Mitt Romney rung in the new year by virtue signaling to America. Earlier this week, the former Republican presidential candidate, now a senator from Utah, penned an op-ed for the Washington Post attacking President Donald Trump’s character.
Romney could have written his opinion article any time over the last two years. President Trump hasn’t changed one iota from candidate Trump, but Romney waited to fire until he had secured the Republican nomination for the open Utah Senate seat and then won the general election in November.
The junior senator from Utah attempted to explain away the expedience of his silence by suggesting in Tuesday’s op-ed that “the Trump presidency made a deep descent in December,” with the departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. But those resignations have nothing to do with Romney’s claimed criticism of Trump—the president’s character.
And what about Romney’s character? A man of true moral mettle would not mute his criticism of the president in order to ensure an electoral victory, then, once secure in his senatorial slot, proclaim to the nation that Trump lacks the character to lead our country.
Romney’s op-ed served one purpose only: self-congratulatory adulation. “Yes, I am a Republican, but I am nothing like that evil man in the White House,” he may have well written. Instead Romney hid behind promises to “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
What constitutes significant will be interesting to watch Romney try to decipher over the next two years, which highlights the real question: Why didn’t Romney just wait until he heard or read the president make an objectionable statement? Because Romney wanted to put himself on a pedestal and to woo the Washington pundits.
Romney’s naïvete is inexplicable. The D.C. press and political class don’t respect Romney; they are exploiting him to harm the president. These are the same people who attacked Romney not so long ago for keeping “binders full of woman” and cabining a pooch on the roof of the family car.
Romney’s attempts to placate the anti-Trump contingencies will go nowhere. Condemning the president will not be enough. The only way to truly demonstrate opposition to Trump, in their view, is to vote Democrat and support Democrat policies. If Romney refuses, the press will push him off his self-made pedestal faster than Trump can tweet #FakeNews.
Romney is also wrong for blaming Trump for failing to heal the division in our country. Unfortunately, our country is long past the stage where a president can “unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels.’” When Romney called Russia our country’s greatest geopolitical foe, then-President Obama didn’t “elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect.” Obama instead mocked the Republican presidential candidate for maintaining a retro foreign policy platform.
Ironically, for a man who claims to want the divisions healed, Romney’s public attack on the president served merely to sow discord. After two-plus years of watching Trump respond to personal criticisms, Romney surely knew his public correction of the commander-in-chief would serve no purpose—other than to signal to Americans his own righteousness.
His failure to call out Democrats and the media for their role in the disintegration of politics further proves the insincerity of Romney’s Tuesday op-ed. Romney’s response to the politically motivated launch of Crossfire Hurricane, former FBI director James Comey’s leak of classified information to spur a special counsel investigation, a vulgar “Women’s March” to protest the president, and fictitious accounts of sexual assault to derail the president’s appointment of a Supreme Court justice? Deafening silence.
Romney’s arrival in the Senate could have assisted a return of decorum to D.C., had he opted to lead by example. But rather than provide a balm to the blistering rhetoric dividing our country, Romney’s ego demanded he publicly distance himself from Trump. Romney may feel better by having done so, but that is little solace for those who hoped for a truce in the inter-party feud that further widens the divide between America’s left and right.