With elusive dignity, Romney is forced to exit the stage (again)

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney arrives to talk with reporters after eating dinner with President-elect Donald Trump at Jean-Georges restaurant, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney arrives to talk with reporters after eating dinner with President-elect Donald Trump at Jean-Georges restaurant, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.
We may never know for sure whether Donald Trump seriously considered Mitt Romney for Secretary of State. The failed presidential candidate obviously went through the process before being rejected, but there's ample speculation that Trump's purported interested was insincere: the president-elect, according to one person close to Trump, was stringing Romney along as payback for pre-election criticism.Maybe, maybe not. The broader question, at least to me, is whether or not Romney deserves any sympathy now that he's forced to once again exit the stage.The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has adopted the most generous line, arguing that Romney knew the risks, but pursued a cabinet post for all the right reasons.

In the end, no matter his reasoning, Romney didn't get the job. But, that's sort of besides the point. At a time when many talented and successful people in the private sector are resistant to putting themselves forward for public service, Romney continues to do so. He should be commended, not mocked, for that instinct.

By this reasoning, Romney is again being forced from the public stage, but he does so with his dignity intact. He may have been motivated in part by personal ambition -- being Secretary of State is among the most prestigious and high-profile posts in government -- but Romney was also willing to serve alongside a president he opposed in the hopes of doing some good.Like I said, it's a generous line of argument.I'm more inclined, however, to side with Salon's Simon Maloy, who explained yesterday that Cillizza's take "omits the grave sin Romney committed that put him on this path to begin with."

Mitt Romney begged for and secured Donald Trump's endorsement during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. When Romney came seeking his support, Trump had already spent months reveling in his obsession over Barack Obama's "real" birth certificate and had transformed himself into the national spokesman for an insanely racist conspiracy theory. But Romney made a calculated decision: He would tolerate or ignore Trump's racism and fold this conspiracy-mongering nut into his presidential campaign because Romney thought it would help him appeal to the blue-collar and hard-line conservative voters he needed to win the nomination.He miscalculated badly. As a Romney surrogate, Trump began spouting off more birther nonsense when prodded by reporters and publicly questioning the president's true birthplace. In response, Romney did nothing.... Romney stuck with Trump all the way to the end of the campaign out of fear that breaking ties with his odious surrogate would alienate the GOP's base and provoke Trump into attacking him.

Once Romney was passed over for Secretary of State, pundits pondered the status of his dignity. That's the wrong question: Romney's dignity evaporated in 2012 when he sought Trump's endorsement and shared a stage with him.The series of events is surprisingly straightforward:1. In 2012, Romney effectively said, "Never mind Donald Trump's racism and ridiculous conspiracy theories; I want him on my team in order to advance my personal ambitions."2. Four years later, after it was too late to matter, Romney returned to effectively say, "Never mind what I said four years ago; Donald Trump is a fraud and a dangerous con man who must be kept far away from the Oval Office."3. After the election, Romney once again piped up to effectively declare, "Never mind what I said earlier in the year; I'm now ready to be the dangerous con man's Secretary of State!"Romney made a conscious decision four years ago to give Trump his imprimatur. Romney knew it was a gamble, but he wanted Trump's radicalized followers to see him as an ally.The gamble didn't work out well -- Romney lost and Trump parlayed his elevated status into his own presidential campaign -- and the former governor must now accept the consequences of his poor judgment.