After much speculation and public embarrassment, it turns out that Mitt Romney will not be Donald Trump’s secretary of state nominee after all. That designation goes to Exxon Mobil CEO and obvious soap-opera villain Rex Tillerson, who won over the president-elect with his business savvy and close connections to our new best friends in waiting in Moscow.
With Romney out of the running, pundits moved quickly to heap praises on Mitt for his willingness to entertain a job offer from an individual he once savaged as a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Here’s Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post, feting Romney and chastising anyone who has the temerity to mock the 2012 Republican presidential nominee:
Think about it: This is a guy who made tens of millions in the private sector. He ran the Winter Olympics. He ran for president — twice. He has a very good life. The last thing that Romney, at age 69, needs is to suck up to Trump to get a Cabinet job. The only explanation that makes sense to me for Romney's willingness to subject himself to Trump's whims is that he was genuinely convinced he could help make the world a better and less dangerous place — even, and maybe especially, under a President Trump. Romney's willingness to be courted by Trump always struck me as a greater good argument; Romney believed that the most important thing was the well-being of the country not his own ego or his personal distaste for Trump.
In the end, no matter his reasoning, Romney didn't get the job. But, that's sort of besides the point. At a time when many talented and successful people in the private sector are resistant to putting themselves forward for public service, Romney continues to do so. He should be commended, not mocked, for that instinct.
That's a carefully sanitized history of Romney’s political life and it omits the grave sin Romney committed that put him on this path to begin with.
Mitt Romney begged for and secured Donald Trump’s endorsement during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. When Romney came seeking his support, Trump had already spent months reveling in his obsession over Barack Obama’s “real” birth certificate and had transformed himself into the national spokesman for an insanely racist conspiracy theory. But Romney made a calculated decision: He would tolerate or ignore Trump’s racism and fold this conspiracy-mongering nut into his presidential campaign because Romney thought it would help him appeal to the blue-collar and hard-line conservative voters he needed to win the nomination.
He miscalculated badly. As a Romney surrogate, Trump began spouting off more birther nonsense when prodded by reporters and publicly questioning the president’s true birthplace. In response, Romney did nothing. “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, portraying his surrogate’s unhinged racism as a simple divergence from his viewpoint. “But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
Romney stuck with Trump all the way to the end of the campaign out of fear that breaking ties with his odious surrogate would alienate the GOP's base and provoke Trump into attacking him. Romney empowered Trump by lending him the legitimacy of a national political campaign. Trump returned the favor by poisoning Romney’s image, and Romney kept right on absorbing all that criticism because he (wrongly and cynically) thought it would help him win.
That failed political relationship is important because it set the stage for everything that’s happened since. When Trump launched his own presidential campaign in 2015 and started shooting up in the polls, Romney said nothing. He was unwilling to use what remaining political clout he had to resist a candidate whose capacity for vileness he had experienced up close.
When Romney finally did roust himself to try to halt Trump’s momentum, it was far too late to make a difference. And even if he had acted sooner, Romney was the worst possible person to make the argument that Trump had no business in presidential politics, given that Romney himself had made space for Trump in his own presidential race.
Having enabled Trump’s political rise and then failed to arrest his momentum, Romney set about “opposing” Trump by arguing that both he and Hillary Clinton were equally unacceptable as presidential candidates — an argument that ended up working in Trump’s favor.
Then Trump pulled out his upset victory, at which point Romney began his quest to get a high-powered job in the Trump administration — a quest, we’re told, was born out of noblesse oblige and a high-minded desire to serve his country. You can view Romney’s pitch for secretary of state that way or you can view it as his looking for some way to ameliorate an awful situation that he helped make possible through his own misjudgment, moral cowardice and cynicism.
Either way you look at it, Mitt Romney is a big old failure — again.