Mitt Romney Writes a Thing, People React

Romney

“Which Mitt Romney will we get?” was a question that has been asked by many political observers since the former governor and presidential candidate stood for a never-in-doubt senate campaign in Utah. The 2016 “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney, or the 2012 and 2018 Romney that accepted the endorsement of then-business man and now president. A New Year’s Day Op-ed in The Washington Post suggests the new junior Senator from Utah is going with the former.

The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.

The rest of the op-ed is variations on the theme of “I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state, and oppose those that are not.” Reaction was immediate and strong. The president’s most ardent supporters immediately derided Romney, with Trump 2020 Campaign manager Brad Pascale tweeting that Romney was “jealous”, and the president himself responding:

 

 

In the long term it’s more likely that everyone will be unsatisfied here. Many of the folks praising Romney for “standing up to Trump” are the same people who insisted he was unfit to be president himself because of such things as his “binders full of women” comments and other flaws that seem downright quaint in the Trump era of political rhetoric. The first time Romney votes for anything the president supports he will once again be reviled by them. And vote for them he will, as he expressly lays out in the op-ed. If establishment republicanism of the previous age was made flesh to dwell among us, it would look a lot like Willard Mitt Romney. Senator Romney (R, UT) will be a reliable ally to Mitch McConnell on just about every issue and procedure the majority leader pursues. Romney still believes in the Republican party, for good or ill, and is not about to change now.

The president’s “I won big and he didn’t” resonates with the MAGA folks beyond just the president’s normal “winning” declaration. Romney’s perceived lack of fight, which many on the right saw as an inability or lack of desire to more forcefully challenge President Obama during the 2012 campaign, is part of the established lore on why President Trump triumphed over the field in 2016. There is truth in it, but pointing out that Trump “fights” also serves the dual purpose of excusing many of the exact issues Romney brought up first in his 2016 speech, and now again about Trump’s character. To the president and many of his most ardent supporters “win at all cost” justifies much, rendering moot the principles, detractions and objections of the losers. No need to debate the finer points when you won and they lost. Plus there is the continuing defense from some that any attack on Trump is impermissible, as it helps his opponents, articulated here by Mitt Romney’s niece, serving GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel:

 

 

What we now have in this latest version of Trump v Romney is two men in whom it’s been established who and what they are. In Romney we have a throwback vestige to the Republican party of the time before Trump the disruptor came, in many ways as the reaction to that type of politics. The comparisons to Jeff Flake were immediate, even from the president himself, but that comparison isn’t accurate. Romney isn’t going anywhere, firmly seated for the next six years repping not only a deep red state, but also one with an electorate that is not particularly fond of the president. Trump pulled an anemic 45% out of Utah in 2016, while Hillary Rodham Clinton and Evan McMullin combined to get nearly 49%. That six-year term also means Romney will be in the Senate for the remainder of the Trump presidency, and beyond if he so chooses, with no real threat to him electorally. Romney will probably do very little legislatively to curb the president, but that might not be his and the Republican leadership’s plan anyway.

In a very real sense, Romney has one thing going for him that the president doesn’t, and has no ability to change: time. Either in 2 or 6 years, Donald J. Trump will no longer be president. While both his supporters and detractors center their universe on the President, and thus the media and most political observers follow suit, the real power brokers in Washington and elsewhere are planning ahead for what comes next. With a split congress and seemingly endless investigations coming in 2019 nothing of substance will be accomplished legislatively. Couple that with a mold-breaking 2020 election cycle having begun in earnest, the normal political playbook will be mostly worthless in the coming months. Without legislating or running for president, the question then is just what is Romney going to be doing with his free time?

The most useful part of watching what Romney does might be in using him as a barometer of what Republican leadership is doing independent of the president and the chaos that will be surrounding the administration. He would be the natural convergence and rally point of the “establishment” wing and also the anti-Trump folks, and can safely voice opinions and messages of dissent. If Romney is saying it, chances are good the party powers-that-be who eagerly await the day that Trump is no longer the face of the party are thinking it. They know there will be a fracturing of support as the Trump Presidency concludes either in 2020 or 2024, and they plan to reassert themselves at the first available opportunity.

But that is in the future. For today, Mitt Romney didn’t really say anything he didn’t say before, or surprise anyone, or break any new ground in criticizing the president on a moral and behavioral basis. There really wasn’t anything new here, and all the criticisms leveled have been written many times before by various people. But it’s a prominent republican, so that makes it useful to some. Others will find it useful to prove that the president’s own party is against him. In short, everyone will take from the Romney op-ed what they went into it already believing, and feed their version into the spinning news cycle to prove their preconceived point. At least the crazy spin cycle is consistently crazy, and 2019 starts right where 2018 left off.


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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29 thoughts on “Mitt Romney Writes a Thing, People React

  1. I’m always amazed by this claim that Romney didn’t fight in 2012 or that he went soft on Obama. He went after him pretty hard. And he outpolled the GOP nationwide. But the stink of the Bush years, the recovering economy and Obama’s considerable political skill were too much for him. Trump, for all his “fight”, got less of the vote than Romney did and against a much more unlikeable opponent at a time when Americans were getting tired of the Democratic Party. It was the worst “post-incumbency” result in American political history. I’m reminded of what a commenter on the old blog said: he’d rather lose an election with a Republican who demonizes Democrats than win with one that works with them.

