Mitt Romney, the former — and potentially future — Republican presidential candidate marked his arrival as Utah senator with an op-ed published in the Washington Post that wasn’t too kind to President Trump. “A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect,” Romney declared. “As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”
As sure as the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019 the previous night, Trump was going to fire back at his former — and certainly future — punching bag. He did so Wednesday morning, wondering if Romney will “be a Flake,” a reference to the outgoing Arizona senator who was often critical of the president but did little to inhibit his agenda.
Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not. 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. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2019
Trump’s minions didn’t take kindly to Romney’s rebuke, either. Fox News mainstay Dan Bongino called Romney a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment.” Ari Fleischer, the former George W. Bush press secretary who you might know these days as the guy who live-tweets his memories of 9/11 every year, tweeted that he was “disappointed” with Romney. “His defining act as an incoming Senator is to criticize Pres. Trump,” wrote Fleischer. “If Senator-elect Romney thinks Trump is a bigger problem than Nancy Pelosi or Sen. Schumer then he has a lot to learn about how things get done in Washington.” Even Romney’s own niece, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who dropped her maiden name (Romney) at Trump’s request, criticized the op-ed, tweeting Wednesday morning that “POTUS is attacked and obstructed by the MSM media and Democrats 24/7” and her uncle’s piece “feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.”
On Tuesday night, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale coined the phrase “jealousy is a drink best served warm” while knocking Romney’s failure to win the presidency.
The truth is @MittRomney lacked the ability to save this nation. @realDonaldTrump has saved it. Jealously is a drink best served warm and Romney just proved it. So sad, I wish everyone had the courage @realDonaldTrump had. https://t.co/mbxoTqbSX6
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) January 2, 2019
Romney’s relationship to the president has been dictated largely by political expediency. When Romney challenged Barack Obama in 2012 after one term as Massachusetts governor, he eagerly sought an endorsement from Trump, who back then was nothing more than a blowhard wondering if Obama may have actually been born in Africa (on account of his skin color). Trump’s overt racism didn’t dissuade Romney. “Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how the economy works,” he said at the time, adding that “it means a great deal to me to have the endorsement of Mr. Trump.”
Trump pointed this out four years later in February 2016 after Romney pushed Trump to release his tax returns. Trump, who by that point had emerged as the frontrunner to land the Republican nomination, responded by tweeting that Romney was “so awkward and goofy” when he asked Trump for his endorsement in 2012. He added that Romney was “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.”
The next month, Romney held a press conference to deliver a scathing attack on Trump. “Why did Mitt Romney BEG me for my endorsement four years ago?” Trump tweeted after Romney stood in front of a camera and poked fun at the array of failed products on which Trump slapped his name. A few days later, the future president would hold a press conference of his own to bash Romney while standing next to a cutting board piled high with Trump steaks.
Though the prospect of Trump netting the Republican nomination was very real in the spring of 2016, Romney didn’t think the reality TV star would go all the way to the White House. When Trump did just that, Romney called to congratulate him, and speculation swirled that he could wind up in Trump’s Cabinet. A few weeks later, Romney met with Trump to discuss a potential secretary of state nomination. A week after that, they met again over dinner, leading Romney say that he had “increasing hope” that the man he had publicly excoriated as a “fraud” months earlier would lead America to “a better future.” More notable was the now-infamous image of the dinner featuring Romney flashing a stricken look as Trump grins devilishly behind him.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 30, 2016
Romney was not named Trump’s secretary of state; the position instead went to former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, whom Trump fired in March 2018 and has since called “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.” After Trump nominated Tillerson, former Trump campaign adviser and longtime Republican operative Roger Stone said on InfoWars that the president-elect’s apparent vetting of Romney was nothing more than a rouse. “Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for secretary of state in order to torture him,” Stone said. “To toy with him. And given the history, that’s completely understandable. Mitt Romney crossed a line. He didn’t just oppose Trump, which is his democratic right, he called him a phony and a fraud. And a con man. And that’s not the kind of man you want as secretary of state.”
Romney laid low for much of Trump’s first year in office. When he announced in February he would be running to fill Hatch’s Senate seat, Trump endorsed him. “Thank you Mr. President for the support,” Romney tweeted. “I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.” Two months before endorsing him, Politico reported that Trump had been “going all out” to convince Hatch, at the time 83 years old, to run for re-election so that Romney wouldn’t be able to run to replace him.
In June, Romney wrote an op-ed for Salt Lake Tribune in which he promised that he “will support the president’s policies when [he believes] they are in the best interest of Utah and the nation,” and that he won’t be afraid to criticize the president when necessary. A few months later, he was asked about his role as a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, a mantle he appeared to grab vociferously with his March 2016 press conference. Romney denied his opposition to the president. “I don’t think that was the case,” he said. “President Trump was not the person I wanted to become the nominee of our party, but he’s president now. The policies he’s promoted have been pretty effective, and I support a lot of those policies.”
Just as he wrote in June for the Salt Lake Tribune, Romney wrote for the Post that he “will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state, and oppose those that are not.” This all but assures Romney will indeed fill the role left vacant by the departing Flake in the soap opera of the Trump presidency. The president’s assaults on decency (or whatever) will be denounced, but his policies will be supported, as will his dubious nominees for administration positions and any other hare-brained Trump ideas Romney deems won’t be too politically damaging to back. After all, right next to the criticism of the president’s leadership abilities in the Post op-ed was praise of Tillerson, Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, as well as Trump’s tax policy, his regulation stripping and his continued dedication to appointing “conservative” judges. Flake approves.
A thoughtful piece by incoming Senator Romney. https://t.co/pKO0wXgbLw
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) January 2, 2019
Out with the old, in with the older.