Mitt Romney isn’t even sworn in as a U.S. senator yet, and he’s already triggered the heck out of President Stompy-Foot, the Toddler in Chief. Within hours of Romney’s searing op-ed in The Washington Post, Trump’s itchy Twitter finger got the best of him, leading to this eminently mockable tweet:
A team player? The irony hit most higher mammals like a cast-iron frying pan to the face. “Team player” isn’t in Trump’s political lexicon. Trump has always reserved his most bitter ire, vicious personal attacks, and gratuitous smears for Republicans, particularly those who dare to question his execrable judgment, daily outrages against conservatism, or hand size. Just as Trump insults and belittles our allies while offering Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and the rest of the Lil Dictators Club things like foot massages and sweet love notes, he attacks Republicans with a spleen rarely displayed toward Democrats.
Romney’s editorial is in many ways a bookend to his 2016 speech condemning Trump. In a speech at the Hinckley Institute in Utah, Romney tore the bark off Trump, calling for Republicans to hold to some shred of their principles and reject him. That call to arms went sadly unheeded, and every prediction he made concerning Trump’s disastrous reign of misrule is playing out.
Romney had Trump dead to rights on the silly trade war roiling U.S. markets today. “His proposed 35 percent tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs, and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America,” Romney said.
He went on from there. “His tax plan in combination with his refusal to reform entitlements and honestly address spending would balloon the deficit and the national debt,” predicted Romney at the time.
The alleged party of fiscal discipline bought a couple of trillion in debt for a tax bill benefiting a handful of hedge funds, billionaires, and corporations. The sugar high of corporate stock buybacks bought six months of growth for decades of debt. Trump never had any inclination to reform entitlements, for two reasons. First, Trump knows a significant fraction of his base depends on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Second, Trump has demonstrated his comfort with failure and bankruptcy over and over again as a master rooking the greater-fools in a long cycle of borrow-and-bust business flops. He assumes he’ll be out of office when the bills come due.
Romney, in his speech, also highlighted Trump’s “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics,” all of which have become staples of a performative presidency that is always more about heat than light. Every one of Romney’s predictions and calls about Trump from 2016 rang true then, and are proven out today.
And here’s the thing: Most Republicans knew Romney was right then and they sure as hell know he’s right today, despite the reflexive backlash that spread like a wildfire of stupid from the president’s Twitter feed to /r/The_Donald to talk radio.
Mitt Romney, the Enemy of the State, is a role I imagine he never thought he’d play in American political life, but the impact of his words is causing a full-fledged meltdown in the Trump-supporting media apparatus on the right. I expect QAnon to predict Romney’s arrest and transport to GITMO any time now. Mitt Romney isn’t trolling Donald Trump just for the sake of lulz. He isn’t poking the orange bear just because he can. The senator-elect from Utah isn’t playing Trump’s game of insult and acrimony, and Trump knows it. Behind Trump’s bluster and swagger, and the 10-toothed roar of his arena faithful, the GOP just had its collective head kicked in during the 2018 campaign. The loss of 40 House seats, the trade-war disaster, a volatile stock market, a teetering economy, the reality of Mueller’s growing case against the Maximum Leader, and Trump’s foreign-policy recklessness have left Republican elected officials disheartened and shell-shocked.
As I wrote in my book, the typology of Republican electeds goes like this; just as in the electorate, about 35 percent of GOP electeds are true-believer Trumphadis. They’ve bought into the nationalist-populist claptrap, dumb tropes like the Wall and the caravan, and Trump’s dictator-fellating authoritarian-curious style. Roughly 50 percent suffer from FOMT: Fear of Mean Tweets and are cowed by the Trump-Fox-talk radio Axis of Assholes. The remaining types are opportunists and hacks, hoping to salvage personal political gain from the trainwreck of Trumpism. They’re delighted by table scraps, sloppy seconds, and ancillary, ephemeral victories.
Mitt Romney’s editorial is making the rounds for speaking the words that much of the GOP lacks the courage to put their names behind. Many of the voices rising to condemn him are secretly whispering, “Mitt, it was great. I agree with you, but I have to defend him, you know. I’ve got to worry about a primary…”
Authoritarians hate three things in the political sphere: facts, integrity, and courage. Donald Trump, as I think we’re all quite aware by now, is not exactly a man rigorously bound by the truth. His constantly flapping lie hole has become almost a parody, and his gullible booburgeoisie followers take pride in believing Trump Facts™ that are easily disproved. No, the Five Year Plan isn’t producing a record beet harvest, comrade. No, U.S. Steel isn’t opening 50 new plants. No, a million coal miners aren’t flooding down-pit. No, Donald, Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.”
Trump relies on people who can be bribed or browbeaten. He could smell the cowardice and greed that defines Washington even before he was elected, felt the terror of the GOP at his power to tweet them into Hell. Like all bullies, he loved it. Like all thugs, his weapon was fear, not a knife or a gun. Some offered themselves up willingly, sacrifices to the Orange Baal.
Romney is smart on the issues, unbribable, unintimidated, and moved by a love of country, not a need for ego gratification. Those characteristics are precisely why Mitt is so dangerous in Washington to the Trump Uber Alles crowd.
There’s one final element about Mitt Romney that grates on Donald Trump, and it’s not inconsiderable, knowing what we know about this president’s roaring ego. Mitt Romney wasn’t LARPing as a powerful, successful executive with a loving family. Mitt Romney and Trump are roughly the same age, but Romney has the look of robust fitness, effortless wealth, and actual presence that Trump’s swag-bellied, flab-chinned, big-booty frame and ill-fitting suits could never achieve. Trump played a billionaire executive on television.
Trump World’s meltdown over Romney is in full flame as this article goes to press. As my departed grandmother liked to say, “The cut hog squeals loudest,” and Trump and his supporters are squealing like mad.
Some Republicans, perhaps just a few at first, will feel a prickly sensation up their spine when they hear Romney standing up to Trump, and refusing to play the same games that have consumed the integrity of former Trump skeptics like Lindsey Graham (R-Capitulation). For almost two years, the answer to all criticism of Trump was, “But, Killary.” Now, the game is changing.
Romney has a chance to make something of his position in the U.S. Senate that no one save the late John McCain would. Yes, we’ve seen a handful of truth-tellers in the Senate, but they rarely hit so keenly as today’s Romney nuke strike.
He has a chance to be a voice for the facts, for principles, and for personal integrity. The coward caucus won’t get the headlines, the media attention, and the political capital that flows from calling on Republicans to live up to their principles and for providing a living contrast to Trump’s egregious, juvenile behavior. Romney just might.