The political world received a bit of a jolt yesterday afternoon when Mitt Romney announced he would deliver an address on “the state of the 2016 presidential race.” Not surprisingly, it led to quite a bit of speculation about what, exactly, the failed former candidate intends to say.
In a new release sent to press, no further details on what he will say were provided. But Romney, no fan of Donald Trump, has been inserting himself into presidential politics recently. He has taken to Twitter to challenge Trump to release his tax returns, saying that the returns will contain “a bombshell.”
The remarks are scheduled to begin at 11:30 ET, as part of an appearance at the Hinckley Institute of Politics Forum at the University of Utah.
By all accounts, Romney will not announce an endorsement at the event, nor will he kick off a campaign of his own. And while we can’t rule out the possibility of a surprise, the expectation is that the former governor will praise Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, while condemning Trump as a “fraud” and a “phony,” escalating their simmering feud.
It’s hard to imagine a better gift to the Trump campaign. As New York’s Frank Rich asked overnight, in reference to Romney’s scheduled event, “Could there be a more incendiary red cape to wave before the GOP base and further boost Trump?”
Nope. The former Massachusetts governor is a perfect representation of what Trump is running against in 2016.
Indeed, Trump should be thrilled by today’s rebuke – the quintessential, elite party insider, following two failed presidential campaigns, and speaking on behalf of the party’s powerful donor class, wants Republicans to reject their current frontrunner.
It’s as if Romney is deliberately trying to make things easier on his target.
Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that Romney seemed awfully eager to receive and celebrate Trump’s endorsement four years ago, despite Trump’s racist antics at the time. It’s difficult to take Romney seriously when he says Trump is a dangerous charlatan, since it was just one cycle ago that Romney stood alongside Trump to tout his support.
But these details notwithstanding, what Romney and Republicans like him still don’t understand is that conventional attacks don’t work against an unconventional candidate. In theory, having a party’s most recent nominee condemn the party’s frontrunner would be devastating, but in 2016, in Republican politics, it’s practically a favor. Much of the GOP base sees Romney as a loser representing an establishment in need of replacement, not a wise leader whose advice has real value.
Finally, if Romney is so concerned about Trump’s likely nomination, why doesn’t the former candidate go all in, throwing his support to one of the other candidates, helping his choice raise money, and hitting the campaign trail on his behalf? It probably has something to do with the fact that if the Republican race is decided at the convention, Romney wants to maintain his viability as a possible candidate himself.
It’s the kind of thinking that led Slate’s Isaac Chotiner to conclude, “Romney is less a cure for the GOP’s problems than a symptom of what ails the party.”
Don’t be surprised if Trump spends the next several weeks bragging about Romney’s opposition to his candidacy.