If Donald Trump’s ascension felt like the final nail in the coffin of the battle over the Republican Party’s soul, Mitt Romney’s Senate run proves that the war is far from over.
During the 2016 election, Romney was unafraid to speak his mind about Trump’s many objectionable words and deeds. He chastised Trump for his comments on Mexican Americans, defended John McCain after Trump’s aspersions, engaged in a twitter war over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, and expressed disappointment over the information contained on the “Access Hollywood” tape.
Romney, a former presidential candidate, is to some extent the anti-Trump; he is affable, thoughtful, intellectual, nuanced, reflective, humble, and genteel. Democrats may find fault with his myriad political positions, but few would question his character. The only thing Trump and Romney seem to have in common is their political flexibility. Each campaign has revealed a Romney with slightly altered positions, though that’s hardly a rarity in politics.
If Romney wins the election in November, there’s no question he will use his seat to advance a conservative and morally sound agenda—whether or not that puts him at odds with the president. He could also use his re-entry into public life as a way of positioning himself for another presidential run. This raises the question: why did Trump endorse his frenemy?
There’s very little that suggests Trump feels any sense of genuine loyalty to the Republican party, or that he ever makes decisions based purely on what’s best for the group as a whole. That said, he has demonstrated an occasional willingness to toe the party line. Trump has supported and advanced an agenda that is not wildly inconsistent with that of previous Republican presidents. Now it seems that someone has successfully persuaded the president that not supporting Romney would advance his agenda. If that’s what happened behind closed doors, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the regular machinations of politics—and not merely the whims of an unpredictable political neophyte—are dictating White House policy.