One of the many problems with making Mitt Romney the face of the anti-Trump movement is that, no matter what he says or how correct he is about Donald Trump’s brand of sleazy fascism, he is still Mitt Romney. You can appreciate Mitt’s blistering critique of Trump’s fitness for the office of the presidency, but you can’t wash away the memory of Romney gladly accepting Trump’s endorsement of his own presidential campaign. You can agree with Mitt’s flensing of Trump’s scammy business practices, but you can’t shake the recollection that he also once praised Trump for being a more successful businessman than Mitt Romney. The message may be right on the merits, but the messenger is all wrong.
That’s why it’s no real surprise to learn Tuesday morning that Romney’s big speech inveighing against Trump, which received BREAKING NEWS coverage and dominated the weekend’s political discussion, doesn’t appear to have done much to sway Republicans away from their party’s 2016 frontrunner. Morning Consult published a poll Tuesday morning that found just 20 percent of GOP voters were less likely to vote for Trump after hearing Romney’s speech, compared to 31 percent who were more likely and 43 percent who said it made no difference. Among Trump supporters, the impact of Romney’s speech was to strengthen their conviction to support their candidate, with 56 percent reporting that they’re more likely to cast a ballot for Trump now. Morning Consult also found that Romney actually has a lower net favorability rating than Trump. So the cumulative effect of Romney’s anti-Trump broadside was either a collective shrug or a gentle boost for the pro-Trump forces.
The problem here is that no one has a reason to actually listen to Romney. He’s not running for president, and he’s not backing a candidate – he’s just urging Republicans to abandon the candidate that has won the plurality of votes. With no champion to assume the anti-Trump mantle, and no candidate emerging as the obvious Trump alternative, Romney is instead proposing crazy Hail Mary ideas that involve strategic voting and an unrealistic détente among the non-Trump candidates.
And that brings us to the latest bit of campaign trail weirdness: Romney is recording robocalls – paid for by Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign – urging Republican voters in Tuesday's primary states to back someone other than Trump. Here’s what the Washington Post reported:
In the brief message, Romney makes clear that the call was paid for by the Rubio campaign, but he stops short of endorsing the senator.
"Tomorrow you have the opportunity to vote for a Republican nominee for president. I believe these are critical times that demand a serious, thoughtful commander-in-chief. If we Republicans were to choose Donald Trump as our nominee, I believe that the prospects for a safe and prosperous future would be greatly diminished — and I’m convinced Donald Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. So please vote tomorrow for a candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton and who can make us proud."
This is so strange. Romney hasn’t endorsed Rubio, but he’s showing up on Rubio campaign calls. (The Post notes that he’s offered his voiceover talents to the other non-Trump Republican campaigns as well.) And he’s calling for a “serious, thoughtful commander-in-chief,” but won’t specify who that is. He just knows it isn’t Donald Trump.
But we’ve already seen that the net effect of a Romney intervention is to nudge people towards Trump. And he’s not calling for any sort of strategic voting here or urging voters to abandon their favored candidate for the one who has the best chance of beating Trump in their given state – he’s just wants people to vote for the candidate they like. They were probably going to do that anyway, so… mission accomplished, I suppose.