The First Romney Campaign of 1968: Like Son, Like Father?

Former Michigan Governor George W. Romney and his son former Massachusetts Governor Willard “Mitt” Romney are two separate individuals. But a comparison of the two as presidential candidates brings up an all-too-familiar pattern of “moderate” Republican policies, growth of state government as governors, a track record of budget cuts while in office but budget shortfalls following afterwards, and flip-flopping on key issues.

As curious asides before examining their records, we find that Governor George Romney made the original “brainwashing” gaffe in presidential politics, and was involved in his own “natural born citizen” controversy, due to him being born in Mexico.

George Romney was a businessman, leading American Motors Corporation to success before becoming governor of Michigan. Mitt Romney was a businessman, leading Bain Capital to success before becoming governor of Massachusetts.

Both were considered “moderate” Republicans who sought a third way between both parties. George Romney condemned the influence of big labor in the Democrat Party, and the influence of big business in the Republican Party. Mitt Romney once said, “I’m not running as the Republican view or a continuation of Republican values.”

As a public entry on George Romney states while citing a number of sources, the “tall, square-jawed, handsome, graying Romney matched what the public thought a president should look like.” This almost matches exactly what many think of his son Mitt Romney, that he “just looks presidential.”

Both swelled the size and role of state government as governor. The public entry above-quoted states George Romney did as much and later sources how. For example:

Romney led the way for a large increase in state spending on education, and Michigan began to develop one of the nation’s most comprehensive systems of higher education.[133] There was a significant increase in funding support for local governments[131] and there were generous benefits for the poor and unemployed.[133] Romney’s spending was enabled by generally prosperous economic conditions that allowed continued government surpluses[130][131] and by a consensus of both parties in Michigan to maintain and administer extensive state bureaucracies and to expand public sector services.[133]

As for Mitt Romney, we find after checking multiple sources:

The Massachusetts state budget was $22.7 billion a year when he took office in January of 2003. When he left office four years later, it was over $25.7 billion – plus another $2.2 billion in spending that the legislature took “off budget.” (Romney never reminds us of this fact.) The net effect of budgets proposed and signed into law by Mitt Romney? An additional $5.2 billion in state spending – and a similar increase in new taxes. Every year.

After adjusting for inflation, the numbers aren’t so dramatic, an increase of a few percent. Still an increase, by any measure. But that’s not the key point: Mitt Romney signed onto and defended Massachusetts’ healthcare law, which shot a gaping hole in the budgets after him. More on that below.

Here is George W. Romney’s record on deficits:

Romney’s first state budget in office came in at $550 million for fiscal year 1963, a $20 million increase over that of his predecessor Swainson.[130] Romney had also inherited a $85 million budget deficit, but got the state to where it had a surplus.[131] In the following fiscal years, the state budget increased to $684 million for 1964, $820 million for 1965, $1 billion for 1966, $1.1 billion for 1967, and was proposed as $1.3 billion for 1968.

How does George Romney’s record compare with Mitt’s? Let’s see:

So under Mr. Romney, state spending went from $22.3 billion to $28.1 billion, an annual increase of 6.5 percent. Adjusted for inflation, spending went from $20.7 billion to $21.6 billion, or a 1.1 percent increase.

There was an accounting trick that shoveled $2.2 billion off the books. But that’s not the main thing. Let’s dig up the records for Massachusett’s budget shortfalls after Mitt left office in 2007.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Massachusetts budget shortfalls were: $1.2 billion in 2008, or 4.2% of the General Fund; $5.2 billion in 2009, or 18.5% of the General Fund; $5.6 billion in 2010, or 20.4% of the General Fund; and $2.7 billion in 2011, or 8.6% of the General Fund.

Just to recap, that’s a pattern of claiming to cut budgets while in office, but leaving massive budget shortfalls after leaving office. And just to back this up, MassHealth has been specifically blamed as a leading contributor to the state’s budget gaps.

We’ve established that neither Romney was a conservative Republican. But were they both flip-floppers?

Perhaps the most famous gaffe in George Romney’s career came during his presidential bid in 1968. At first, he had unequivocally supported the Vietnam War. Then, in what might be called the “other” brainwashing gaffe, referencing Herman Cain’s more or less accurate observation that blacks have been “brainwashed” into supporting Democrats, he said the following while trying to distinguish himself from the “pro-war” Nixon:

When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I’d just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get.

George Romney meant in the diplomatic corps, since he visited the country in 1965. Then he completely reversed his position:

“I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia.”

The flip-flop cost George Romney the nomination, and he gradually drifted off into political obscurity ever since.

And what of Mitt Romney? It is impossible to document in a short space all the flip-flops – on the second amendment, on abortion, on his own healthcare plan for Massachusetts – but fortunately, there’s an ingenious video online that does it for me, using Governor Romney’s own words.

Will Mitt Romney fade off into the political sunset like his father, not having attained the Republican nomination or the presidency? Let’s hope in that case, it will be like son, like father.

As posted on Political Crush.

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