After eight months of campaigning and 15 nominating contests, the Republican Party is finally lurching into self-preservation mode in response to the threat posed by Donald Trump’s electoral putsch. Outside spending groups are mobilizing, Republican congressmen are firing off critiques of the party’s presidential front-runner, heroic conservative bloggers are propagating devastatingly potent hashtags – everyone is pitching in because they’re terrified that the rise of a pseudo-fascist septic tank like Trump means that liberals were correct about the rot that’s hollowed out their political movement.
In theory it’s better for the cavalry to arrive tragically late than not at all, and you can’t help sympathizing with their goal of derailing Trump before he gets anywhere near the White House, even if they did bring this disaster on themselves. But just because the Republicans are almost out of time in the fight against Trump doesn’t mean they have to do things that are stupid and self-defeating. But that’s exactly what Willard Mitt “Mitt” Romney is getting ready do with this big speech that he’s going to deliver Thursday.
As I’ve written, Romney is in a peculiar political situation this election cycle. He’s viewed as a sort of “elder statesman” of the party because he was the most recent Republican presidential nominee, and he clearly shares the opinion of the rest of the crusty Republican establishment that Marco “Winning Isn’t Everything” Rubio is the pony to place their bets on. But Romney hasn’t endorsed Rubio yet – and it’s not likely that he will today – because Rubio is nowhere close to winning the nomination. A nod from Romney would look like the party establishment trying to bail out a weak candidate who can’t win on his own steam.
But now Romney seems intent on making every non-Trump candidate look bad by inserting himself into the 2016 race immediately after Trump’s dominant performance on Super Tuesday. Bloomberg Politics reports that Romney, in his speech, will “lay out his case for why Donald Trump shouldn't be the nominee of the Republican Party.” One would think that this job should be left to the candidates who are actually running against Trump, but Romney is seizing it from Rubio and Ted Cruz and using his own platform to lead the fight against the front-runner of his own party. It’s not a resounding vote of confidence in either Rubio or Cruz, who just had their milkshakes drunk by Trump and now have to stand aside while the last person the Republican Party actually wanted to be president explains why they should be winning.
Embarrassment to Rubio and Cruz aside, Romney himself isn’t exactly the ideal messenger for laying out a vision of a Republican presidential nominee. He won the 2012 nomination, but only after the GOP electorate elevated a series of “anyone but Romney” candidates in protest of his malleable ideology and milquetoast campaign. The knock on Romney was that he was the candidate the donor class and the party elites wanted, and he was met with a wave of resentment from Republican voters who only finally came to accept him because they had no other viable choices and were desperate to oust Barack Obama from the White House. Now this same guy is going to lecture the GOP on what sort of candidate it should be elevating? Best of luck, Mitt.
Lastly, I’m not entirely sure what Romney hopes to accomplish by making himself the face of the anti-Trump movement. He is uniquely unqualified to take on this role, given that he genuflected before the Donald in 2012 in order to secure his endorsement. At the time, Trump was still enmeshed in his conspiracy-mongering about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and was broadly viewed as a clownish mascot of ugly racial politics in the Obama era. But Romney legitimized Trump as a political figure and even waved off the billionaire lout’s birtherism as a harmless eccentricity that wasn’t worth focusing on. “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 said when asked about Trump’s birther crusade. “But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.” Now he’s going to turn around and say Trump has no place in presidential politics? The 2016 version of Donald Trump isn’t appreciably worse than the 2012 version Mitt bear-hugged out of political expediency.
Of course, there’s always the chance that I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe Super Tuesday has convinced Romney that the nomination fight will go all the way to the convention and neither Cruz nor Rubio can stop Trump, in which case this speech should be viewed as a diabolical power move by Mitt to deliberately undermine all the anti-Trumps and position himself to swoop in to a brokered convention and emerge the consensus nominee. That’s just baseless speculation, of course, and probably a bit too Machiavellian for the most vanilla politician in recent memory, but with the presidential race sinking deeper into insanity with each passing moment, it feels foolish to rule anything out.