On New Year’s Day, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — the Republican nominee for president in 2012 — launched into President Donald Trump, attacking him for falling short of the moral leadership required for the presidency. Trump responded early Wednesday morning, telling Romney to be a “TEAM player.”
“Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not,” Trump tweeted. “Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”
Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not. Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2019
Romney has not descended to the level of Jeff Flake — who compared Donald Trump to Joseph Stalin on the floor of the Senate — but Romney’s Washington Post op-ed suggests the 2012 nominee is testing the waters for a 2020 presidential run.
“To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels.’ A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect,” Romney wrote.
The 2012 nominee said a uniting president is more needed than ever, and suggested that Trump falls short. “As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable,” he wrote. “And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”
Romney attacked Trump’s foreign policy decisions as dangerous for America’s moral leadership in the world. He further declared his intention to “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
The 2012 nominee, a leader in the Mormon church who has devoted a great deal of his time and resources to charity, has higher moral character than Trump — at least in his personal life. But issues of foreign policy are more complex, and the president has achieved a great deal for conservatives — something Romney readily admitted in his article.
#NeverTrump Republicans like Bill Kristol have jumped to praise the former Massachusetts governor. Kristol said Romney had become “the leader of the Republican Resistance to Trump.”
Who knows what 2019 will bring in terms of Trump, Mueller, Congress or the world? But I do think the Romney op-ed confirms what we’ve seen hints of over the last two months: Trump’s dominance over the GOP, pretty complete until now, can no longer be taken for granted.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 2, 2019
The 2020 Republican Primary originally looked like it would be a sleepy affair. Neither John Kasich nor Jeff Flake would be likely to mount an effective challenge to Trump, but Romney just might give the president a real challenge. While Romney did lose the 2012 election, Obama actually had fewer votes for his re-election than his 2008 victory. The 2012 nominee had to face the first black president, an incumbent. Trump defeated a deeply divisive and unpopular Democratic nominee. Trump won and Romney lost, but that does not necessarily mean Romney is a bad candidate.
That said, the president would be extremely likely to prevail, barring some massive catastrophe.
Furthermore, Romney has gone to Trump multiple times, asking for an endorsement. One New Year’s Day op-ed does not erase this history.
2012: Seeks @realDonaldTrump's endorsement, gets it.
2016 (Mar.): Trashes Trump.
2016 (Nov.): Crawls to Trump, asks to be Sec'y of State.
2018: Seeks Trump's backing for Senate, gets it.
2019: Trashes Trump in @washingtonpost.https://t.co/dHrizhUvLz
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) January 2, 2019
It is impossible to predict the future, and Trump’s presidency could fall on hard times. But even if something goes horribly wrong and then Romney beats Trump in the 2020 primary, that might make a Democrat more likely to win. Trump’s advice to “be a TEAM player & WIN” could turn out quite prophetic.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.