Did Mitt Romney have to be so predictable? Start a dump-Trump campaign before he even took his Senate seat? More than a year before the primaries begin?
And couldn’t he have hit the President with something harder than a blast against his crass, unpresidential, immoral character? Does the barstool brigade, the lowbrow loyalists who make up President Donald Trump’s base, care about that?
Do they want instead an old-school elitist like Mormon Mitt, a do-gooder whose idea of a wild time is an Easter-egg hunt?
To Mr. Romney’s Washington Post castigation, saying Mr. Trump has “not risen to the mantle of the office,” the President reacted rather benignly, saying Mr. Romney should be more of a “team player.”
It was hardly in league with Mr. Trump’s Twitter takedown after Mr. Romney’s loss in the 2012 election, at the hands of Barack Obama: "Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope!”
But Trump Republicans aren’t taking Mr. Romney’s challenge to their modern-day Nero lightly. Nor should they. His condemnation was a green light from a high priest of the party establishment to let the anti-Trump uprising begin. Others who have spoken out lack Mitt Romney’s stature.
William Kristol, the long-time conservative mover and shaker, said the Romney move “gives permission for people to consider things and discuss things that were almost taboo before this, in terms of a challenger to Trump.”
The Trump rebuke, which the former governor of Massachusetts leavened somewhat in a TV interview, raised such hackles that it brought on a counterattack from none other than Mr. Romney’s niece. She is Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. She tweeted: “For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realdonaldtrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.”
A Republican National Committee member was so alarmed that he advocated a party rule change be made at an RNC meeting later this month. The change would forbid any challenge in the primaries to the sitting president.
That would constitute a remarkable snuffing out of democratic rights, but it’s not out of the question. Nothing is out of the question with this President.
There have been other indications that a challenge will not be tolerated. Last month, the South Carolina Republican Party signalled it might cancel its 2020 primary to help him. In New Hampshire, state Republicans have been debating whether to take the extraordinary step of endorsing Mr. Trump, thus crippling the chances of an opponent mounting an effective primary fight.
In his op-ed, the 71-year-old Mr. Romney wrote that “To a great degree, a president shapes the public character of the nation.” In a nutshell, he said that Mr. Trump has deformed that character.
The Romney-Trump relationship has ricocheted between mutual insults and mutual praise. Mr. Romney wouldn’t say he’ll contest the Republican nomination, but if the President is smashed up in the coming year and falls in the polls, look for him to do so. Others ready to challenge for the top of the ticket are outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich and two senators who have just stepped down, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.
The presidency appeared within reach for Mr. Romney in 2012, but among his blunders was one that secured his status as an elitist. He was recorded at a private fundraiser casting aspersions on Americans who don’t pay taxes. He said they numbered 47 per cent and that Republicans could never connect with them. “And so my job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The remark haunted him throughout the campaign. He was relatively silent for a few years after losing, but the call of ambition wouldn’t let him rest, so he ran for and won one of Utah’s U.S. Senate seats in November.
He was sworn in Thursday and, in the Grand Old farce of a Party, instantly becomes the point man for the anti-Trump forces. He’s the antithesis of a Trump Republican in many ways. That’s what members of the old guard, not to mention legions in the country and across the world, want. Mitt Romney has done them a service.