Mitt Romney’s inspirations for bucking his party: his dad and his Black grandson

(Michelle Boorstein | The Washington Post via AP) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, marches with a crowd on June 7, 2020, in protest against police mistreatment of minorities in the nation’s capital, making him the first Republican senator known to do so.

Mitt Romney is once again showing himself to be a GOP maverick, this week calling the president’s efforts to overturn election results “undemocratic” while most of his Republican colleagues stay aboard the Trump train.

It wasn’t a big surprise, given his earlier vote as the only Republican senator to support the impeachment of Trump. Romney also broke with most in his party to join a Black Lives Matter march this summer in Washington.

Romney now says that two of his family members helped inspire such independence — his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, who often bucked the GOP on civil rights, including joining marches; and a grandson who is Black.

Romney talked about that in an interview with David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, on his “Axe Files” podcast.

They discussed how George Romney in the 1960s was a GOP maverick on civil rights and in criticizing the Vietnam War — and those actions eventually spelled the end of his political career.

“There’s no question but that who I am and what little courage I have is the result, to a large measure, of having watched by my dad exercise courage of his own,” Mitt Romney said.

“I saw my dad make decisions, which were politically uncomfortable, and which had consequences for him.” But he said the elder Romney “was happy and satisfied because of it” because he felt he was doing the right thing.

The Utah senator said people viewed his father as having courage and integrity because those qualities “only have value if there’s a cost associated with them, with exercising them.” He and Axelrod said they cost George Romney his shot at the GOP nomination for president.

(Tribune file photo) George Romney and his son Willard Mitt Romney in 1958.

Romney said his father was at peace with that. He recalled how former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who once said George Romney “wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him in the face” as he criticized the Vietnam War, later acknowledged lying to Americans about deaths in that war. Family members asked if that made George Romney feel better and vindicated.

“He said, ‘I never look back. I only look forward. Why would I look back?’” Mitt Romney recalled. “He was not troubled by the consequence of doing what he felt was right. And I’m sure that influenced, and influences, how I think about my life.”

The senator, for example, said that once he came to the conclusion that Trump was guilty of an impeachment charge, his decision to vote to convict was straightforward and actually reduced his stress — even though he knew consequences would follow.

“I’m not terribly popular with my party in the state of Utah,” Romney said. “But that consequence is nowhere near as great as the consequence of violating your own conscience.”

Romney also talked about why he chose to join a Black Lives Matter march in Washington in June.

“It’s pretty straightforward for me,” he said. “Black Lives Matter is a statement saying that we have a justice system and a law enforcement system which from time to time does not exercise equal and fair justice. And that’s an important message.”

(Courtesy of Mitt Romney) Sen. Mitt Romney said he joined a protest in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2020, to “make sure that people understand that Black Lives Matter.”

Romney gave another reason he joined the march: “I have an African American grandson.”

Kieran James Romney, who is Black, is the adopted son of Ben Romney, the fourth of Romney’s five sons. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry once poked fun at a Romney Christmas card with one Black face in the large white family, and later apologized.

Romney said he thinks about how Blacks often say they must have “the talk” with children about the discrimination that exists because of their skin color.

“I don’t know how this grandson of mine will be able to understand that, and why is it that I will be treated differently than my siblings and my cousins, simply because the pigment of skin is different. I find that very troubling.”

The senator added that he has a picture of his father, as a governor, leading a civil rights march, which he did more than once.

“He was at the front of the parade,” Romney said. “In Washington, I was just back with all the other folks, which I was perfectly comfortable with. But I did think about him.”