Everything about Mitt Romney’s family life projects stability: His close relationship with his father, the late former Michigan Governor George Romney, is well known, and his wife Ann and sons frequently accompany him on the campaign trail.
But on this date 18 years ago, then-Senate candidate Mitt Romney found himself in an awkward, intra-family political drama.
On July 26, 1994, Romney—leading fellow Republican John Lakian in a primary race—returned to Michigan to stump for a Senate candidate facing a primary contest of her own. The candidate was Ronna Romney, Mitt Romney’s former sister-in-law, who had been divorced from Mitt Romney’s brother Scott two years earlier.
Despite the divorce, Mitt Romney backed his brother’s ex-wife.
“Mitt and Ann are great friends with Ronna and really support her,” Ann Murphy, Mitt Romney’s press secretary, told the Globe at the time.
A Globe report noted that “unlike Mitt, Ronna Romney opposes abortion rights and gun control laws such as the Brady Bill and the ban on assault weapons, as well as gay rights legislation.”
As a presidential candidate today, Mitt Romney is aligned with Ronna Romney’s positions of 18 years ago: He is now against abortion, a federal ban on assault weapons and gay marriage. (Though he did not support gay marriage in 1994, Mitt Romney pledged to do more to advance gay rights than Democratic incumbent Senator Ted Kennedy. He now vows to be more conservative on gay rights than Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama—supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama’s Justice Department does not defend in court, and opposing the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which Obama signed last year.)
Ronna Romney did not return the endorsement favor. In fact, the Globe reported, a Lakian consultant, Ron Kaufman (now a Romney consultant), solicited Ronna Romney to endorse Lakian over her former brother-in-law. Ronna Romney chose to endorse neither Mitt Romney nor Lakian.
Compounding the intrigue was the fact that George Romney endorsed Ronna Romney’s primary opponent, Spencer Abraham. Murphy said George Romney was not intentionally slighting his former daughter-in-law—or opposing his own son—but that he had agreed to back Abraham before Ronna Romney declared her candidacy.
“Being a man of his word, [George] Romney stuck by his endorsement, even after Ronna announced,” Murphy said.
Abraham went on to defeat Ronna Romney in the GOP primary and beat Democrat Bob Carr to win the Michigan Senate seat. Mitt Romney lost to Kennedy in Massachusetts.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.