January 02, 2019
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, is praising some of Trump’s policy decisions in a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. But he adds: “With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring” (THE SPECTRUM VIA AP / FILE / AP)
By SARAH MERVOSH The New York Times
Mitt Romney, the incoming senator from Utah and former Republican presidential nominee, revived his rivalry with President Donald Trump on Tuesday with an op-ed essay in The Washington Post in which he said Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
Days before joining a Republican-controlled Senate, and as the 2020 presidential race begins to take form, Romney issued a pointed critique of the president’s character.
“With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable,” he wrote ahead of his swearing-in Thursday. “And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”
The timing and tone of the piece set off widespread speculation online, with some suggesting that Romney aimed to position himself as “the new Jeff Flake,” the departing Republican senator from Arizona who publicly tangled with Trump.
Or, others asked, was Romney, a two-time presidential hopeful, signaling he might try to challenge the president in the 2020 Republican primary election?
Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, quickly fired back at Romney, saying in a tweet Tuesday night that Trump had “saved” the country while the senator-elect could not.
“Jealousy is a drink best served warm and Romney just proved it,” he said. “So sad.”
Romney and Trump have long had a complicated political relationship.
Trump has called Romney “irrelevant” and once bragged that he was a more successful businessman. “I mean, my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney,” he said in 2011.
When Trump was running for president in 2016, Romney called him a “phony” and a “fraud.” In 2017 he excoriated the president after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for causing “racists to rejoice” and “minorities to weep.”
But Trump backed Romney’s 2012 run for president, an endorsement that the nominee said meant a “great deal.”
The two tried to play nice during an awkward dinner together in late 2016, when it was thought Romney could be a candidate for secretary of state in the Trump administration. Last year, Trump supported Romney’s campaign to become Utah’s junior senator — and Romney thanked him for the endorsement.
Romney’s criticism at the outset of the new session of Congress was a blunt message to Trump that one of his most outspoken Republican critics from the 2016 campaign would soon have a high-profile platform in Washington.
And while Romney has largely refrained from the sort of blistering attacks he made against Trump two years ago, the broadside in The Post suggested that Utah’s soon-to-be senator might be open to a third presidential campaign.
Indeed, parts of the essay sounded like the makings of a primary challenge against Trump from Romney.
“To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home,” Romney wrote. “That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us.”
At the outset of the year before his re-election, however, Trump does not appear vulnerable to an intraparty threat. He remains broadly popular among Republicans and even more so among the party’s most engaged voters, those most likely to vote in a primary.
But the president is also facing sprawling investigations that touch on nearly every aspect of his life and, with Democrats in charge of the House, is about to face a level of congressional scrutiny and oversight he averted in his first two years in office.
For most of the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Republican lawmakers muted their concerns about him or expressed them privately. But many of them never fully let go of their misgivings about his conduct.
To that end, Romney’s op-ed essay spoke to an unease many senior Republican officials still have about Trump, concerns that some lawmakers finally began publicly voicing last month after the president abruptly disclosed plans to pull troops from Afghanistan and Syria.
Romney, too, was disturbed by the developments of the past month, citing the troop withdrawal and the departures of high-level officials like Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and John Kelly, the president’s chief of staff.
“The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December,” he wrote.
While Romney made clear that Trump was “not my choice” for the Republican presidential nomination, he said he would treat Trump as he would any commander in chief.
“I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault,” he wrote. “But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
Published: January 01, 2019