by John F. Di Leo
January 2, 2019 A.DB
Mitt Romney is 71 years old. Let’s lead with that.
One of the big things America is talking about today is Mitt Romney’s op-ed in the Washington Post this week, a hit piece against President Trump, in his last public act before being sworn in as a United States Senator on Thursday.
The op-ed isn’t nearly as bad as many assume. Like most political writings these days, it’s talked about primarily by people who haven’t read it. When you actually do read it, you may ask “what’s the big deal?” But the writer should know that, going in, and should make sure to craft it so that the narrative can be somewhat controlled.
In this piece, Romney attacks Donald Trump’s character, appointments, and actions, particularly in recent times, giving the impression that the president is getting worse at the job, not better.
While there is much about the Trump administration to find fault with – there is also much to celebrate, and Romney did that as well, confirming that many of the president’s efforts and accomplishments are the traditional conservative positions that the Republican party has long championed.
The flaw in the column is that – despite the slams at the president – he doesn’t attack our political enemies at all. He could have… but he chose not to.
He listed many of our problems; he neglected to state that the problems exist because of Democrat party actions. He talked about how difficult it is to accomplish some of our honorable goals; he neglected to state that the reason they’re difficult is that the Left stands firmly in the way of such accomplishments.
He couldn’t have run out of space; the column is mercifully short.
Perhaps he just isn’t quite partisan enough to think of mentioning the opposition party, which would certainly be believable if he were a newcomer to politics (as President Trump is)… but this is no Johnny-come-lately to politics we’re talking about. Mitt Romney is the son of a governor and presidential candidate… and, like his father George, Mitt Romney has been both a governor and a presidential candidate himself, and is now a U.S. Senator. He’s a lifelong Republican; at least some degree of natural partisanship must be in his blood.
Perhaps it’s partially because Mitt Romney is of that older subset of the GOP known as “the country club set.” That’s the wing that supported Dwight Eisenhower over Bob Taft, Nelson Rockefeller over Barry Goldwater, George HW Bush over Ronald Reagan. That wing of the party has always been nicer to the tax-and-spend party than the conservative wing, but even they usually make a point of calling out the Democrats as the opposition party. Failing to even mention that the Democrats are the primary problem has never been a shortcoming even of the country club set.
What’s odd about this op-ed, therefore, is that it goes against type, even for a liberal Republican (which Mitt Romney has always denied being, by the way; he usually claims to be reasonably conservative). The choice to use such a bully pulpit as an inaugural op-ed in the Washington Post as strictly a hit piece against the president seems to have been quite conscious, and to be a statement that he believes Donald Trump to be a greater enemy, a greater roadblock, a greater danger, than the opposition party. He doesn’t say that in writing – the lack of mention of the opposition party at all is evidence of my thesis – but it’s what he appears to be implying.
And such a choice is destructive, not only to the GOP, which desperately needs unity (Democrats can stay unified even when their standardbearer is plausibly accused of rape and larceny), but also to his own personal ambitions.
Now, back to his age.
Mitt Romney is 71. As such, his career and his options are very different than they might have been if he were a newly elected senator at 31, or 51, or even 61. If this is to be his last term in public life, does he want it to be effective or ineffective, divisive or unifying, friendly or unfriendly? And if he still harbors ambitions to the White House, does he want to shoot himself in the foot at this point?
At this point, there are still paths to the White House for Mitt Romney, but they are short-term paths, dependent on a perfect storm of occurrences.
Donald Trump is 72, about the same age as Mitt Romney. If he is reelected, Romney’s aspirations to the White House are likely over.
But if Mitt Romney still hopes to someday make it to the White House, he was in an excellent position if something should happen in the meantime.
What if Donald Trump were to decide to be a one-termer, and pull out of the race for 2020? What if Donald Trump were to get ill and have to resign for health reasons, or (Heaven forbid) to die in office, as several older former presidents have? What if Mike Pence were to resign from the vice presidency, or choose not to run again? What if Mike Pence were to succeed to the presidency due to the death, assassination, sickness or impeachment of President Trump?
Not that anyone should hope for such things, but… politicians normally plan for contingencies, setting themselves up to be logical choices if an opening should arise.
Mitt Romney – on paper – would have been a logical consideration for such an opening, in either the presidency or the vice presidency, if anything were to happen.
He’s a past governor of a Northeast state, and a current Senator from a western state… and he’s the most recent Republican nominee for the Presidency, who, despite losing, came plenty close.
If an opening were to appear, Mitt Romney could have, and should have, been at the top of the list for a potential vice president if Mike Pence were to move up, or for presidential nominee if the incumbent couldn’t or wouldn’t run again. He was – briefly – the most logical man on the bench.
And… having run a national campaign just six years ago… Mitt Romney would be easily able to put the infrastructure back in place for a successful 2020 national run if needed. Not many can say that.
But Senator Romney chose to shoot himself in the foot, with this unusual op-ed a day before his swearing-in. This will be further proof to the pro-Trump loyalists, and also to the Reaganites in general who remember President Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment , that Mitt Romney “isn’t really one of us” after all, and shouldn’t be considered for such an opening, no matter how good his resume looks on paper.
Mitt Romney consciously chose to write a statement, not about himself, not about his country, not about the opposition party – but about his party’s leader, the president.
Of course, he could have abandoned his presidential ambitions by now, but it’s doubtful (a man desiring retirement from politics doesn’t seek a U.S. Senate seat).
More likely, the people he hangs out with – both political and personal – have convinced him that Trump’s unpopularity is so widespread that he can’t hurt himself by taking such an approach. The echo chambers of the nation’s elites are the only places surrounded by a wall thicker than China’s and higher than the one that Donald Trump wants to erect along our border. No matter what the polls say, the crowd that Mitt Romney travels in simply doesn’t believe that he’d offend anyone by carrying water for the Democrats on this issue.
It’s conceivable he might think that this sets him up as a logical anti-Trump candidate in the 2020 primaries, but he has to know enough about American history to see how futile that choice would be.
This doesn’t really hurt Donald Trump. One more opponent in the Senate won’t kill him.
But it hurts Romney. Conservatives who might have given him the benefit of the doubt before will do so no longer. He will be anathema to the right. It was more a self-destructive move than anything else, and it shows that he doesn’t even realize it. His allegiance to the gentlemanly rules of Ivy League college debating clubs and the boardrooms of international nonprofits has cost him his judgment.
Mitt Romney may serve in the Senate for six years; he may even serve there for twelve or more. He’s in good health, and people like to re-elect their senators. But he’s not likely to move on beyond the Senate, and it’s his own fault. He could have parlayed his election to the Senate – his second act in politics – into a perfect position from which to swoop in and save the day if something happened with either the president or the vice president, but now he has cost himself that potential long-shot path
Senator Romney’s volley may indeed turn out to be the first page of his political obituary, before he even takes office… an entirely avoidable, self-inflicted wound, caused by blindness to the reality of today’s American political climate.
Copyright 2019 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based Customs broker and trade compliance trainer, actor and writer. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.
This piece was originally published in Illinois Review, here.