With surprisingly little interest in or urgency about the shutdown now approaching its third week, Washington is now abuzz with the whipped up spat between President Trump and Mitt Romney after Romney wrote an unflattering oped in The Washington Post. Robert Costa says Trump’s critics see an opening and that one of his top advisors is getting calls from GOP donors asking Romney to challenge President Trump in 2020. Let’s please get real about this. Mitt Romney isn’t going to challenge anyone. President Trump won’t face any real challenge to his nomination and Romney’s oped was at best a mild rebuke.
What Romney really said was that Trump is gauche and un-respectable but that he will vote with Trump when they agree on specific policies. This is hardly a controversial stance. It’s quite difficult to argue with. And it is a stance Romney is in a very good position to make. Romney won’t face reelection until 2024, when Trump won’t be on the ballot even under the most catastrophic scenario. He also represents a state that is extremely Republican but not terribly friendly, relative to being so red, to Trump. You can say that Romney’s comments are more than most other Republican elected officials have been willing to make. But that’s certainly not saying much. And again, this is the first time we’ve seen any Republican elected official who didn’t face voters until 2024.
Will Romney challenge Trump? Very, very unlikely. Mitt Romney isn’t a suicide run kind of guy or the type who would see it as a good use of his time to mount a presidential campaign to make a point or to damage a GOP incumbent. He’s someone who thought and undoubtedly still thinks he should really be President. And in lineage and resume terms, he’s got a decent argument. Romney is the son of a popular Republican governor, a big success in business, governor himself and now a senator. He won’t spend 18 months of his life running around the country to make a point.
There are only two Republicans who can deny Donald Trump the 2020 nomination: Robert Mueller or Donald Trump. Even in the face of sagging public support he remains very popular among Republicans. Romney, meanwhile, is the least well positioned guy to challenge him.
What Romney is doing is pretty clear, carving out a position where he can comfortably be a critic of the President’s loutishness and bad character while still remaining orthodox on all key issues and not actually challenging Trump where it matters – foreign policy and oversight. Let’s be clear. What Romney’s doing isn’t nothing. Most of his colleagues, even the newcomers are eager and happy to be Trump lickspittles and toadies. Romney isn’t doing that. That’s not nothing. But it’s not a lot more than nothing.