Mitt Romney’s Lunch Stories

Reverting to her millennial roots, Michelle Goldberg writes of Mitt Romney’s “tragic ambivalence” because of his failure to go full woke on Trump as he explained his retirement from the Senate.

Rolling out the announcement that he won’t run for re-election, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah has framed it as a passing of the torch. “At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-80s,” he said in a video statement. “Frankly it’s time for a new generation of leaders. They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.” He clearly means this as a rebuke to the 80-year-old Joe Biden and the 77-year-old Donald Trump, neither of whom, he said, “are leading their party” to confront the major issues facing our country. “The next generation of leaders must take America to the next stage of global leadership.”

Not that it isn’t a passing of the torch, but that his failure to point at the pus-filled boil on the butt of the Republican Party and scream “j’accuse” renders everything else he said inadequate. Goldberg is, if nothing else, a fine reflection of her simplistic generation, where there is nothing beyond good and evil, and if you don’t conform to her version of good, then evil you are.

But then, Romney was the only Republican to vote against Trump at the first impeachment. Of course, that was years ago, so what has he done for Goldberg lately? The answer can be found in The Atlantic, where excerpts of a book about him written by McKay Coppins lay it out in ugly detail.

Romney puts on the record what so many of us have been hearing for years off the record — that the Republican Party has become a party of fakers, that its congressional leaders laugh at Donald Trump contemptuously behind his back while swooning over him before the cameras.

It’s long been a puzzlement how a bunch of people, many of whom are quite smart and well-educated, have managed to beclown themselves publicly by saying things that are just bizarrely wrong and ridiculous with a straight face. Why would they willingly wallow in the gutter? How do they overcome the shame and hypocrisy of putting on fake smiles while standing next to a person they loathe, a person they know to be one of the greatest fools to sit at the Resolute desk?

Initially, they were naive enough to believe that if they pretended to coddle the fool, they could exert enough influence to prevent him from doing too much damage. They could be the grown-ups in the room, keeping the child from breaking the place. It didn’t work.

It’s advice that once seemed plausible and that guided many upright people to enter the Trump administration as voices of sanity. The first problem with it is that the cult of Trumpism demands absolute fealty. One moment of honest dissent, and you are cast from the ranks. The second problem is that loyalty to Trump is ultimately enforced by the threat of violence. As the Coppins piece makes clear, there were Republicans who chose not to vote yes on impeachment or conviction because the outcome either way was inevitable and because they didn’t want potential assassins coming after them or their families. We have gone beyond the bounds of normal democratic governance.

Some left, like Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, and even the dreaded John Bolton, refused to slide down the slippery slope to its nadir. Others, would do anything not to give up their positions of “power,” even though they had surrendered any power they might have had when they sold their souls.

Over the Trump years, we’ve learned how easy it is to anesthetize one’s moral circuits. John McCain kept his moral compass, and so did Romney, but they are the exceptions. Many others joined the general fakery. You start by lying about yourself, and pretty soon you’re lying to yourself.

When Romney ran for president against Obama, I voted for Obama. There was no question for me. But a functional democracy requires choices, a loyal opposition, a challenge to the worst impulses of their adversaries. To reasonable people, both Republicans and Democrats should offer different views on how to best guide and govern a nation to best serve its people and the world.

The G.O.P. needed to change and become more in touch with the working class — but not in the vicious way Trump has championed. As long as Trump is leading it, the Republican Party cannot be reformed. It can only be deprived of power.

It might have been braver and bolder for Romney to run again, to continue to try to be that moderating voice, the voice of intelligence, of sanity, in the hope that the perpetual losses at Trump’s hand will shock the useful idiots out of their delusions. Whether a new generation will be better or worse remains to be seen, but fortune does not favor the reasonable these days.

It’s hard to blame Romney for saying he’s done his bit and had enough of being stuck in a room with frauds and fools. But he will be missed, even if he was never my kinda guy otherwise, because he had the guts to say “no” while he was still in office. That’s a rare quality in politics, or anywhere else for that matter.

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