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    • FIFY: he’d rather lose an election with a Republican who demonizes Democrats than win with one that works with them who turns Republicans into demons.

      The most rational thing I tried to tell conservatives who felt they had to vote for Trump was that Trump hadn’t built the infrastructure to carry-out the things that needed changing in the Republican party… and that owing to his incompetence, petty corruption (or maybe not so petty), and intemperance he will set-back any “improvements” that conservatives wanted to see from the party.

      As a testimony to my golden tongue and airtight reasoning, I’m pretty sure I convinced a grand total of one (1) person not to vote for him… me.

      However, as a sad follow-on to the above, the starting point where we all agreed was that Mitt Romney (as an Avatar) was the reason the Republican party needed to change.

      I’d call this baby steps; but baby steps backwards.

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  2. Has there ever been someone who served as a governor for one state and a senator for another? Maybe back during the western expansion? And Mitt’s dad was governor of a third state. The return of Mitt Romney should have been one of the top stories of the last political year.

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  3. Since we can be sure Mitt, like Sasse, Rand Paul, Flake (in his time) and all other members of the Axis of Serious Concern, will reliably vote for whatever Trump says, or hints, he wants, whatever Op-Eds Romney writes will make zero difference

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  4. I generally agree with many of the takes that Romney will just do a Sasse/Flake by posturing, fretting and nothing else. However Trump has always been as thin skinned as a hormonal 14 year so this kind of thing shouildn’t be tossed away as nothing. We’ll see where Romney goes from here. If he stands for something he may lead a few other R pols to speak up.

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    • I think he’ll do something (TM), I’m just not sure that it will be the something that a lot of the breathless commentary is hoping for… I thought Damon Linker summed it up about right:

      But this is both terribly short-sighted and myopically partisan.

      For one thing, the standard for judging Romney’s opposition to Trump can’t be what a Democrat in Republican clothing would do. Trump’s judicial nominees, for example, are drawn from the same pool of conservatives from which a President Romney would select his own appointments to the federal courts. That means nothing Trump does will inspire Romney to oppose the president’s nominees. The same holds for additional cuts to taxes and regulations. Those are bedrock priorities for Republicans of both the Trumpist and establishment wings of the party, so it’s foolish and unfair to expect Romney to mount a challenge to the president on those issues.

      But in other areas — immigration, trade, foreign policy — active opposition from Romney is more likely. The same holds for the president’s most intemperate tweets denouncing the press and demonizing minorities.

      [emphasis mine]

      The weird thing is that Romney is out of step large swaths of the country on immigration, trade, foreign policy. The real question is how out of step will the Democrats be on immigration, trade and foreign policy.

      I think Andrew makes a really good observation: “The most useful part of watching what Romney does might be in using him as a barometer of what Republican leadership is doing independent of the president.” In this, I’d snarkily observe that he is a proxy for “all the king’s horses and men” standing around the Humpty of the Republican party.

      On the plus side, should Mueller provide solid grounds for impeachment, I expect Romney will be the tree under which a number (TBD) of Republican Senators will take shelter.

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      • Aren’t most Senate Republicans out-of-step with Trump on matters of “immigration, trade, foreign policy” ? I’m not sure Romney changes much of the ideological framework of the Senate. He just brings greater name recognition and a willingness to court the national media.

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        • Yes, and I think that’s by design of the whole Senate, 6-year term, rotating cycle thing that we want to abolish.

          Replace it with a big Red or Blue button that we press once every 4 years. Better, an app.

          More seriously, I’m not entirely sure what becomes of the Republican brand after 2020 (or 2024)… I can see lots of possible paths, just can’t tell which ones will be available or taken yet.

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          • Still to be determined: Will there by a credible Republican challenger? The AP has an article this morning that is mostly smoke, but no tangible evidence beyond a Kasich visit to New Hampshire. If there is one, that will probably do more to determine the Republican brand as it will compel a lot of actors to make a decision.

            Edit: Given this is a Romney thread, I don’t think that is what Romney is doing. But possibly he is trying to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness that prepares the way.

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            • Well, if Lawyers, Guns, and Money is to be believed (they are lawyers, after all, they know about this stuff), the GOP is thinking out loud about forbidding primary challenges to sitting presidents.

              I’m sure Eric Cantor is kicking himself for not thinking about this before. And why, pray you, only presidential primaries?

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              • I’d assume that the G & M Lawyers would know that most of the rules governing the primaries are set at the state level; that may require a 50 state legislative overhaul of the election code. The national party could change the rules to ignore the primary results, but the primaries might still happen? That may be just as bad as a primary challenge.

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                • That would be interesting. I’d almost expect a bunch of state leges to retaliate by passing laws requiring that tax returns be released in order for a candidate to be allowed on the ballot. Not directly anti-Trump, but it would mean a challenger might have to be considered if you weren’t going to have a narrower path to EC victory.

