When George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin in 2012, most of the Republican candidates for president dodged the issue. This included eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Zimmerman wasn't even a cop, but no one wanted to risk offending the NRA or pro-vigilante conservatives. Besides, black people don't vote for Republicans in significant numbers anyway, so what's the point?

Eight years later, as in yesterday, Romney joined a march to the White House with 1,000 other protesters. He even tweeted a selfie of himself in the crowd with the simple statement “Black Lives Matter." For real.

As the next president once said, this is a “big fucking deal." Sure, I assumed that 20 years from now most conservatives would claim they participated in the George Floyd protests against police violence — like how every white person once marched with MLK. I never expected Republicans to actually do it now, today, in the observable present.


Just a couple years ago, Ted Cruz was defending Amber Guyger, the cop who walked into the wrong apartment and killed the black guy living there. He gave the standard pro-police Republican line: It's a darn shame that a black person died, but let's not do something silly like hold the officer involved responsible in any way. Why rush to fire cops who can't even tell if they're in their own apartments?

Romney called George Floyd's killing a “murder" and not just a "tragic mistake." That's huge. It shifts the Overton Window. It gives us hope that the police are losing their literal and figurative death grip on this issue.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, even Democrats struggled with the phrase “Black Lives Matter." It was as if saying “Black" too often would make black people appear in large numbers ... and not just in the voting booths where Democrats prefer but in their neighborhoods and private schools. Now a Republican is saying it, so we can damn well expect every Democrat to do so.

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was also saying “all lives matter" in 2019 like he was a damn Betamax. Black Lives Matter protesters booed Amy Klobuchar off the stage at a campaign event in Minnesota. A few months ago, we might've just accepted that this was how the relationship between moderates and Black Lives Matter would go. We wouldn't dare imagine, say, Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin marching to the White House and tweeting, “Black Lives Matter." But now, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and current senator from Utah has eliminated every excuse any Democrat might have for not taking a stand against racism.

Sinema's statement after Floyd's death is itself a relic of another time. It is carefully worded to avoid offending the police. The problem with “bad police officers" isn't that they make life harder for “good police officers," if there are such. It's that they are killing black people. Sinema can't even say “black" let alone confirm that our lives matter. There's just a vague line about “too many Americans fear" what happened to Floyd could happen to them. I wonder why that is? We'll never know. She also morally equates rioting with systemic discrimination, which she just generally hopes will end at some point like how I felt while watching The Help.

Romney is still a conservative and votes like one. But I'd rather have a debate about the racial discrepancies in our health care system than whether it's OK for cops to murder black people in the streets. He had nothing to gain politically from this.

William F. Buckley, a bigot who is still respected in conservative circles, denounced the first March on Washington in 1963, stating that "mob-deployment in circumstances that call for thought and discussion and mediation is a dangerous resort." Romney is on the more racially progressive side of history and that can inspire (and yes shame) others to action.

Romney tweeted a photo of his father, George Romney, marching for civil rights in the Detroit suburbs. Instead of some mealy-mouth moderate mush — looking at you, Sinema — the former Michigan governor declared, "Force alone will not eliminate riots. We must eliminate the problems from which they stem."

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones noted that Romney was pretty fly at the time for a white guy. (No, he wasn't perfect, but who among us is aside from Bebe Neuwirth?)

Conservatism will always be with us, but a post-Trump Republican Party can either double down with overt appeals to racist “law and order" rhetoric or at least pretend it's the party of Lincoln. We've had the conservatives in the Lincoln Project denouncing the Confederate Flag and now Romney is marching for racial justice. These are important steps forward.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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