Eric Davis: Mitt Romney becoming thorn for Trump
Mitt Romney sent out two tweets last week. The first read “Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a stain on the GOP and the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
Romney’s second tweet was “By sanctioning Russia, Olympic officials place honor and integrity above money and politics. Russia under Putin is shown, once again, to place winning above the rule of law, above honesty, and above the interests of its own athletes.”
Roy Moore, Russia, winning at all costs — the essence of the differences between Trump and Trumpism, on the one hand, and “never Trump” Republicans such as Romney, on the other.
So how did Trump and his surrogates respond to Romney? First, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, at a rally for Roy Moore in Alabama, said to Romney, “Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in that pinky finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA. You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in Vietnam. Do not talk about honor and integrity.”
Ironic words, indeed, from a defender of someone who avoided service in Vietnam because of “bone spurs” in his heels and who told radio shock jock Howard Stern that successfully avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was like serving in Vietnam and “getting the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
Meanwhile, Trump himself invited Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to accompany him on Air Force One last week on a trip to Utah, where Trump announced he was reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument and other protected lands by two-thirds, acts that will be challenged in court and in Congress by environmentalists, Native Americans and others. Trump used the nine-hour round-trip flight to urge Hatch, the most senior Republican in the Senate, to run for re-election next year for an eighth term.
Hatch, 83 years old, has been giving serious consideration to retiring at the end of his current term. If Hatch were to retire, Romney, who has been a resident of Utah since he left Massachusetts, would likely run for the U.S. Senate, and would be an overwhelming favorite to win in strongly Republican Utah. Polls in Utah media indicate that Romney would win 70 percent of the vote or more if he were to be a Senate candidate.
Trump fears that a Sen. Romney, who would immediately command national media attention, would become the leader of the anti-Trump Republicans in Washington, taking the place of retiring Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, and joining Sen. John McCain in speaking out against the President. The President even worries that Romney might use the Senate as a base to mount a primary challenge against Trump in 2020. This explains Trump’s vigorous efforts to convince Hatch to run again in 2018.
If Romney were to be elected to the Senate, he is unlikely to turn right around and run for president the following year. A more plausible anti-Trump candidate would be term-limited Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is giving serious thought to running a presidential campaign as an independent in 2020. However, a Kasich candidacy could actually play into the hands of Trump, by allowing him to win electoral votes in key states with less than a majority of the popular vote in a three-way race against Kasich and a Democrat.
Finally, Trump has even asked Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel — a Michigan Republican who is Mitt Romney’s niece — not to use her middle name as part of press releases and other official communications from the RNC, even though both her grandfather George Romney and her uncle Mitt Romney were Republican presidential candidates.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.