LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Does Mitt Romney Have Enough Dignity to Turn Down Donald Trump?
By his own standards laid out in March, the president-elect is still a ‘phony,’ so how can the former Republican nominee possibly work for him?
Editor's Note: This story has been updated.
Mitt Romney and Donald Trump have had their meeting, and my, my, what a new Mitt we’re seeing now. The statement he read last night started with a reference to the president-elect’s “message of inclusion” and ended with the 2012 standard bearer expressing his “increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future.”
That's quite different from Romney’s view back in March, when among others things he warned that if Republicans chose Trump as their nominee, “the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”
If Romney is offered the secretary of state position and accepts, he will have done everything in life precisely as his father, George, did it. Made a fortune; became governor; tried but failed to become president; and then accepted a Cabinet position (from someone he probably despised, in George’s case Richard Nixon). Some boys want to kill their fathers; others want to become them.
Trump is a man for whom Romney clearly has heaping disdain. Hear that harp music? That’s the soundtrack of a flashback happening, and I’m taking you back right now to March 3 of this year, when Romney appeared in Salt Lake City to launch his blistering attack on Trump’s candidacy. It’s worth me quoting today at some length:
“In 1964, days before the presidential election which, incidentally, we lost, Ronald Reagan went on national television and challenged America saying that it was a ‘Time for Choosing.’ He saw two paths for America, one that embraced conservative principles dedicated to lifting people out of poverty and helping create opportunity for all, and the other, an oppressive government that would lead America down a darker, less free path. I’m no Ronald Reagan and this is a different moment but I believe with all my heart and soul that we face another time for choosing, one that will have profound consequences for the Republican Party and more importantly, for the country.”
He was referring, of course, to Trump. He then laced into Trump’s economic message. He said Trump would launch a trade war that would raise consumer prices dramatically and charged that Trump would sink the country into “a prolonged recession.” But the attack wasn’t limited to policy. It went on to character:
“But wait, you say, isn’t he a huge business success that knows what he’s talking about? No he isn’t. His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And what ever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage? A business genius he is not.”
But that was just the start! He saved the heaviest punches for foreign policy—exactly the arena in which Secretary of State Romney would be carrying out President Trump’s edicts. To wit:
“Let me turn to national security and the safety of our homes and loved ones. Trump’s bombast is already alarming our allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies. Insulting all Muslims will keep many of them from fully engaging with us in the urgent fight against ISIS. And for what purpose? Muslim terrorists would only have to lie about their religion to enter the country.
What he said on 60 Minutes about Syria and ISIS has to go down as the most ridiculous and dangerous idea of the campaign season: Let ISIS take out Assad, he said, and then we can pick up the remnants. Think about that: Let the most dangerous terror organization the world has ever known take over a country? This is recklessness in the extreme.
Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I'm afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart.”
That is a pretty good critique, actually. Could have gone further, even, but fine. How can Romney look himself in the mirror as he considers working for this man?
The attack continued and crescendoed. Punches flew as if in an old Batman episode. “Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark.” POW! “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics.” ZAM! “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.” ZOINK!
Romney added that if Trump failed to release his tax returns, that would prove Trump’s phoniness. And here we are, nearly nine months later, and we’ve not seen Trump’s returns and likely never will. So by the definition Romney himself laid out in March, Trump remains a phony.
Would you go to work for someone you believe to be a phony? Maybe you would, if you were desperate. But I can think of about 250 million reasons why Mitt isn’t that.
Yes, it’s tempting. Secretary of State! Mr. Secretary, welcome to Beijing! Mr. Secretary, His Excellency the Emir salutes you! And that plane, and the retinue, and the portrait that will hang on the Foggy Bottom wall forever. I get it.
So there’s that and there’s the notion that people can rationalize their way to any conclusion. I’d be doing it not for him, he has surely told Ann, in between her gallops on Rafalca, but for the country. “I could be the sane counterweight. After he pops off about Country X in a tweet, I’d be the guy who could make the call to smooth the ruffled feathers. I would thus be indispensible! And who could do this job better than I? Giuliani? Out in the world to put out fires Trump lit? Please. That’d be like sending Bannon to Anti-Defamation League meeting!”
That’s Romney’s fantasy version of the job. The reality version of the job is more likely to be as follows: Trump says some awful thing that offends a strategic ally, or orders a policy shift that has disastrous consequences, or what have you. Then it becomes Romney’s job to tell head of state Y and foreign minister Z that well, this is what the president wants. And if Romney does anything other than that, he will quickly find himself a figurehead, frozen out of any meaningful foreign-policy making, which will be done from the White House.
Finally, one day when he’s had enough, Trump will get up at 4:07 am and tweet: “Failing Foggy Bottom losing credibility fast. No one listens. Sad!”
Mr. Romney, where is your dignity? This cannot end well for you.