Mitt Romney isn't acting out of principle — but he could still be the hero in the room
Romney is one of the better opportunists on the right, and there can be value in a useful opportunist. At this point, I'm not going to be picky
If you told me even a month ago that the fate of the republic may rest with Mitt Romney, my response likely would have been to say it’s time for me to go back to watching The Handmaid’s Tale in order to prepare for America turning into a real-life Gilead in the not too distant future.
However, to the credit of the former Massachusetts governor, presidential candidate, and current junior senator of Utah, he has shown signs recently that he has a spine — or, if nothing else, a keen sense of when the tide is turning.
Last Friday, Romney took to Twitter to address President Trump soliciting another foreign government’s assistance on national television.
“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney tweeted. And he followed that by adding an outright condemnation: “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”
The next day, Trump unleashed a predictably venomous rant on Twitter, dismissing Romney as a “a pompous ‘ass’” and calling for him to be impeached. Trump is a stupid man but he can occasionally be astute with respect to the aims of his political rivals. He clearly felt that Romney was a threat when he sent out those tweets; that’s what he does when he fears former supporters turning against him. And Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports that Romney may indeed be trying to bring the president down — only not in the direct way many disgruntled Republicans might like.
A GOP donor reportedly told Sherman: “There is a half-billion dollars on the sidelines from guys who are fed up with Trump.” But Romney will not be primarying Trump, rightly concluding that the move is doomed “to be a sure loser given Trump’s enduring GOP support.” Moreover, Romney doesn’t think he’s right person to take on the president — instead, he “has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance, according to a person briefed on the conversations.”
I know, I know: what Republican resistance? As legend has it, “Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse. Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.”
The notion of Mitt Romney leading a GOP-led resistance against Donald Trump in a prospective impeachment trial is understandably laughable. After all, this is the man who disavowed Trump only to suck up to him after he won the 2016 presidential election in a pathetic and failed attempt at becoming Secretary of State. While Romney did disavow Trump’s comments about white supremacists and their actions in Charlottesville, he gleefully accepted Trump’s endorsement for his Senate bid the following year. And yes, although Romney’s recent tweets drew Trump’s ire, they were mildly critical in the grand scheme of things.
Yet, I resisted the urge to pile on Romney for not being forceful enough — because it might now be genuinely useful if he is trying to cajole other Senate Republicans into living up to their oaths.
It’s hard to say what will come of the impeachment inquiry and likely impeachment trial, but one thing is for certain: support for impeachment and Trump’s removal are both rising in popularity according to multiple polls. Trump’s own antics — throwing temper tantrums online and on the White House lawn coupled with egregious displays of lawlessness — are likely to only make those numbers rise. Ultimately, I imagine a Republican or three will try to cement themselves as the next Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, Hugh Scott — the Republicans who told Richard Nixon that he all but certainly faced impeachment, which resulted in his resignation the next day.
Trump may not go down so easily, but there is still space for a “hero” in the room. It might as well be Mitt Romney. Make no mistake: I don’t believe the man is acting out of principle. A principled man would have never acquiesce to such a vile president whose hobbies include bigotry and contempt for the rule of law.
But I do know Romney is one of the better opportunists on the right, and there can be value in a useful opportunist. He is someone who can match his careerist interests with some nominal level display of decency in speaking out against Trump and calling on his GOP senators to jump from a sinking ship.
At this point, I don’t care if Romney is only interested in bolstering his place in history and perhaps running again for president alongside someone like Nikki Haley, another opportunist who claims to be better than Trumpism yet attached herself to it out of self-gain. All I know is that the longer Trump stays in power, the more dangerous it becomes for everyone in this country -- particularly the most vulnerable among us. And if he is allowed to not only remain in office, but potentially extend his presidency for four more years, the tyrant in training wheels will sink this country more than he already has.
He has to go and everyone needs to get involved, and while I have never, ever liked Mitt Romney and likely will never like Mitt Romney, I can cheer him on as he plots against Trump behind the scenes.
The resistance could use all the help it can get.