By backing protests, Romney does what his GOP allies would not

I'll gladly give Romney credit for saying and doing the right thing yesterday, but I'd caution against wiping the slate clean.
Image: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves the State of the Union address on Feb. 5, 2019.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves the State of the Union address on Feb. 5, 2019.Alex Wroblewski / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has only been a member of Congress for a year and a half, but in that short time, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee has managed to infuriate the Trump White House quite a bit. It was, after all, just four months ago when the Utahan became the first senator in American history to vote to convict a president of his own party during impeachment proceedings.

But seeing Romney join a march to the White House yesterday in support of social justice was every bit as striking, if not more so.

Asked why it was important for him to be present at the protest, Romney, who was wearing a face covering, said: "We need a voice against racism. We need many voices against racism and against brutality." ... "We need to stand up and say black lives matter," added Romney, who was marching with a Christian group.

On Saturday, the GOP senator published an image of his father, George Romney, joining a civil-rights march in Michigan in the late 1960s. A day later, Mitt Romney tweeted an image of himself joining a civil-rights march in the streets of the nation's capital. The photos appeared alongside text that read, simply, "Black lives matter."

In theory, this may not seem especially extraordinary. As protests have grown in the wake of George Floyd's recent death in Minneapolis, Americans have seen plenty of House and Senate members join protestors in communities nationwide.

But those lawmakers are invariably Democrats. As best as I can tell, Romney is the first and only Republican senator to join a protest for social justice and explicitly declare, "Black lives matter." The fact that the Utahan is the only one makes it all the more notable.

Donald Trump, who's made no effort to hide his contempt for Romney, didn't explicitly criticize the senator for marching yesterday, but the president did publish a sarcastic tweet this morning, adding that Romney's support is "tanking" in Utah.

There's no evidence of that being true, though the president has a habit of making up polling data.

Trump's nonsense notwithstanding, Romney's gesture sparked considerable discussion about his role in contemporary politics, with some of his admirers taking the opportunity to try to rehabilitate his image.

Politico's Tim Alberta, for example, lamented the degree to which Romney has been unfairly "mistreated." After the senator had the courage to participate in yesterday's D.C. march, it wouldn't be surprising if others drew similar conclusions.

But while I'll gladly give the Republican credit for saying and doing the right thing yesterday, I'd caution against wiping the slate clean. In 2012, as Donald Trump rose to political prominence by peddling a racist conspiracy theory against the nation's first African-American president, Romney sought and welcomed Trump's endorsement. Romney, who ran very far to the right at the time, also had no qualms about making birth-certificate jokes on the campaign stump.

Just as importantly, during his national candidacy in 2012, one of Romney's principal lines of attack against Barack Obama was that the Democratic president had "gutted the work requirement" in welfare law. It was a lie, but just as importantly, it appeared to be a smear with a not-so-subtle racial subtext.

Four years later, after watching Trump run a racist campaign, Romney auditioned for a cabinet role in the Republican's administration. Two years after that, Romney welcomed Trump's Senate endorsement, and after the election, he voted with the White House the vast majority of the time.

I will gladly applaud the senator for doing what his GOP brethren have not. To march yesterday took no small amount of political courage, and other Republicans should follow his lead.

But Romney's overall record matters, too.