Should Mitt Romney run for president against Donald Trump? | The Tylt
Should Mitt Romney run for president against Donald Trump?
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 Republican candidate for president, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on the eve of being sworn in as the junior Senator from the state of Utah. In the op-ed, Romney takes the president to task for his behavior while agreeing with many of his policies.
It is not that all of the president’s policies have been misguided. He was right to align U.S. corporate taxes with those of global competitors, to strip out excessive regulations, to crack down on China’s unfair trade practices, to reform criminal justice and to appoint conservative judges. These are policies mainstream Republicans have promoted for years. But policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.
To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.
Romney goes on to say that he is committed to calling the president out on his behavior when he sees fit.
I will act as I would with any president, in or out of my party: I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state, and oppose those that are not. I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.
Many have seen the op-ed as a way for Romney to take up Jeff Flake's mantle as moderate Republican counter-point to Donald Trump.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings told NPR that Romney's stance on Trump—he supports many of his policies, but not his behavior—is shared by many Republicans.
I think Senator Romney, Senator-elect Romney is doing what he said he would do during the campaign. I recall back in the summer, he wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune that he was going to speak out when the president does things that he doesn't like. He said he was not going to speak out on every tweet, but that if the president is acting in a way he doesn't approve of, he won't hesitate to speak out. I think he's also doing what a lot of Republicans do, which is separate policy from behavior and style. And that is not something that is unique to Mitt Romney. A lot of Republican voters did that when they voted for Donald Trump in 2016. So Mitt Romney has a six-year term, and he represents a state that won't mind if he tackles the president every now and again. And I expect he'll keep doing that.
This sets Romney up as an excellent foil to Trump in a potential Republican primary—someone who moderately, respectfully disagrees with the president's behavior but continues to push his agenda.
However Romney is finding few allies within the Republican Party. The New York Times reports that many leaders within the party were quick to denounce Romney's position.
Mr. Romney got a taste of how lonely it can be in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to speak out against the president, as few lawmakers sided with their new colleague Wednesday and one senator even set up a conference call with reporters to criticize him. It was a revealing illustration of the loyalty Mr. Trump still commands even as he enters a perilous stretch of his presidency.
...Sensing the makings of a primary threat to the president, some of his most ardent backers on the Republican National Committee began making the case that the party’s rules be changed to ensure Mr. Trump’s renomination in 2020.
Calling Mr. Romney’s attack “calculated political treachery,” Jevon Williams, the national committeeman from the Virgin Islands, wrote in an email to other members of the R.N.C. that the party should move to protect Mr. Trump by amending party rules to make it harder for a challenger to have his name placed in nomination at the Republicans’ 2020 convention.
And, Mr. Williams wrote, the party should use its winter meeting this month to pass a resolution endorsing Mr. Trump and declaring him “the presumptive nominee in 2020.”
To win the party's nomination away from a sitting president, Romney would need to have the full-throated support of the rest of the party, something he clearly does not yet have.
John F. Harris at Politico argues Romney is not even that strong of a counter-point to President Trump, noting he himself has a long history of flip-flopping on important issues when it is politically expedient to do so.
At important junctures of his public career Romney—like many or perhaps most politicians—has revealed himself as a supremely transactional figure, flexible in altering his words and his positions to align with self-interest as the occasion demands. If Trump is the more transactional figure—boasting about his deal-making savvy rather than trying to defend his gyrations as rooted in some higher morality—this is only a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
Once the debate leaves the field of principle and moves to the field of results, there is no denying which of the two transactional figures is better at the game. Thus Trump’s rejoinder Wednesday: “I won big, and he didn’t.”
...in his public career Romney has shown a willingness to do what needs to be done—a willingness to subordinate principle to self-interest that is the essence of one familiar Trump critique. Trump was in favor of abortion rights before he opposed them. So was Romney, as he moved from running for office in liberal Massachusetts to establishing his conservative bona fides with national Republicans. He ran for president in 2008 boasting of passing something very similar to Obamacare in Massachusetts, then ran for president in 2012 assailing Obamacare. In all his campaigns Romney has emphasized his record of professional achievement and business success more than his ideological consistency—a pattern that has also marked Trump’s rise to the presidency.