Saunders: Don’t pity Romney; a clear conscience is his company

The failed presidential candidate can take pride in standing for his principles and his beliefs.

By Debra J. Saunders / Las Vegas Review-Journal

Two words leaped to mind just before Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced that he would vote to convict President Trump on one or two articles of impeachment: frog’s legs.

Frog’s legs were on the menu as the then-president-elect and Romney dined at Jean-Georges, a high-ticket eatery inside the (where else?) Trump Hotel in November 2016. After having refused to endorse Trump and calling him unworthy of the Oval Office, Romney nonetheless publicly auditioned for the prestigious secretary of state post.

It was a public humiliation for Romney, the GOP 2012 nominee, who had to eat swamp meat and his own words while cameras and social media captured the humbling moment for all the world.

The frog’s legs supper let some of the air out of Romney’s sanctimony tires.

Trump had reason to want to bring the former Massachusetts governor down a notch. In February 2012, Trump kindly endorsed Romney, who was a bit ambivalent about the whole exercise. At the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Romney offered, “There are some things that you can’t just imagine happening in your life.”

Four years later, Romney refused to repay the favor. In March 2016, he tried to stop Trump in an address that labeled the frontrunner “a phony and a fraud.” Romney even tweeted, “If Trump had said four years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement.”

Not only was Romney willing to forget Trump’s unworthiness after Trump won in 2016, but also he accepted Trump’s endorsement in 2018 when he ran for Senate in Utah.

There are those who say Romney turned on Trump out of envy because the one-time reality TV star succeeded in 2016 where the former Massachusetts governor failed four years earlier. But I suspect a big factor may have been that Trump made Romney tap dance in front of the world; that he could forgive Trump winning but not Trump playing him for a position Romney would never get.

As conservative author Arthur Brooks noted at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, “When you are treated with contempt, you never forget it.”

Ironically, Brooks made that remark mere minutes before Trump used the annual prayer event to denounce his “enemies.”

Trump called out Romney (although not by name), when he told the room, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

Romney’s revenge is a dessert best served cold. After trying to get on the Trump team, he is about to become the conscience of anti-Trump Washington. Romney gave an interview to Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who asked him to give viewers a sense of how difficult the decision to vote to convict Trump was. “Do what is right, let the consequence follow,” Romney replied, citing a favorite hymn. He believed Trump was guilty of abuse of power and that he should be removed from office; so he had to follow his conscience.

“Nobody should doubt this was his deeply held belief,” Wallace observed.

I believe Romney. I just wonder where his conscience was when he tried to get into Trump’s Cabinet and when he accepted Trump’s endorsement in 2018. (OK, maybe Romney thought he could do good things to steady Trump’s ship of state as Trump’s top diplomat, but accepting Trump’s endorsement two years later for a Senate seat? Please.)

Wallace was agog about how “lonely” Romney will be. After all, the conservative confab CPAC disinvited Romney from its convention later this month.

Yes, it’s going to be very lonely as establishment Washington hails Romney for his rectitude and looks down the nose at those grubby Republicans who didn’t stand up to Trump because they lacked the courage. It doesn’t occur to swamp denizens that there actually were reasons to vote against removing Trump.

Such as the punishment doesn’t fit the crime or merit overturning the will of American voters.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

Maybe it’s that Trump’s my-way-or-the-highway approach may make most Republicans hesitate before they cross him, or even so much as criticize him, for suggesting that the Ukrainian president dig up dirt on the Bidens. But Trump’s willingness to bully any dissenters has a limitation.

It can’t work with everyone.

Romney, 72, is not up for election until 2024. He may not want the job by then, and by 2024 opposing Trump may not hurt at the Utah ballot box. In the meantime, Romney will be living proof that a Republican with the right resources can stand up to Trump and survive.

He’ll do more than survive. He’ll thrive. Probably for the first time in his life, Romney will be the toast of Washington, not the guy who lost in 2012.

In a moment of triumph, Trump could have spared Romney the humiliation of practically begging for a seat at his table. And now the tables have turned.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @DebraJSaunders.

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