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Commentary

Republicans starting to fall in line behind Trump

Jack Lessenberry

More than half a century ago, Michigan had a Republican governor who faced a difficult choice. His party was going to nominate a candidate for president whose views on civil rights were totally opposed to his. George Romney was, make no mistake about it, a politician.

He wasn’t above pandering to the voters. But I knew him well enough in his old age to know he was genuinely offended by Barry Goldwater’s stand on civil rights. The senator from Arizona opposes the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

After Goldwater won the Republican nomination, Romney wrote him a now-famous letter indicating he was upset that the candidate’s strategists “proposed to make an all-out push for the Southern white segregationist vote,” and “exploit the so-called white backlash in the North.”

That was exactly what Goldwater’s strategists did. George Romney was a man of principle on civil rights. He had marched in civil rights demonstrations, including one in Grosse Pointe, even when it was politically risky.

When he didn’t get a satisfactory answer from Goldwater, he refused to endorse him, which provoked deep-seated anger on the part of conservatives, some of whom never forgave him. Many felt there was an element of political calculation at work here.

Romney had to run for reelection that fall. It was clear from the start that Goldwater’s candidacy was going to be a disaster in Michigan. Goldwater became the only Republican presidential candidate in history to lose this state by more than two to one.

Republicans went down to defeat in droves all across the state. The party lost five seats in Congress. But Romney won reelection by a landslide. Three-quarters of a million voters split their tickets to vote for Democrat Lyndon Johnson for President, and for Romney.

Yesterday, it became certain that Donald Trump would become the Republican nominee, something that has really been in the cards since March. Not many Michigan Republicans wanted Trump, including state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

But yesterday, as was also entirely predictable, state Republican leaders began falling in line. What Schuette said was, I thought, especially bizarre. “I’ve been one of the first to say the disparaging comments about Hispanics and Mexicans are deplorable to me. His comments about women and the disabled, that’s not Bill Schuette,” he told a Detroit newspaper.

Yet despite all that, despite “blood coming out of her whatever,” Michigan’s attorney general is going to support Trump because, as Schuette said: “I’m a Republican. I ride for the brand.” What I would have asked Schuette at that point was whether there was anything a Republican nominee could possibly do to lose his support.

Commit murder? Support transgender rights? It seems to me that politicians, who say they will support their party’s nominees even when they despise what they stand for, are a big part of the reason people are so cynical about politics.

That’s not to say everyone endorsing Trump is a cynical hack. Congresswoman Candice Miller did so, citing his views on trade policies that have clearly hurt the Midwest. That may be the most legitimate issue Donald Trump has raised.

But there are a lot of Republicans doing some very deep soul-searching right now. It will be interesting to see what the voters think of their souls, once they reveal them.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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