by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The piece hit a bevy of familiar notes: Trump’s lack of character, his vacillating policy preferences, his inability to unite Americans within a meaningful social fabric — and worse, his unwillingness to try. The bottom line, for Romney: Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
The essay, in truth, reads like the opener of a presidential campaign. It’s a stock speech replete with broad recommendations on policy (more strength in foreign policy, a call to “repair our fiscal foundation”) and ersatz optimism (“I remain optimistic about our future . . . noble instincts live in the hearts of Americans”). Romney states that Americans “will eschew the politics of anger and fear if they are summoned to the responsibility by leaders in homes, in churches, in schools, in businesses, in government.” Presumably, Romney considers himself such a possible leader.
If not, the entire op-ed raises the question: What do you want us to do about it, senator? By declaring Trump unfit for his office, Romney immediately forces a choice: Should he back Trump in 2020, or challenge him? Should Republicans be pushed to choose between an incumbent president and a person of more character and consistent conservative conviction — and would a primary effort actually effectuate that choice?
The answer to the second question is pretty obviously no, barring impeachable activity on Trump’s part. Here’s how an actual primary campaign against Trump from Romney or anyone else would play out. The primarying candidate would declare him- or herself superior in character to Trump (which would probably be true), a better representative of conservatism than Trump (which could be true in theory but probably wouldn’t be true in policy terms), and a more likely 2020 victor (which would likely be false). On the first count, Republican voters would look the other way just as they did in 2016, having learned the lesson that character doesn’t matter — ironically enough, from 2012 Mitt Romney, whose sterling character plus five bucks bought him a cup of coffee in that election cycle.