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Mitt Romney: The Model Senator for Never Trumpers
Why a Private Equity Whale from Utah Became The Hero of GOP Beltway Grifters
When the time came to vote during the absurd and unconstitutional Second Impeachment of Citizen Trump, only one Republican senator could not resist the temptation: Mitt Romney. The undistinguished junior statesmen from Utah (via Massachusetts) voted to convict his party's leader on one impeachment article for abuse of power. Mitt claimed that Trump was "guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust" and, like so many phrases that have come from Romney's lips over the decades, the claim had the semi-legal orotundity and pseudo-moral earnestness for which Romney has become synonymous over the years.
But was it true? For one thing, how was it a truth that the mind of Mitt Romney contemplated alone — with not even one other Republican senator able to grasp its sagacity? What was the specific charge? Where was the crime? These were mere details to Willard Mitt Romney, really, because he was making a last, lonely stand on principles. His principles. (It was, of course, a lonely stand covered extensively throughout the liberal media world and celebrated with a fawning interview by Fox News’ feculent Chris Wallace.) During the floor speech explaining his vote, Romney said:
Like each member of this deliberative body, I love our country. I believe that our Constitution was inspired by Providence. I am convinced that freedom itself is dependent on the strength and vitality of our national character. As it is with each senator, my vote is an act of conviction. We have come to different conclusions, fellow senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience.
The problem for anyone remotely familiar with Mitt Romney was that it was never entirely clear what the dictates of his conscience really were. The man who had once said, "I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was" could be remarkably flexible about his convictions. Was he, for instance, pro-gun? Certainly not in his 1994 Senate run. What about abortion? He had been for it, before he was against it. (And with the donation checks to Planned Parenthood to prove it.) His principles on gay rights evolved so much over the years (and the political races) that you could practically write a book on all the evolutions and permutations. On everything from health care to religious freedom, Romney had done more waffling than a Belgian cook at a crepe shack.
Such were Romney's convictions on the ultimate conservative issues: he had managed to flip-flop on all of them. An impressive feat, one might say, in the negative sense. Nor did he have a belly for the political fight. The man had been bullied, after all, by CNN's blubbery moderator Candy Crawley in the all-important debate against Obama in 2012. The press had taunted him as a wimp during that election, and Romney simply tried to wish away the attacks. He had his surrogates complain that such jabs were "silly." How could anyone think Romney was weak and ineffectual with his very important hair and his hedge fund money? The rough and tumble was left to consultants. He even kept his distance from the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He had always been a little too convincing as a Massachusetts liberal.
This led to a nagging question among the electorate: did Mitt have the strength and vitality of character necessary to protect our freedoms? Would Mitt stand up for the country when he didn't stand up for himself? In 2007, he was against hunting down terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." That's a hedge fund manager's answer for you. Any politician can survive this kind of mistake. With Mitt, however, the number of not-very-satisfying responses to important questions ran extraordinarily high. (Most of his public utterances could be classified as too careful by half — as if only K Street lobbyists had been focus-grouped.) He seemed, too often, like the GOP's version of Walter Mondale — a thoroughly bloodless personality whose "principles" consisted mainly of praising the abstract idea of "principals" to voters.
Romney was tolerated, but never adored, by the Republican base. You might say that Mitt never found his true followers until Donald Trump came along. When the base fell in love with a Manhattan real estate developer, it left a vacuum of leadership among the remaining 3% of the GOP: the Never Trumpers. All the conservative establishment consultants, corporate lobbyists, and think tank "intellectuals" who had impotently stood against Trump's victory now needed a leader who understood the pain of their lost promotions. To whom could these lonely and disaffected souls turn, if not to Romney?
The GOP's disgraced managerial class finally found true love with the GOP’s discarded 2012 nominee. Romney is the ultimate symbol for them: the clueless patrician politician who refuses to leave the stage after his curtain call. He is the natural leader of the GOP wannabe elite that nobody wants around anymore. (Like those clingy college ex-boyfriends who can't quite believe it's really over, they keep hanging around your dorm until you have to call the cops.) That's why Romney's solitary vote to convict Trump was celebrated like the 4th of July among the Never Trumpers. It offered one last chance to collectively thumb their noses at the President who had embarrassed them all by winning in 2016 despite their cranky opposition.
Take, for example, the neocon-turned-Democrat Bill Kristol. He predictably led the gushing over Romney right after his impeachment speech: "By standing alone, Romney reminded us that the embers of principle and political courage are not, after all, wholly extinct. And that’s not nothing.” This must have been solace, indeed, for Kristol as he tweeted from his booster seat in the basement of the Niskanen Center while on the payroll of Silicon Valley communists. Kristol speaks for all the other liberal ex-Republican consultants and speechwriters and think-tank libertarians who lost their contracts and their contacts in the Trump era. Romney stirs the hearts of these confused middle-aged Beltway phonies to their Styrofoam core.
Even the Bush family sycophant extraordinaire Jon Meachum waddled onto MSNBC to ask: "Is this who we want to be? Do we want to be the America of last night at the State of the Union or do we want to be the America of Mitt Romney today? It's a pretty clear choice." We already know where most conservatives want to be: 97% of them voted for Trump. You can see how confused Meachum is about reality. (Of course, most people want to be wherever Jon Meachum is not talking — because they like to stay awake. Meachum is so dull that readers deserted every magazine that he ever edited — just to escape his cardboard historian twaddle. Just ask the old staff at Newsweek.) He wants America to return back to the idealized version in his mind, just like all the other guys who were once considered oracles and now are treated like laughingstocks.
The whole town is built on pretending that paychecks don't guide the principles you fight for — but everyone knows better. Kristol, for instance, is too old to learn to code. He doesn't have a skill set other than begging the uniparty donor class for dollars. All of the other Never Trumpers are willing to sing for their supper too: David Brooks, Michael Gerson, George Will, Jennifer Rubin. (The list goes on and on.) These people were always paid to talk, so why not cash a check from Democrats to do it on cable TV? Why not scold the present moment you can't comprehend from the comfort of the greenroom? (If Mitt Romney can still get a sinecure as a spoiler, then there's room for them too in the post-Trump TV landscape.) Why not trash the deplorables who ignore your wisdom? After all: there's a paycheck at the end of it. Principles, principles, principles — you can hear them repeating that word on all the cable news channels long into the night.