-elected with 56.3% of the vote.

Though Goldwater has repeatedly complained that Romney never explained why he “took a powder” in 1964, Romney’s letter should erase all doubts on that score. It also cleared up another question about Romney by demonstrating conclusively that he is indeed a Republican—and one who is dedicated to building a party with the broadest possible appeal.

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