A lot of people don’t know this (as Donald Trump likes to say, when he has just learned something that a lot of people already know), but Mitt Romney despises Donald Trump, except when he pretends not to.
Here’s some history of a match NOT made in heaven.
Romney, because he was the (ultimately unsuccessful) Republican presidential nominee in 2012, was the titular head of the Republican Party in 2016. That’s just an old tradition, more symbolic than real.
In that capacity, Romney never endorsed Trump nor any of Trump’s opponents during the primaries. But he criticized Trump, and worried publicly that Trump must be hiding something pretty bad in those tax returns he refused to release, something that would probably eventually come out and be bad for the Republican ticket if Trump became the nominee. (He was wrong, because Trump is still successfully hiding those tax returns for, I’m sure, very powerful reasons other than his longstanding and famous concern for privacy rights.)
Trump replied to Romney’s 2016 reluctance to get on board the Good Ship Trump in 2016 on Twitter (what a surprise), calling Romney “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.” So it was kind of a love match already.
That led to Romney — after Trump had all but locked up the Republican 2016 presidential nomination – giving one of the harshest and most brilliant Trump-bashing speeches in the history of Trump-bashing speeches.
It’s here. Full text or full video. It takes a while, but you should really watch or read it. It was very specific and substantive about Trump’s transgressions against conservatism, against Republicanism, and against common decency. (Whatever else you might think about Romney, he exudes common decency.)
And if you neither read nor watch it, I’ll just tell you that Romney called Trump “a phony” and “a fraud,” whose “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”
“He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers,” Romney continued. “He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat. … His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill….
“His tax plan, in combination with his refusal to reform entitlements and honestly address spending would balloon the deficit and the national debt. … But you say, wait, wait, wait. Isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t, and no he doesn’t.”
If you re enjoying that and want more, as I said, the link above will get you the full video, or the full transcript. His suggestion at that time was that delegates to the Republican convention should support whichever of Trump’s vanquished, but eminently preferable, according to Romney, opponents they preferred, and let the convention sort it out, so long as they found a way to nominate someone other than Trump.
As you know, that didn’t happen. Romney assumed Trump would lose the general election, but that didn’t happen either. (Except the popular vote, which Trump lost. In fact, Romney actually got a larger percentage of the popular vote in 2012 than Trump did in 2016. Just sayin’.)
But then, during the transition, Romney briefly feigned a surprising, or renewed, or recently discovered respect for Trump, when he was under consideration for appointment as Trump’s secretary of state. Trump auditioned him, but didn’t offer him the job. And I’m gonna guess that Romney concluded that he had debased himself for nothing.
In January 2017 (before Trump was even inaugurated), Romney published an op-ed piece attacking Trump’s character. The headline: “The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump’s character falls short.”
It wasn’t savage, but it was a declaration of independence. The toughest paragraph:
The world is also watching. America has long been looked to for leadership. Our economic and military strength was part of that, of course, but our enduring commitment to principled conduct in foreign relations, and to the rights of all people to freedom and equal justice, was even more esteemed. Trump’s words and actions have caused dismay around the world. In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden believed the American president would “do the right thing in world affairs.” One year later (meaning the first year of the Trump presidency) that number had fallen to 16 percent.
Trump’s reply (by tweet, of course) “Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? *[That’s a reference to Trump critic and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.] I hope not,” Trump tweeted. “Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t [graciously alluding to Romney failed 2012 presidential run]. He should be happy for all Republicans.”
Then, Romney decided to seek an open Senate seat in predominantly Mormon Utah. (Romney’s a Mormon, but spent the vast majority of his life residing in Michigan, where his father was governor, and Massachusetts, where he became a multimillionaire, and then became governor himself).
Trump endorsed him in that Senate race. And Romney did not repudiate that endorsement. And Romney won the Senate seat.
Happy ending? Cue the music as Trump and Romney walk into the sunset holding hands? Not so much.
In the Senate, with a six-year term, and, at current age 72, facing not too long a future in politics, Romney has declined to say anything nice about Trump.
For most of his first year and a half in the Senate, Romney generally voted the party line, although he broke ranks on one judicial nomination, which made no difference in the outcome. Then on Tuesday of this week, the Senate’s oldest freshman gave his so-called “maiden” floor speech (which is my excuse for reviewing this tragic hate/love/hate affair now).
In his remarks, Romney focused on and criticized Trump’s management of foreign policy, and, in a fairly elegant move, did so without mentioning Trump’s name, although it was hard to miss what was bothering him. Romney seemed to hit Trump for his constant criticism of NATO and its members, and other U.S. allies whom Trump slams for not doing enough of what he thinks they should, and not paying enough for what the U.S. does for them.
How harsh was Romney toward Trump? Decide for yourself, based on these excerpts from the speech:
Alliances are absolutely essential to America’s security, to our future. I can’t state that more plainly. Our alliances are invaluable, to us and to the cause of freedom. We should strengthen our alliances, not dismiss or begrudge them. We should enhance our trade with allies, not disrupt it, and coordinate all the more closely our security and defense. …
Each of us must make an effort to shut out the voices of hate and fear, to ignore divisive and alarming conspiracies, and to be more respectful, more empathetic of our fellow Americans. And when it comes to cooling the rhetoric and encouraging unity, there is no more powerful medium than the bully pulpit of the president of the United States….
We need to hold our friends closer, not neglect them or drive them away. These alliances are a key advantage we have over China: America has many friends, China has very few.
Romney has said that he won’t run against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020, but will be interested to see who else might.
Trump followed up the tweet with more criticism at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday afternoon that was open to the press. “I wish Mitt could be more of a team player. I endorsed him and he thanked me profusely,” he said, according to a White House pool report.
He added that Romney “would have won the election” in 2012 if he’d fought President Barack Obama as much as he does Trump.”
Reporters have occasionally pressed Romney on whether he had voted for Trump or Hillary Clinton in November of 2016. In May of 2018, when he was running for but hadn’t yet won that Utah seat in the U.S. Senate, he told a Utah newspaper, the Deseret News, the answer. He said he had given a write-in vote for president to his wife, Ann Romney.