U.S. Senator (Utah) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently announced he’s not running for reelection. He cited age as the main reason. Or, rather, the primary reason (pun intended; we’ll get to that later).
Romney ran for president in 2012, winning the Republican nomination but failing to unseat President Obama. As I wrote then, Romney probably would’ve made a decent president; but I couldn’t get past his phoniness. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, with whom I often disagree, provided at the time the best succinct description of Romney I’ve ever heard: “he oozes inauthenticity.”
On these pages I often referred to Romney as ‘Slick Mitty’. He embodied what in my view was wrong with the Republican Party. He was, largely, the inspiration for my 2016 book Grumpy Old Party: 20 Tips on ‘How the Republicans Can Shed Their Anger, Reclaim Their Respectability, and Win Back the White House’.
Speaking of 2016, that was the year Romney pulled no stops to derail Donald Trump’s juggernaut campaign. Romney held a press conference to trash Trump. Laughably, Romney evoked Ronald Reagan’s name, even with an unconvincing caveat that “I’m no Ronald Reagan,” insofar as it was a time for choosing, with Romney fancying himself the clarion.
He predicted with certainty that “if Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession…His proposed 35 percent tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs, and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.” Umm, that didn’t age very well, Mitt.
Romney also repeatedly referred to Trump as a phony, a conman, and a failed businessman.
But, get this, just nine months after that speech, Romney went to President-elect Trump’s golf resort to apply for the position of secretary of state. Apparently, there’s nothing wrong with a ‘phony conman’ being president, as long as you get to work for him.
Trump strung Romney along and played him like a fool. Bitter Mitt responded by winning a Senate seat in 2018 and becoming the poster boy of the Republican Never Trumpers. In Romney’s case, though, he was clearly a Never-Except-When-I-Apply-to-Work-for-Him Trumper.
Now, at 76, Romney says he’s too old to run again, purporting selflessness and magnanimity. Conveniently, though, Romney leaves out that Trump was grooming several MAGA candidates to primary him (welcome to the era in which ‘primary’ is a verb) and that he’d have a heck of a time winning the GOP nomination.
Does anyone seriously believe that, in the unlikely combination of events that: 1) Trump drops out; 2) the remaining Trump-like candidates lose their luster; and 3) the country abruptly eschews the MAGA movement and longs for the days of country club Republicanism, Americans would engage in a sweeping grassroots movement to compel Romney to run (it was hard to write that with a straight face), but Romney would decline? That Romney really would say: “thank you for your confidence, but, sorry, for the good of the country, I must admit that I’m too old”?
Romney’s inauthenticity has served him well for decades, and was also a successful gimmick that catapulted another unlikely presidential contender to the White House: no, not Trump (he lies too, but to get out of trouble, not to pander), but Joe Biden. But Biden’s lies no longer work because, unlike Romney, Biden’s advanced age has caught up with him, and then some.
Biden’s been telling the same tall tales for so long that it’s difficult to ascertain whether, given his steadily eroding cognitive skills, he intentionally deceives or actually believes what he says. Romney, though, hasn’t an ounce of sincerity when he tells us what he believes “deeply with all my heart and soul.”
In 2012 it was Romney’s doubletalk and dirty tricks that toppled Newt Gingrich from the Republican Party’s frontrunner status. And though I said Romney might’ve made a decent president, Gingrich probably would’ve been one of the great ones. Gingrich is so smart that Google ought to use him as a search engine. But he’s not the politician Trump is, which is why Romney’s 2016 speech didn’t remain memorable, as did Reagan’s ‘A Time for Choosing’.
I wish Romney a long, happy, and healthy life in retirement. May he live another 50 years to enjoy his large family and spend time with his friends. As long as he does it away from politics. The GOP doesn’t need him making campaign stops, endorsing candidates, or delivering any more anti-Trump soliloquies.
There are two reasons why I chose to write about Romney this week: one is that some casual observers of American politics misperceive Romney as a principled patriot who had the courage to challenge from within Trump’s stronghold on the Republican Party. Anything but. It was political opportunism, and a grand miscalculation. He bet the farm against the winning horse and lost.
The second reason is that there’s another dangerously slick politician on the horizon these days. Like Romney, his words are smooth like Skippy peanut butter. He too looks like the groom on the wedding cake, and has governed a much bigger state (California) than Romney has (Massachusetts).
I refer to Gavin Newsom, who’s waiting in the wings for Biden to drop out and VP Kamala Harris to be stepped over. Unlike his Republican counterpart governor of a populous state, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Newsom doesn’t have to worry about fizzling on the national stage: he’s got the media, academia, and Hollywood on his side. They’ll spin his affair with his campaign manager’s wife as a harmless boyish prank. You get the idea.
That’s why it’s important to know all about Slick Mitty: to prevent the rise of Slick Gavin.