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            • Kasich would receive 2% of the votes, if that. Another mainstream challenger would receive 20-40% of the votes, and never win a state. That’s my guess, at least, and I should know better than to guess at election results.

              Kasich wants the job and has alienated a lot of people. I might vote for him in a primary against Trump, but not comfortably. But give me someone who is running as a protest vote, and within the traditional Republican mainstream (of ideas), and they’d have my vote in a heartbeat. There’s something honorable about losing on principle. There’s nothing honorable about preying on a weakened opponent.

              The tough part is, how do you create a multi-state protest vote candidacy? A local guy, an Evan McMullin, can pull of 21% in his state on one day. But the primary process is designed to grind down smaller candidates so that one candidate emerges hero-like. I guess I’m describing a Pat Buchanan. I don’t know that you could do that any more, definitely not against Trump who was an insurrectionist from the beginning.

              Is there value in having a minor candidate dog Trump throughout the primaries? I guess I have to articulate what benefits I’m looking for. Trump isn’t going to lose the primary barring some calamity. Trump isn’t going to become a decent person. I don’t want to see Trump weakened as he heads into the general election unless the Democrats nominate someone better. So I’m looking for someone who will push Trump to the right on issues. But on what issues is Trump re-trainable? Debt? He spent his whole life not understanding that debt is supposed to be paid off. Trade? He always thinks he can negotiate something better. Foreign policy? Same thing; he sees everything as a trade, and himself as the best negotiator.

              OK, so I have to ask myself, is this a pride thing? I’m not finding a lot of benefits from having a different person to vote for.

              ETA: “pin”? Did I forget how to spell “Pinky”?

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              • When I brought this up 9-12 months ago in response to something Marchmaine wrote, I stated that the most important thing then was whether a credible Republican challenger would be talking with others over the coming months to clear the field (ala Bush II in the runup to 2000). Trump won the nomination through sequential plurality wins made possible by a large field. I don’t know that I would put money on the outcome, but I think its uniquely doable under the circumstances.

                I don’t believe that Carter or Bush I lost because of primary challenges. I think they had troubled headwinds that correlated with primary challenges. Conventional wisdom says otherwise, so it may be true in a meaningful way regardless.

                By credible Republican challenger, I am tempted to think I mean someone I’ve heard of before, but really what I think is, it would need to be someone that can touch all the bases of the Republican party.

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        • I think what we are seeing is the slow motion divorce of the Republican donor class from the voting base.

          Most of the Trump fans don’t seem to give a rip about “free trade” or any particular foreign policy.

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      • Would Linker say the same if it were President Sean Penn, Senator Harris, and universal healthcare?

        Somehow, I doubt it. I think our pundit class would be tut tutting Democratic Senators and telling them that they must resist the decades long priorities.

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        • Obviously I can’t speak for Linker; but I see absolutely no reason why Linker (or I) would think it out of place for Senator Gore to support President Penn’s nomination of Merrick Garland or to vote in favor of expanding Federal Healthcare proposals.

          As thought experiments go, I don’t think that’s a hard one to crossover and imagine.

          The fun part is wondering whether he would simultaneously tut-tutt the pot-fueled makeover of the Beast and cautioning PrezPenn against negotiating directly with the Drug Lords for better MFN prices and suggesting that he won’t vote to authorize fast track negotiating powers… while simultaneously lamenting that PrezPenn *already* has fast track negotiating powers that were vested in the Presidency previously… but that’s just one possible universe in which PrezPenn wins 2020.

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  5. But what are Sasse, Romney, et al, supposed to be doing that they’re not? And politically, how are they supposed to?

    Most of us can agree that Trump is not our ideal president, either in character or in policy. I’d love to see national agreement that we improve our political tone, but the presidential elections of 2008, 2012, and 2016 have been celebrations of petulance and division. And in terms of policy, there is no one default position for people who don’t like Trump. Even on the Republican side, there are libertarians, moderates, neocons, socons, and all possible combinations thereof. And those voices were raised against Trump in the primaries, and they lost. President Trump is being uncannily like Candidate Trump. So there’s just no single, obvious, defensible rallying point for Trump’s opposition.

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  6. The Jeff Flake mantle of seeming concerned while doing nothing substantial and getting praise for it goes to…

    Mitt Romney. Congratulations Mitt, you are now the proof that many journalists are easy marks.

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  7. “I’ll stand up to President Trump unless it conflicts with GOP policy preferences,” has been functionally indistinguishable from, “I’ll never actually use the powers of my office to inhibit Trump,” in the past, and likely always will be. The Senate GOP needs Trump a lot more than he needs them. They desperately want, for instance, Federalist Society-approved nominees they can approve for the federal bench, but does anyone think Trump gives a shit?

    He can veto stuff they want to pass out of spite, or blow up negotiations on bills with the House, or any of a million other things.

    I’d love to significantly change my priors about Romney, but, well, they wouldn’t be my priors if I thought I was going to have to do that.

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  8. I’ll say again, I really dislike that Romney has his (soon to be) current job. He’s providing zero value added, and quite likely negative value, due to opportunity costs both for him and the next generation of political leadership.

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