The GOP has finally trotted out the big guns to stop Donald Trump.
Faced with the possibility that the sentient Orange Julius could have the nomination wrapped up within a couple of weeks, the party reached deep into its bag of tricks and came up with… Mitt Romney? What, was Dan Quayle unavailable?
Let us count the ways in which this move is a useless, impotent, flailing attempt by the GOP establishment to contend with a phenomenon that, after all these months, all the polls, all the focus groups, all these primary and caucus votes, it still does not even remotely understand.
For one thing, the Republican base hates Mitt Romney. They hated him in 2012, too, but they kept the grumbling down because they wanted so badly to deny Barack Obama a second term in office. No one really bought his “severely conservative” shtick, but they were so sure that all of America hated the Kenyan Usurper as much as they did and would throw him out. Then, once Romney ascended to the Oval Office, he would owe them.
In the postmortem following Romney’s loss, much of the base was convinced that the GOP could have won if only it had nominated a real conservative. Others blamed Romney for not convincing America that Obama was really as objectively awful as they kept telling each other. (Still others blamed, and still blame, Candy Crowley’s unrivaled influence on the American voter.) To their minds, Romney had taken an election in which he should have cruised to victory against a weak opponent and turned it into a humiliating defeat. Forget all those polls a year later that showed he would have won in a do-over, or his flirting with another run in 2016. Conservative activists never would have accepted him.
Then look at the actual substance of Romney's attack: He's hitting Trump over tax returns. This is a little bit like Kobe Bryant complaining that his teammates are shooting the ball too much.
Romney seems to think this is still the 2012 general election, when Democrats could easily take his effective tax rate of 14.1 percent and put him on the defensive by painting him as an out-of-touch gazillionaire taking advantage of the tax code. The problem is, if Trump’s returns show him paying a low rate (and they likely will), he will never let himself be put on the defensive about it. Trump will own it. He’ll be proud of it. Heck, he’ll probably call Romney a loser for paying even as much as he did.
Recall his comments about political contributions in the first debate. Faced with criticism because he has donated to Democrats, Trump said that he gives to “everybody” so that two or three or however many years down the line, he can call in favors from the politicians whose palms he has greased. Far from running from what could have been a sticky issue, like a normal candidate would have done, Trump was unapologetic about how he has taken advantage of the system, even while acknowledging how genuinely bad it is that he could do so.
It will be the same way with his taxes. He could release returns showing that he got millions of dollars in refunds, and he’ll just say he was taking what the system gives him, and how screwed up is the system that it allows a billionaire like him to do that, anyway? His fans will love it.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, perhaps remembering the roasting he took over his car elevator and his dancing horse, will be sitting in the living room of one of his houses with steam coming out of his ears. And no one in the GOP base will care, because he’s exactly the type of slick, establishment candidate they are rebelling against by supporting Trump in the first place.
There might be an attack that would work on Trump. Lord knows he has screwed over plenty of people through Trump University, and through his use of eminent domain to seize land so he could build one more garish, gold-flaked monstrosity of a building. But the fact that the GOP apparently thinks trotting out the guy who lost in the last election, earning the enmity of the base for making it suffer another four years of Obama, to try and hurt the current front-runner who is running away with the race, is so spectacularly clueless and inept you wonder if the person who came up with the idea is even allowed out of his house without a helmet.
At this point, Trump is a train barreling full-speed across the desert, and the GOP is the damsel in distress tied to the tracks and shrieking for help. Unfortunately, the cavalry has yet to even saddle up the horse.