Back in 1964, a Republican Governor named George Romney performed an act of rare political courage. As party delegates convened in San Francisco to coronate Senator Barry Goldwater as their presidential nominee, Romney noted Goldwater's opposition to civil rights legislation and announced that because "his [Goldwater's] views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our Party, I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the Party's next candidate." Despite the vicious racism of the extreme right-wing (which had taken over the GOP through Goldwater's candidacy), Romney stood by his vow, even willfully incurring their wrath by refusing to endorse Goldwater.
Half a century later, it is George Romney's son, Mitt Romney, whose moral courage is being tested. Unfortunately, this is a test which he has thus far failed in two major ways.
First he failed in his handling of Richard Grenell, a conservative* foreign policy expert who resigned from the Romney campaign after homophobic backlash to his sexual orientation made it impossible for him to do his job. The controversy was not based on any complaint about Grenell's beliefs or credentials (given that he had spent seven years under President George W. Bush as head of the American mission's communications department in the United Nations), but instead on the fact that elements of the Christian Right did not feel comfortable with an open homosexual serving in such an influential Republican post. As Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association wrote on Twitter, "Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead." Romney responded to this by limiting the extent of Grenell's involvement with his campaign, eventually compelling him to resign due to how his "ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues."
Now he is failing by allowing Donald Trump to be one of his spokesmen, despite the billionaire's recent re-embrace of birtherism. The belief that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States has already been thoroughly debunked, from the impracticality of his Honolulu parents making a sudden trip to Kenya and the presence of two birth notices in local newspapers from the time to the fact that, more than a year ago, the State of Hawaii actually released the original form of his birth certificate to the general public (state law only permits its residents to have access to duplicates). More ominous, however, is that it appeals to latent racist tendencies among its supporters. As an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology pointed out earlier this year, "the influence of racial prejudice in contemporary U.S. society is typically manifested in subtle, indirect forms of bias." Because "most Whites attempt to avoid appearing biased in their evaluations of Blacks ... Whites' prejudice is more likely to be expressed in discriminatory responses when those actions can be justified by other factors." As the head of the study later commented, "Whites who were prejudiced against Blacks were more likely to see Obama as un-American," a bias that did not carry over even to white liberal politicians like Vice President Joe Biden.
It is undeniable that, by obtaining the Republican presidential nomination, Romney has managed to succeed where his father came up short (in 1968). Whether this was due to political savvy, good luck, or (most likely) a combination of the two matters far less than whether Romney makes good use of his new power and influence. That was a test that George Romney passed - and which his son, on at least two occasions so far, has not.
Editor's Note: We replaced the word "conservative" from its original version (neoconservative), after Richard Grenell took issue that characterization of his views.