President Trump and his outside pseudo-populist agitator Stephen Bannon are reportedly trying to block Mitt Romney's ascendance to the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by Orrin Hatch. Indeed, Trump is actively lobbying Hatch, who has long flirted with retiring, to stick around for another six years.
Why is Trump so fond of Hatch (and reportedly down on Romney)? Perhaps Romney's coruscating anti-Trump speech in May 2016 and his subsequent spearheading of the "Never Trump" campaign still sticks in the president's craw.
Then again ... remember this?
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And then this?
Of course you do. The pitiful spectacle of Romney, tail between (frog) legs, trying to curry favor with the president-elect, only to be passed over for someone who had no business becoming secretary of state, was a bracing reminder of why millions of Americans, myself included, couldn't stand Romney in the first place: his seemingly bottomless ability to abase himself, his whiplash-inducing talent for pivoting 180 degrees, and, most obvious of all, his overweening ambition and hunger for relevance. Whatever his lack in mental acuity, Trump was emotionally intelligent enough to sense these qualities in Romney — and so he bullied him like a nerd in a locker room.
Let's revisit Romney's 2016 last-ditch plea to Republicans to reject Trump. It was a stirring speech, effectively interweaving a sense of indignation, amusement, disbelief at the present, and optimism that his party would ultimately make the right choice about the future. Every charge it contained — that Trump was a vulgar lying immoral mentally unstable phony — was true. The speech was wrong, however, in one key assumption: "A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president. Of course, a Trump nomination enables her victory [emphasis mine]."
There's no shame in getting that one wrong. Most of us did. But most of us are not national figures, putative leaders of a major party. Most of us who were disgusted by Trump were simply disgusted by Trump. Mitt Romney sounded a clarion call against Trump because it was the right thing to do and because he thought it would improve his political position in the wake of an all-but-certain Clinton presidency.
If offered a prominent post in the Trump Cabinet, a not-Mitt Romney Never Trumper would privately inform the transition team that it could go suck an egg: "I wouldn't touch your White House with a 10-foot pole." A not-Mitt Romney Never Trumper would not allow himself to be publicly humiliated by a man whom he had characterized in such stark censorious terms.
But Romney is, well, Romney. As expeditiously as he ditched his Massachusetts moderate persona to run as "Mr. Conservative" against Sen. John McCain in 2008; as expeditiously as he ditched that transparent pose to re-occupy the center-right in 2012 against a bevy of hapless populist Tea Party champions, Romney was willing to let bygones be bygones to perhaps become secretary of state to a man whose foreign policy, he warned, "would make America and the world less safe."
You may object that if Romney couldn't improve the Trump administration from the inside, what better place to check Trump's worst instincts and impulses than the chamber of the U.S. Senate? To which the appropriate response is: "Check? ... You mean like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch have checked President Trump? Which is to say, barely at all?"
Mitt Romney is a good man. But he's a terrible politician, and not a terribly brave one at that.
Let him eat frog legs.
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