With youthful optimism, one Michael Rieger oﬀers some friendly advice to Utah’s freshman U.S. senator.
Upon closer examination, Rieger’s essay in the Washington Examiner, “How Mitt Romney can avoid becoming the next Jeﬀ Flake,” appears to squander the young author’s scholarship. That’s because Senator Romney has no interest in avoiding the kind of notoriety that attaches to Jeff Flake; indeed, it is Mitt’s mission to become the “Frosted Flake.”
There are two reasons for Romney’s embrace of what most Republicans regard to be Flake’s outrageous—or “Flakey” conduct: the new senator’s personal pique at President Trump, and Mitt’s seeming personal conviction (against all odds) that he will one day occupy the Oval Oﬃce.
To the casual observer, that latter ambition may seem incredible—yet there is a fine line for Mitt Romney between determination and delusion. We saw glimpses of it in Romney’s pursuit of the secretary of state position two years ago. In retrospect, Mitt must have thought he could resurrect the “connection” that once existed early in our history—the perception that becoming secretary of state was a stepping stone to the White House. Recall that John Quincy Adams was accused of a “corrupt bargain”: making Henry Clay Secretary of State in exchange for the crucial votes in the House that gave Adams the presidency over Andrew Jackson in 1824.
For Romney, there was no “corrupt bargain”; instead there was an eﬀort to corrupt the memory of his own actions in the 2016 presidential campaign. Romney’s reemergence on the national stage came in March of that year in a speech at the University of Utah. In his remarks, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee attacked the man who would become the 2016 nominee and eventually the 45th president. Romney called Donald Trump “a phony, a fraud”—surprising when you consider that Mitt has had more than his share of policy reversals (most notably, his change from “pro-choice” in Massachusetts to “pro-life” in national campaigns)—inviting the scorn of Trump supporters and other Republicans who came to regard Romney as “Mitt the Hypocrite.”
But when Trump achieved the seemingly impossible, Willard Mitt Romney did what many regarded unthinkable: he appealed to the president-elect for consideration to run the State Department.
In retrospect, Romney’s pursuit of the secretary of state position was frantic, manic, and pathetic. Even the most unsophisticated observer could see that Mitt’s chances to take over at State fluctuated between slim and none. Yet there was Romney, sitting down for dinner with the man he had bad-mouthed mere months before, and eating “humble pie.” Whatever Mitt had hoped, it was no surprise when Trump said, “No, thank you.”
For Romney, that presidential refusal became a call to arms—or at least, a motive for political revenge. If Trump would not allow him to become a modern day William H. Seward, then Mitt would become the “Frosted Jeﬀ Flake.”
Just as New York became the destination of political convenience for Bobby Kennedy in 1964 and Hillary Clinton in 2000, so too was Utah in 2018 for Mitt Romney. But, unlike the aforementioned Democratic duo and their political opportunism in the Empire State, Romney at least had some plausible connection to the Beehive State.
In 1999, Romney assumed leadership of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Committee. That committee had been rocked by a bribery scandal; Mitt stepped in to avert disaster. In fact, that success in Utah became the springboard for his successful 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign; a talking point in his 2012 pursuit of the presidency; and his 2018 path to the U.S. Senate.
Not waiting for the Washington, D.C. “welcome wagon,” Romney fashioned one of his own, reaching out to the publication that has maintained unremitting hostility toward conservatives: The Washington Post. That newspaper, which adopted the motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness” one month following Trump’s inauguration, was more than happy to provide space for Romney to throw a little shade in the direction of the Oval Oﬃce. Never a publication accused of subtlety, the Post op-ed headline blared the line of attack: “Mitt Romney: The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump’s character falls short.”
Of course, it was Romney who fell short in his 2012 pursuit of the presidency; an unfortunate development in his life, for which he has forgiven himself, the Democrats, Barack Obama—everyone, it seems, but Donald Trump.
Trump’s historic upset of Hillary Clinton left Republicans like Mitt Romney upset, but not so upset that Mitt would neglect to ask for—and receive—President Trump’s endorsement in the 2018 Utah Senate race.
Now firmly ensconced in the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” Romney appears resolved to sow the seeds of division and confusion. In addition to his Washington Post op-ed, the Senate newcomer has appeared on MSNBC to declare that he does not want to see a declaration of a national emergency to build a border wall, after telling CNN, “I would vote for the border wall.”
Romney may consider such contradictions clever, but it is something that fails to win him support within his own party. A new Rasmussen Poll finds that only 29 percent of Republicans think the GOP should be more like Romney; 63 percent of GOP respondents say that their party should be more like President Trump.
Romney insists he does not want to run for president again, yet he has already received a surprising endorsement. Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), now battling pancreatic cancer, told a Nevada radio station that he hopes to see Romney as the 2020 GOP nominee, saying “he would be a great foil against Trump.”
With new “friends” like Harry Reid, what friends can Romney hope to find within his own party?
Oh yeah . . . Jeﬀ Flake. The former Senator from Arizona called Mitt’s smarmy Post op-ed “thoughtful.”
Perhaps Romney thinks that the pendulum of public opinion will swing back his way, and propel him toward the object of his aﬀection and ambition—the presidency.
But despite his desires, simple math and common sense appear aligned to keep him on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
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