Is a Trump-Romney Moment Possible?

I read with interest PJM contributor Michael Walsh’s brief about the return of Mitt Romney. It’s a cautionary tale, understandably expecting the worst out of the former Massachusetts governor. Romney is a certified moderate Republican whose positions and actions going forward cannot be reliably predicted.

The bottom line is this: Will Senator Romney be a thorn in President Trump’s side, or can the two men reach agreement on important issues like immigration, healthcare, and, perhaps most importantly, potential Supreme Court nominees? Further, will Mr. Romney have the president’s back against the slew of investigations expected from the House Democrats and the protracted Robert Mueller “witch hunt”?

Romney’s senatorial victory is an obvious cause for concern for conservatives, especially Trumpservatives. The new Utah senator is no fan of the president and has spoken out against him on various occasions. Trump, as is his wont, fired back, lambasting Romney for a presidential race “he should have won.” Where do things stand with their relationship today? Trump tweeted congratulations in the wake of Romney’s win — a win that was never in doubt in the Mormon-dominated Beehive State. Is it possible that a Trump-Romney alignment going forward might portend successful outcomes for the Trump administration's agenda?

Conservative analysts have their doubts and have framed Romney’s reemergence from the standpoint of the four-seat margin Republicans managed to secure in the midterm election. The margin is key to circumventing defections like Sen. John McCain’s thumbs-down on the repeal of Obamacare. Maine Sen. Susan Collins ultimately voted yay on the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation, but everything hung in the balance. With the four-seat margin, it is much less likely that a single vote--for the purposes of this discussion a Romney nay vote--could scuttle a Trump-aligned Senate action. The subtext of these prognostications is that Romney might vote against presidential initiatives not only out of conscientious opposition but also because of past enmity between him and the president.

Mr. Walsh’s piece took me back to the 2012 campaign. A significant percentage of my Clackamas County Tea Party group was unhappy with the Republican nominee and planned to vote for him reluctantly. Some vowed to stay home rather than vote for Romney. My take, and at times it got heated, was that we had to vote for Gov. Romney to stave off another four years of President Obama.

But Romney had Romney-Care working against him. He seemed reticent in the third and final national debate on foreign policy to take the fight to Obama on the issue of Russian territorial aggression, allowing the incumbent to get off the famous line, “the 1980s are calling and want their foreign policy back.” (Romney turned out to be right about Russian aggression.) In the debate, Romney also held his fire on the Obama administration's woeful response to the attack at Benghazi.

Meanwhile, late-night comics were having a field day with “dog strapped to the roof of the car” jokes, Romney’s garage elevator, and Ann Romney’s “dancing horses.”  In the days leading up to the election, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was shaking hands with Barack Obama on the Hurricane Sandy-devastated Jersey shore, Romney was seemingly nowhere to be found.

On election night at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas, depression set in quickly. By 7 p.m. Pacific time it was clear that Obama had won reelection. But some of the most conservative among us were not that depressed. The prospect of four more years of Obama’s administration was bad, but all things considered, a Romney victory would have struck them as not that much better.

Cut to four years later, again at the Monarch. The Tea Party was no longer a thing, but the same crowd stood in near-disbelief as Donald Trump eclipsed Hillary Clinton going away. Like in 2012, there was a faction of mostly Sen. Ted Cruz-supporting conservatives who were deeply skeptical about the political pedigree of the New York business mogul and media star. The difference in 2016? The man they’d reluctantly voted for, or not at all, had won.

Two years later and the landscape has changed again. Democrats have taken control of the House and the NeverTrump brigade is scattered. Where does Romney fit into the reality of 2019 and beyond? Things got ugly on the trail between Cruz and the president, but they had their moment of reconciliation.

Is there hope for a Trump-Romney moment?

The president has reached out to Mitt Romney with congratulations. Time will tell whether Sen. Romney will bury the hatchet and get on board to ensure the success of a Trump administration agenda that is good for America.