Mitt Romney — from presidential candidate to outcast
Chronicling Mitt Romney’s political journey during the last decade is chronicling the Republican Party’s journey into Trumpism. After the loss in 2012, the party looked inward and came to the conclusion that the party was becoming too white to win. Then Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a rare major minority player in the pre-Trump GOP, said that the Republicans needed to “stop being the stupid party.”
The reach out to minorities and the attempt to expand the party’s electorate was supposed to be made in 2016. Then Donald Trump finally entered presidential politics for real after toying with the idea for decades. Trump did expand the party, but not in the direction the post-2012 autopsy had suggested. Trump dug deeper among white working-class voters than any Republican before him, making a bold play that paid off by the thinnest of margins.
What would happen to Mitt Romney after 2012 is what has happened to George W Bush after he left the White House in 2008. Public opinion had Bush the younger in the gutter when he left the presidency. Time heals most wounds, and now, over a decade and four years Trump later, his numbers have rebounded.
Likewise, Mitt Romney was seen as extremely conservative in 2012, and as there undoubtedly are every year, there were people all over the world offering their houses and second bedrooms to worried Americans who just had to leave the country in the event of a Romney victory. Today, being a newbie senator at the tender age of 73, being the only Republican to vote to convict the President during the impeachment trial in the Senate, he’s almost seen as a member of the resistance, a stalwart of pre-Trump Republican politics, and a flashback to when politics was nice, clean and pure, despite the fact that 2012 was the height of partisanship in the last fifty years of American politics. It just seemed like the good old days because since then the country has only drifted further apart. People watched senator Romney walk in a Black Lives Matter march and felt warm and fuzzy inside as if there was hope once more. But Romney is a lonely figure in today’s GOP. He is a rare case of a Republican member of congress who can openly criticize the President, without immediately being booted from the stage. Arizona’s Jeff Blake didn’t have that same staying power, neither did Tennesee’s Bob Corker. But Utah has a special mix of conservatives and Mormons who are willing to vote for the President and the only senator in the Republican conference willing to criticize the President in unmuddled language.
In a leaked video during the 2012 campaign, Romney told a room of donors that 47 percent of the country was completely reliant on the state and would vote for Obama no matter what. The Obama campaign pulled off the trick of painting Romney as a distant, rich, big-time company director without a clue about what life is like for a majority of Americans.
Before the 2012 campaign, Obama had used Romney’s healthcare plan from when he was Governor of Massachusetts as a framework to lure over Republican votes in congress, but without success. In 2015, Romney said: “Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have had Obamacare.”
Democratic 2020 Presidential nominee Joe Biden, then Obama’s Vice President said that Romney would “put black people back in chains” were he to get elected. Eight years later Romney is the only major national Republican to take part in a Black Lives Matter march after the death of George Floyd. After the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Romney was one of few Republicans who Democrats hoped without go against nominating a new justice before the inauguration after Republicans blocked Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland in 2016. But in the end, Romney supported the appointment of another justice to the Supreme Court, proving that he’s still a conservative, something some seem to have forgotten during the Trump years.
All this shows how far the Republican party has traveled over the last eight years. In 2012 he was the party’s standard-bearer, now he’s one of three or maybe four Republican senators liberals count on to break with the President during important votes.
Romney’s GOP was not the cult of personality that Trump has built. Loyalty to the President now trumps everything, something which Romney’s lonely stature only reinforces.