Mitt Romney began attacking Donald Trump before he was even sworn in, in a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post. He hammered the president for character flaws and mistakes in policy, but mostly for character flaws.
So what is driving Mitt Romney to resume his political career by launching a fusillade against the general of his own army? It’s simple. He wants to be president in 2020, and this is how he hopes to get there.
The essential part of his strategy is to fill the anti-Trump void left by Republicans Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who are both gone. Romney could not help but observe that nobody even knew who these guys were until they began attacking Trump. Suddenly they were on the news every night, on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and Sesame Street (just kidding about that last one).
Their public and biting criticism of a Republican president was like irresistible click-bait to news outlets which hated Trump and were only too happy to have Republicans spew their anti-Trump vitriol for them. They were in demand everywhere.
And sure enough, as I am writing this column this morning, the day after Romney’s broadside, there’s Romney being interviewed by everybody on Capitol Hill. So his strategy is working already. Romney looked exhilarated.
So from now until whenever, Romney will be the anti-Trump avatar for the Talking Snake Media. If Trump does something controversial (“if” meaning “when”) the media will scurry to find Romney, who will be mysteriously available everywhere they look. He will become the de facto spokesman for everybody in America who wants to see the president thwarted, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.
Romney’s hope is that disaffected Republicans will begin flocking to him and seeing him as the anti-Trump savior of the party. Romney’s ultimate hope is that when 2020 rolls around, there will be an unstoppable surge of Republicans calling for him to be the white knight who rescues the party from the dunce who now leads it.
Romney is essentially hoping to become the party’s nominee by acclamation, by an overwhelming tsunami of enthusiastic support from the Never Trumper crowd. That’s his vision, that’s his hope, that’s his dream.
Romney’s fundamental problem is that the anti-Trumper, Never-Trumper crowd in the GOP could hardly fill a corner booth at Denny’s. They’re loud, but small in number and getting smaller. The leading Never-Trump publication in the land, The Weekly Standard, meekly folded and went out of business late last fall. An overwhelming 80-90% of Republicans are still firm in their support of the president.
If Donald Trump does not fold on the showdown over the wall, if he can get Nancy Pelosi to blink first (getting Nancy to blink would be an accomplishment all by itself), his re-election is flat-out guaranteed. He is quickly building a legacy of conservative judges (another 115 were approved yesterday), and if can get the wall built, his legacy will last for decades and he will go down in history as one of the most effective presidents in U.S. history.
Now on the other hand, if President Trump collapses on the contest of wall funding, there is no Republican in the universe who can win the presidency in 2020, not Mitt Romney, not nobody. So much air will go out of the conservative balloon that there will no Republican president until the end of this century.
President Trump is the first Republican president to excite the base since Reagan. He has built up enormous capital in the base, and he will squander it all if he goes back for the 4th time on his promise to stand firm on the wall. The Republican base will be impossible to excite again. The discouraged base will just stay home, starting the day after Trump folds, and they will stay home for decades. They understand that Trump is their last best hope. They wanted someone to go to Washington and break some china, and they finally found that someone in Trump.
So a lot is riding on whether Trump has the fortitude to stand strong. If he stands strong, he will be re-elected with a secure legacy (judges and a border wall) that no one will be able to touch. But if he folds, well that’s an elephant of a different color.