It was a time to be collegial.
If there is ever a moment — however brief — that we try to suspend our political acrimony, it is when power is transferred in Washington D.C. Perhaps having been a state governor and a promising presidential nominee had diminished the usual positive excitement and wide-eyed humility a newly-elected U.S. senator would normally have arriving in Washington D.C. for his swearing-in. Mitt Romney re-entered politics on a sour note.
The traditionalist Romney ironically bucked this tradition by lobbing a shot across the presidential bow, instead of extending a hand of cooperation in his opening act as a U.S. senator. In the cooperative pages of the Washington Post, on Jan. 1 Romney penned a generalized condemnation of President Trump. Romney lamented how think tank polling of European socialist populations showed diminished support for the American president since 2016 and used several paragraphs to scold Trump for not rising to the mantle of the high office.
While he threw in a brief token paragraph that Trump has achieved some significant and historic policy goals, the tenor of his newspaper lecture was just that — a lecture. It was a lecture nobody asked for. It was a lecture that didn’t accomplish much at all to address what it lamented: the divisiveness of our politics. On the contrary, it contributed to it.
I still like Mitt Romney. I’ve always been impressed by his leadership skills and most of all his characteristic decency. In a more traditional cultural context, I’m confident he would have led our country well had he found a way to be elected. I have no doubt he’ll adapt quickly to his new role as the junior US Senator from Utah and represent the Beehive state well.
But his virtue-espousing column is an easy one to write from a multimillion-dollar home in Park City. Any of us can watch from the sidelines or the stands and critique the quarterback. It’s also a surefire way for a high-profile Republican to secure primetime interview slots on CNN and MSNBC and instantly win the coverage contest as a new Congress is about to convene. John McCain and Jeff Flake perfected this formula. I hope that was not his motivation, because it seems beneath Romney’s self-asserted high level of character to take such a cheap pathway to instant publicity.
Believing that a rescue was imminent from the cultural and policy failures of Barack Obama’s first term, when Romney lost in 2012, I went into a funk for a couple of weeks realizing we had ahead of us another four years of incompetence, racial divisiveness, methodical cultural deconstruction and a steady march to socialism. My radio show listeners and more than a few personal friends were a bit worried about me. In the context of that moment, I saw Mitt Romney as a promising figure that could turn our country around but failed.
We live in a political climate that is far more broken and toxic than we realized. Just this morning I watched a video of a newly-elected member of Congress vowing to “Impeach the motherf---er!” before an all-too-frenzied crowd. Two of the three cable news channels dedicate most of their coverage to obstructing and destroying Donald Trump. An expensive special counsel investigating collusion between Trump and Russia has found absolutely nothing related to its initial purpose. Democrats in the House of Representatives have laid out a comprehensive agenda of presidential legal harassment. Hollywood celebrities hope for his minor child to be thrown into a jail cell with pedophiles. This list could go on and on and on. If you think Trump is uncivil, thoughtfully recount the antics of prominent people trying to destroy his presidency. I’m pretty sure we’d all probably mean-tweet from that furnace.
Romney’s mistake is allowing stylistic incompatibilities to obscure policy successes. America is getting back to work. Trade imbalances are getting corrected. Intrusive regulations are being rolled back. The US Supreme Court is more poised now to protect the Constitution for decades. Trump is winning, despite the hurricane of hostility he walks through week after week. It may not be in the statesmanlike style Romney (and many of us) prefers. But Romney is proof that that style no longer wins big elections, and it rarely wins policy achievements.
Unlike many of my conservative friends, I won’t toss Romney onto the political trash heap. I hope for good things from him. He’s very gifted and offers much. We need him, but at this moment we don’t need his virtue signaling from a safe distance. As much as Romney wanted to be president, he is not the counter to Donald Trump. I would expect Romney to know more than most that legitimate differences with family should be addressed behind closed doors, and not in a media cycle that will exaggerate and weaponize intra-party differences.