What Was Behind the Romney Riff on “Mad Men”?

I asked historian Richard Reeves, City Hall bureau chief for the New York Times during the tenure of John Lindsay, about the Romney “clown” comment on “Mad Men,” and whether it had to do with a rivalry between the New York mayor and Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Reeves e-mails, “I can’t remember Lindsay mentioning Romney, but there are a couple of possibilities. They were essentially rivals for the Republican VP nomination. Romney was running for President already, as was [New York Gov.] Nelson Rockefeller and Lindsay might have wanted to avoid putting a finger in Rocky’s eye.”

Reeves writes that, at Rockefeller’s request, Lindsay went to California to see Ronald Reagan to sound out a Rocky-Reagan ticket, but that plan “blew up.” The press started talking about a Reagan-Lindsay ticket, which didn’t sit too well with Rockefeller, Reeves says.

The fictitious Henry Francis, the aide to Lindsay, previously worked for Rockefeller.

In a very indirect way, “Mad Men” touched upon the beginning of the end of the liberal wing of the GOP. Rockefeller and Romney fell short to a resurgent “new” Richard Nixon in 1968. Lindsay switched to the Democrats in 1971 before launching a failed bid for the presidency in 1972.  And Reagan’s challenge to Gerald Ford from the right in 1976 played a role in the incumbent president forcing Rockefeller off the ticket that year in favor of the more conservative Bob Dole.

Update: Slate’s Dave Weigel found the “clown” comment out of place.

He writes, “The myth of Romney’s foolishness really got going when he gave an interview in 1967 about his shifting position on the Vietnam War. He said, mea culpa, that he’d had “the greatest brainwashing” from generals and the diplomatic core. It made him sound like a schmuck. (“A light rinse would have sufficed,” said Gene McCarthy, one of the great snobs of American politics.) Tagg, if you want to keep this fight going, take it to anachronism court.”

Here’s the clip of the 1967 interview in which Romney talks of the “brainwashing” he underwent in his visit to Vietnam.

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