The day a new Congress is sworn in is supposed to be a day of celebration and positivity, but incoming Utah senator Mitt Romney decided to preempt Thursday’s good times by throwing a Baby Ruth candy bar in the swimming pool.
In an editorial published in the Washington Post late on New Year’s Day, Romney took a pollaxe to President Trump. Lamenting Trump’s name-calling and displays of resentment, Romney wrote that The Donald “has not risen to the mantle of the office,” lacks “the essential qualities of honesty and integrity,” and that his most glaring failure has been in the indispensable “qualities of character” required of a leader.
As Romney described the multitude of global challenges America faces, he noted that a 2016 Pew Research Center poll showed that “84 percent of people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden” believed President Obama would “do the right thing in world affairs,” but that “one year later, that number had fallen to 16 percent.” He then drew the obvious conclusion:
To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, Romney went on to be a bit more explicit about how he views the president.
I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.
At no point in the piece does Romney suggest there is even the smallest chance that President Trump will somehow change for the better. So, while it is only implied, the verdict is clear. If we must start by repairing our highest office because the person presently serving in that position is a no-character lying racist and sexist who is destructive to our democratic institutions, then the highest priority must be the removal of Trump from office.
Romney concludes his piece by saying, in essence, that he’s confident that this will be accomplished.
I remain optimistic about our future. In an innovation age, Americans excel. More importantly, noble instincts live in the hearts of Americans. The people of this great land will eschew the politics of anger and fear if they are summoned to the responsibility by leaders in homes, in churches, in schools, in businesses, in government — who raise our sights and respect the dignity of every child of God — the ideal that is the essence of America.
This is ironic because before Donald Trump came along, Mitt Romney held the land-speed record for mendacity in American politics. In 2012, our own Steve Benen tallied 917 falsehoods from Romney, which was a lowball and partial estimate of the actual number.
We’ve also seen a variation on this act before. In March 2016, Romney delivered a blistering denunciation in which he said “dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” calling him a bully and a fraud and a con man and a fake. Romney said Trump was “very, very not smart,” that he was a terrible businessman, that he was greedy, and that he engaged in “absurd third grade theatrics.”
Now, imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does. Would you welcome that? Haven’t we seen before what happens when people in prominent positions fail the basic responsibility of honorable conduct? We have. And it always injures our families and our country.
Romney said all of that and then, over a four-course meal of sautéed frog legs and diver scallops, shamelessly applied to be Trump’s Secretary of State.
At the time, the late night comedians had a field day mocking Romney for his willingness to abase himself. Even Newt Gingrich made fun of him, telling Laura Ingraham “you have never, ever, in your career seen a wealthy adult who is independent, has been a presidential candidate, suck up at the rate that Mitt Romney is sucking up.”
And it obviously didn’t work since Rex Tillerson got the job. Trump seemed to revel in stringing Romney along so he could humiliate him as an act of revenge. I think a lot of people will read Romney’s New Year’s Day Washington Post piece and wonder how long it will be before he again folds like a picnic chair.
It’s a reasonable question rooted in hard-won cynicism, but let’s put this in some perspective. Romney is replacing Orrin Hatch in the Senate, and we last saw Sen. Hatch trading away his posterity for a Medal of Freedom. At least Romney isn’t saying that Trump is a great president or that he doesn’t care if he committed a few felonies during the campaign.
Of course, there’s a second variant of cynicism available here:
Romney thing is just this: he’s ostentatiously shorting Trump, ie, betting he is impeached/convicted or forced to resign. And reminding party he would do all the usual stuff the donors and activists want without the drama. And figuring that’s how he wins nomination in ‘20.
— Richard Yeselson (@yeselson) January 2, 2019
Romney’s act here is “ostentatious” because he’s not walking into the Senate quietly as just one of several new members; he’s making sure that most eyes are on him. He’s “shorting Trump” in the sense that he’s not even hedging that he might need to have some long-term relationship with him. He didn’t just poison the well; he has fouled the swimming pool.
Maybe Romney is doing this more out of raw ambition than some kind of sincere patriotism, but it hardly seems to matter. He’s going into the Senate for a six-year term and he’ll probably be a senator from Utah until the day he dies. Trump doesn’t much figure in his plans.
The unmistakable message is that Romney has no interest in carrying water for Trump and he’ll vote to remove him from office with enthusiasm. In fact, he’s basically committed to that now because the last thing Romney needs is for Trump to get reelected so he can exact revenge on him a second time.
However cynically you look at this, it’s not what Orrin Hatch would have done. Hatch would have told everyone to stay in the pool because the water is fine. Romney is putting his new colleagues on notice that the water is poisoned. He’s saying that it’s time to scramble to safety.