Mitt Romney is nothing if not flexible, and he usually bends a little to the left. He has been in the public eye for decades, but he has served only four years in an elective office, as governor of Massachusetts. He has now been the junior senator from Utah for a day. His dearth of time in office hasn’t been for lack of trying. He ran for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1994, governor of Massachusetts in 2002, president in 2008, president again in 2012, and finally for the Senate in Utah. Mr. Romney has either a profound determination to serve his country, or an ardent craving for the spotlight. Maybe it’s a little of both.
Or maybe, like Hillary Clinton, he wants to run for president one last time. A mere day before he was sworn into office, Mr. Romney wrote an op-ed essay for The Washington Post, whose political reporting consists mostly of tedious accounting of everything bad about Donald Trump, which was another harsh denunciation of the president. This was designed to add to the new senator’s profile, and to see whether he could win lavish praise for it in the “mainstream” press. He accomplished both without breaking a sweat.
“The president has not risen to the mantle of the office,” Mr. Romney wrote, citing “statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.” The mainstream press swooned, as expected, even though Mr. Romney said he likes Mr. Trump’s judicial appointments, tax reform, and his crackdown on Chinese trade abuses. But he fretted that the president’s foreign policy has emboldened authoritarian regimes and weakened the famous “unity” of Europe.
Though Mr. Romney’s essay was widely praised in the mainstream media, the Republicans whom he must persuade to give him a second chance in a third run for the White House did not join the swoon. His niece, Ronna McDaniel, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, criticized him obliquely, referring to him only as an “incoming freshman senator” on Twitter. Another RNC member floated amending party rules to block a potential challenge to Mr. Trump in 2020, which would be anti-democratic, unwise and something he wouldn’t need. The president enjoys high marks in his party. The president reasonably expects to be renominated easily.
Mr. Romney has a history of flip-flopping on crucial issues. When he ran for the Senate in 1994, trying to defeat Ted Kennedy, Mr. Romney supported easy access to abortion and had harsh things to say about Ronald Reagan. In 2002, he ran for governor as a “moderate,” perhaps necessary in Massachusetts to avoid a public stoning in the name of letting many flowers bloom.
But in 2008, he ran as the “true” conservative against perceived squishes like Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, and John McCain, the ultimate winner of the nomination. Four years later, he boasted that his governorship of Massachusetts had been “severely conservative,” which was odd as a boast because the health-care scheme he produced in Massachusetts became the model for Obamacare. He eagerly sought the endorsement in that campaign of a real estate tycoon and reality television star named Donald Trump.
But by 2016, Mr. Romney was firmly on the “never Trump” train, delivering a speech in March of that year calling the future a president a “fraud” and a “phony.” After Mr. Trump overcame those insults to win the presidency, Mr. Romney publicly sought a Cabinet position, practically begging to be the secretary of State.
Last year, running for a seat in the Senate, he refrained from making denunciations of the president, having noticed that the president carried Utah by nearly 20 points. Which raises the question as to why he wrote the harsh op-ed essay for The Washington Post. Mr. Romney explained with the claim that the Trump presidency took a turn for the worse in December. But this was hollow. Donald Trump is always Donald Trump, vivid faults and colorful foibles all. Mr. Trump is a model of consistency. There’s scant difference between the Trump presidency in December 2018 and the Trump presidency of any other month.
Perhaps Mr. Romney is hedging his bets, and wants to be available as the great white hope if a tsunami strikes the Florida coast on a weekend when the president is golfing at Mar-a-Lago and Donald Trump is blown out to sea. He clearly is getting into position to step into place to run for president once again. Ambitions die hard.