Republicans rightly condemn cancel culture — the modern impulse to ostracize those who express unpopular perspectives. But conservative-types, like myself, begin to lose credibility when we go and try to cancel our own.
This weekend the GOP’s target was Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Local Republican delegates began booing as Sen. Mitt Romney took the stage at the Utah state convention. “You can boo all you like, but I’ve been a Republican all my life,” the junior senator responded. “My dad was a governor of Michigan, my dad worked for Republican candidates that he believed in ... and if you don’t recall, I was the Republican nominee for president in 2012.”
Don’t get me wrong, politicians should be accountable to their constituents. Elected officials should hear their concerns. But booing is not dialogue; it’s the opposite: It’s intended to drown out discussion and dissent. Without open and civil debate within a party, it will grow ossified; the GOP will miss out on the innovation that’s bred from diverse intellectual exchanges.
Lamentably for Republicans, this is not an isolated incident. We have our own sad history of canceling disagreement.
The last time I can remember booing at a Republican convention, it was 2016. The target that day was Sen. Ted Cruz.
His offense: He failed to publicly endorse Donald Trump and told the convention crowd to vote their conscience. They responded by booing him off the stage.
Some chanted, “We want Trump!”
Those boos, it was observed at the time, echoed earlier jeers from the famous 1964 Republican convention in which Nelson Rockefeller sought to denounce extremist factions within the party.
He, too, was booed. But Rockefeller wasn’t alone in his warnings.
George Romney, Mitt’s father, also spoke at that 1964 convention. And he similarly called on the party to “unequivocally repudiate extremism of the right and the left.” Barry Goldwater, that year’s nominee for president, responded to Rockefeller and Romney in kind, famously declaring in his convention acceptance speech, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”
Goldwater became an influential ideological leader within American conservatism. But, at least electorally, history proved that Rockefeller and Romney were right — Lyndon Johnson went on to trounce Goldwater, carrying an overwhelming 44 states to win the White House.
Canceling the ideas of Rockefeller and Romney clearly did the party no favors then. Canceling Sen. Romney will do the party no favors today.
At the convention Saturday, Romney paused amid the booing and asked “aren’t you embarrassed?” We should be.
Thankfully, the party opted not to formally censure Romney for his impeachment vote against President Donald Trump. This provides a sliver of hope that Utah’s party faithful have not yet entirely succumbed to cancel culture’s siren song.
Conservatives should consider the opinions of those who occasionally break ranks in the same spirit that judges consider a dissenting judicial opinion: worthy of studied consideration. The opinion may not win the day, but it merits respect and thoughtful engagement.
When clicking through images of that 1964 convention, one photo stands out.
It’s an Associated Press image — black and white — capturing the silhouette of a young Mitt Romney, flanked by his mother Lenore and his brother Scott. They’re watching as George Romney addresses the GOP platform committee.
Mitt looks as bored as any teenager cooped up in a political convention and forced to wear a necktie straight from the set of “Mad Men.”
But, perhaps something more may have been going on in that photo as a 17-year-old looked up at his dad and heard him warn about the risks of extremism within his own party.
History, I’ve heard it said, may not always repeat, but it does seem to rhyme.