There is arguably no one in the Republican Party who bears as much responsibility for the disgrace that is Donald Trump, GOP frontrunner, than Mitt Romney. It’s not just that Romney blew the 2012 campaign, leaving the door open for someone angrier and (mostly) to his right. He also legitimized Trump’s ugly birtherism, slavishly chasing his endorsement and refusing to condemn his attacks on the president.
But now comes word that Romney is really unhappy about the Trump candidacy. “He’s someone to whom civility means a lot. The whole Trump thing really bothers him,” a close Romney associate told New York’s Gabriel Sherman.
That’s funny: Civility didn’t seem to mean a lot to Romney when he was courting Trump in 2012. Along with several other GOP presidential hopefuls, Romney trekked to New York to kiss Trump’s ring, and when he won the endorsement, Trump threw Romney a big Las Vegas fundraiser. The Romney campaign even held a “Dine with Donald” contest, asking supporters to donate $3 to win an opportunity to stay at a Trump hotel in New York, and then have dinner with Trump and Romney.
“There are some things that you just can’t imagine happening in your life,” Romney told the crowd at the press conference to announce Trump’s endorsement, looking slightly dazed. “This is one of them. Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight. I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.
Then, on the eve of Trump’s big Romney fundraiser, the loudmouthed mogul renewed his birther nonsense, though a year had passed since President Obama released his long-form birth certificate to quiet the racist loon. Pivoting off a typically silly Breitbart “story,” which unearthed an early promotional description of Obama’s autobiographical “Dreams From My Father” that depicted the author as having been born in Kenya, Trump launched a new attack on the president’s eligibility to hold office.
“That’s the way life works," he told the Daily Beast. "He didn’t know he was running for president, so he told the truth. The literary agent wrote down what he said… He said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia… Now they’re saying it was a mistake. Just like his Kenyan grandmother said he was born in Kenya, and she pointed down the road to the hospital, and after people started screaming at her she said, ‘Oh, I mean Hawaii.’ Give me a break."
In the same interview Trump talked up the honor of hosting a big Romney fundraiser. “I’m honored that they feel that way about me. I feel strongly that Mitt is really doing well. I think he’s gonna be a great candidate and a great president. We need a great president. I feel a lot of people listen to what I have to say.”
Trump’s new bout of birtherism was too much for even CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Donald, Donald, you’re beginning to look a little ridiculous,” Blitzer told him. Trump foreshadowed his 2015 go-rounds with news anchors, insulting Blitzer: “Frankly, if you would report [the birther conspiracy] accurately, I think you would probably get better ratings than you’re getting, which are pretty small.”
Then reporters asked Romney if he would rebuke the views of his wealthy patron. He said no.
“You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney told CNN. “But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
Now we’re supposed to believe Romney is horrified by Trump’s candidacy, even though it was foreshadowed by his loud birtherism and his pursuit of power in the Republican Party to try to take down Obama. Romney swung and missed at many opportunities to call for “civility” as the 2012 candidate. When a supporter claimed Obama should be “tried for treason,” Romney didn’t challenge her. Afterward he told reporters, “I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me. Obviously I don’t agree that he should be tried.”
Later in the campaign, Romney made his own descent into jokey birtherism, telling a crowd in Michigan: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where both of us were born and raised.”
A recent poll showed that more than half of GOP voters believe Obama is a Muslim, but the number rises to two-thirds among Trump voters. Just under half believe the president wasn’t born here, but most of Trump’s do. Still, the notion that roughly half of the GOP base believes Obama is a Muslim who isn’t the legitimate president is at least partly the result of party leaders like Romney refusing to come out and say such claims are false and outrageous.
It’s not Romney alone, of course – remember House Speaker John Boehner refused to condemn birtherism when he took over in 2011. “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” he told Meet the Press. “Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”
“Romney is the closest thing the Republican Party has to an elder statesman,” Sherman writes in his piece about Romney’s angst over Trump. He’s probably right. And that’s why the party is in so much trouble.