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In 2012, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign bus rode into Commerce Township in Oakland County with fanfare as if the Republican nominee were getting ready to walk into a coronation ceremony. Flanked by his running mate Paul Ryan, Romney told the crowd that gathered for his campaign rally that they were ready to retire President Barack Obama by taking Michigan, the state once led by his father, George Romney. 

What did Romney do next?

He repeated the racist lie of the birther movement — a movement that ultimately helped launch the unprecedented political career of President Donald Trump — and claimed then-President Barack Obama's administration wasn’t legitimate.

“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” Romney told thousands of supporters in Commerce Township. “They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."

I watched in utter dismay as Romney, whose father was a staunch supporter of civil rights, decided he too would play into the birther conspiracies to garner some votes.

He would later try to walk back his comments to dismiss charges of racism. 

But the damage was already done. Romney was supposed to be the decent and graceful guy in the Republican Party, the one who could rise above the chasms of destructive and prejudiced politics. But he failed in Commerce Township when raw political ambition got the best of him. He thought he could ride the birther wave to the White House.

Last week Sen. Romney, R-Utah, voted to convict Trump during the Senate impeachment trial. He did this for Romney.

His actions shouldn't cast him as a prophet of morality in our modern age. He is not. He is an opportunist.

When the nation needed him in 2012 to condemn questions about Obama’s legitimacy, he refused. He perhaps thought the best opportunity to the White House was to cuddle up to Trump and the birther crowd.  

By contrast, the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who stood up to Trump, refused to eat the stale meat of racism from the birther movement. McCain, during his own 2008 presidential bid against Obama, pointedly rebuked one of his supporters during a town hall meeting when she said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not uh ... he’s an Arab.”

McCain quickly grabbed the microphone and said: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not an Arab.” 

McCain then told another supporter at the same town hall, “I have to tell you Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.” 

Romney could have done the same. But instead he appeared to give a tacit endorsement to those who saw Obama as un-American.

I believe his father, George Romney, would have stood up to the vicious assault of the birther movement, much in the same way he stood up during Jim Crow to a high-ranking official of the Mormon church who expressed serious misgivings about Gov. Romney supporting the civil rights movement. The Mormon church once promoted a program to “buy up negro slaves and transport them back to Africa from whence they came.”

When segregationist Barry Goldwater refused to back the Civil Rights Act of 1964, George Romney declined to support Goldwater’s presidential campaign.  

Mitt Romney hasn’t demonstrated this kind of extraordinary moral courage yet. His father marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Detroit at a time when it was very unpopular for a prominent white politician to do so. 

The impeachment vote was naked political opportunism for Romney to stand out and seize the spotlight.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast 11 a.m. weekdays on Superstation 910-AM.

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