by Jeremy Fassler
Yesterday, Mitt Romney announced his campaign to run for Senate from Utah to succeed the retiring Orrin Hatch. In his announcement video, he said, “I have decided to run for US Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah’s values, and Utah’s lessons, to Washington. Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah.” The video sells Romney’s relationship to his new home state, highlighting his success chairing the 2002 Winter Olympics and standing against Donald Trump by saying that Utah “welcomes legal immigrants from around the world.”
Since the rise of Trump, it’s been tempting to revise our collective memory of the 2012 election and make Mitt Romney seem like a good guy. After all, he smiles a lot, he seems like a loving grandfather, and he did invent Obamacare. I’ve gone easy on him too: on my second day of grad school at Harvard, I found myself in a Cambridge ER passing a kidney stone and Romneycare covered my visit. And when he came out against Donald Trump in 2016, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, the rest of the Republican Party might follow his lead.
But tempting though this all is, we cannot let Romney off the hook for the things he has done and said, nor can we repaint his presidential campaign as a throwback to the Eisenhower days. As long as he still belongs to a party that the Atlantic has called “a threat to the constitutional order,” he must be called out for what he has done to bring it to where it is today.
It’s hard to remember just how terrified liberals were of a Romney presidency. As a candidate, he campaigned on destroying Planned Parenthood and reinstating the Global Gag Rule. When the NAACP booed him for saying he’d destroy Obamacare he complained that African-Americans just wanted “free stuff.” He opposed gay marriage, calling it “[in]appropriate.” Most famously, he told donors at a private event that 47% of Americans were “victims” who didn’t pay income tax, and “my job is not to worry about those people.” Whatever you want to call these – gaffes, blunders, mistakes – they were instrumental in making him seem like an out-of-touch one-percenter.
Romney not only abandoned any pretense of his persona as a Massachusetts moderate, he blew several opportunities to take the high road. Most notable was when Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, attempted to pass a Draconian voter ID law. This blatant attempt to cheat Democrats of their vote blew up in May of 2012, when Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai said that the law “would allow Mitt Romney to win.” Had Romney stood up to Corbett, asserting that as leader of the Party, he would not allow him to cheat Americans of their right to vote, he would have received praise from both sides, but instead he remained mum. A few weeks before the election, I asked a prominent Republican leader about this incident, and he told me that it led him to privately oppose Romney.
What’s more, we cannot forget how Romney created the precedent for Donald Trump to take over the GOP by not only never showing his tax returns, but by actively courting his endorsement less than a year after Trump pushed the birther lie. At the time, he praised the businessman, saying that “[he] has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works…it means a great deal to me to have the endorsement of Mr. Trump.” He was even supposed to speak at that year’s RNC in Tampa and “fire” an Obama imitator, but the stunt was canceled when the first day of the convention coincided with Hurricane Isaac.
Four years later, Romney came out against Trump’s campaign by calling the businessman “a phony [who] lacked the temperament to be president.” Although he was lauded for this stance, he never endorsed either Hillary Clinton or fellow Utahan Evan McMullin. Trump, who had previously praised the former governor, found himself singing a different tune when he called Romney “a loser” who “would have dropped to his knees” to receive his endorsement. This proved true when he actively sought to be the President-Elect’s Secretary of State that November. It was obvious to all watching at the time that Trump would never allow him to join the cabinet, culminating in this humiliating photograph that proved how the Never-Trump movement had never been more than wishful thinking.
Now that Mitt Romney has tossed his hat in the ring for another campaign (and never once been told to take up knitting), we must not give in to the idea that he will lead any meaningful opposition to Trump and his administration. Although Mormons like Romney and Flake represented some of the only members of the party willing to call Trump out, they have still enabled him, with Flake voting 85% of the time for his agenda. And while Mormons may have been unsettled by Trump’s candidacy in 2016, 61% of them support him, the highest rate for any religious group in the country.
Nonetheless, Romney is running and he may well win given how conservative Utah is. The best we can hope for is that he’ll be a harmless GOP hack – and that’s not something we should encourage. Besides, Democrats have a wonderful candidate running for the Democratic nomination in Utah, Jenny Wilson, the first woman ever elected to the Salt Lake City Council. Rather than encourage Romney to re-enter the fray to bring the Republican Party back to moderation, we should encourage her to kick his ass in November. For information on how to contribute to her campaign, click here.