Perhaps no criticism of Mitt Romney has been as potent as the observation that he sways with the political winds, choosing competing positions based on circumstances, not principles. Romney’s approach to the major issues of the day is a bit like the weather in Chicago: wait 15 minutes and you’re likely to see something new.
One does not get elected governor in Massachusetts and senator in Utah by being a model of consistency.
It’s therefore fitting to see the incoming Republican senator, on the eve of his taking the oath of office, adopt the latest in a series of postures toward Donald Trump.
In 2012, Romney welcomed Trump’s endorsement. Four years later, Romney delivered a blistering condemnation of Trump’s candidacy, telling voters, “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers.”
Later that year, Romney changed his mind again when he auditioned to become Secretary of State (an opportunity Trump seemed eager to dangle, right up until he yanked it away). By early 2018, Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement of his Senate candidacy in Utah.
Evidently, now he’s a critic again.
Sen.-elect Mitt Romney wasted no time in the new year branding himself as a Senate maverick and a foe of President Donald Trump, saying in a blistering New Year’s Day essay that after nearly two years in the White House “the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
Romney, just two days from being sworn in as the junior Republican Senator from Utah, wrote in the Washington Post that Trump’s most glaring failure has been his inability to unite a “nation so divided, resentful and angry.”
“It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination,” Romney said. “After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not.”
I realize that folks like me tend to criticize Republicans for their stubborn silence about Trump, so it’s not altogether fair to disparage Romney for speaking up this way. With this in mind, I’m inclined to give the new Republican senator at least some credit for criticizing his party’s president. It’s far preferable to Romney adopting an embarrassing, Lindsey Graham-like posture.
But it’s also fair to say there are some notable flaws in Romney’s latest position.
For one thing, his criticism of Trump is quite narrow. As is common among the limited number of Republicans who speak out against the president, much of Romney’s op-ed takes issue with Trump’s tone, tweets, and temperament, while glossing over the president’s corruption, mismanagement, and misguided policy efforts.
Romney clearly disapproves of Trump’s character, which is understandable, but it’s also an incomplete critique.
For another, I’m not sure after having read his Washington Post op-ed what, exactly, Romney intends to do about his concerns. He wrote, “I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.” That suggests Romney will be busy, but just as importantly, “speaking out” is of limited practical utility.
Finally, I’m not altogether sure what the point of Romney’s op-ed is. Does the Utahan want to be seen as someone akin to Jeff Flake and Bob Corker? GOP senators who were never comfortable with the president’s instability, and offered occasional pointed critiques, but who were generally reluctant to take meaningful actions?
Is this about 2020? Does Romney want to be positioned to lead Republicans in the event Trump’s many scandals bring his presidency to a premature end?
The answers are not at all clear, leaving a provocative question mark over Romney as his Capitol Hill career gets underway.