Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is the quintessential exemplar of what it used to mean to be a Republican.
The son of George Romney, a Republican businessman who became Michigan governor and ran for president, Mitt Romney is a businessman who became governor of Massachusetts and was the GOP’s nominee for president in 2012. His political beliefs have always aligned well with his party’s long-standing policy goals – a balanced federal budget, lower taxes, support for capitalist enterprises, a strong military and a robust foreign policy in the service of democratic ideals.
But, four years after Romney’s unsuccessful presidential run, someone came along and changed the definition of Republican. Former President Donald Trump mesmerized the GOP base with a nasty, nihilistic populism built on seething social resentments, suspicion of governmental institutions, and an “America First” foreign policy that disparaged democratic allies while coddling autocrats abroad and encouraging right-wing autocracy at home.
Perversely, Trump’s rebranding has made RINO – “Republican in name only” – the epithet most often cast at elected officials like Romney who have stood fast with the party’s past principles. To be a true Republican these days, there is just one thing that is essential: unwavering loyalty to Trump, whether real or feigned.
Romney, a devout Mormon, believes in a higher calling. His political morality would not allow him to stay silent about Trump’s idiocy, immorality and corruption. Twice, he was a very lonely Republican vote to convict Trump in his Senate impeachment trials. As a result of this independence and rectitude, Romney has become a pariah among his GOP Senate colleagues and a target of seething anger and threats of violence from his constituents.
It is no surprise that Romney has announced he will not run for re-election. Why would he want to continue working alongside people who despise him, people he holds in contempt?
Romney is doing the country a final service by not leaving quietly. In a new biography, “Romney: A Reckoning” by McKay Coppins, the senator exposes his colleagues in the Senate GOP caucus as moral cowards either too scared of losing re-election to say out loud what a low opinion they have of Trump or too eager to loudly defend Trump in order to boost their own political ambitions. His insider account reveals the cravenness that has desiccated the party of Lincoln and left it in the clutches of careerists, conspiracists and con men.
Romney’s retirement from the political fray feels like a tipping point, the final gasp of the old Republican Party. Far from being a RINO, Mitt Romney looks like the last real Republican.
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