Willard Mitt Romney is throwing in the righteous sackcloth. After serving a grand total of one term in the world’s greatest deliberative body, Mitt’s calling it quits. His reasoning, if you can believe it, is self-sacrificial: “At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-80s. Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders.”
Hear that, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Dianne Feinstein, and Mitch McConnell? Since the goody-goody from the Beehive State is willing to hang up his public-servant badge and embrace his dotage, the rest of you should follow suit. Aren’t you eager to hand your country over to such juvenile luminaries as tankie airhead AOC and family-values-fondlin’ Lauren Boebert?
Romney’s concern about the legitimacy of gerontocracy will be duly noted in the stately halls of the Capitol where lawmakers only leave for one of two reasons: cash or coffin. Then it will be unceremoniously ignored. Mr. Vulture Capitalist does not want for moola. Nor does his Mormony straight-edge, no drugs, no liquor, no fun, lifestyle leave him a likely victim of chronic senior infirmities—unless all that aspartame is catching up to him.
If clean-cut Mitt is not about to become VP at Boeing, or isn’t due for mushy hospice diet for another decade, why is he folding after one term, with no actual accomplishments or lasting legislative legacy? How is the man whom the New York Times called a “statesman-patrician” saying so-long to the whole Washington scene? Isn’t grasping onto office with a cold-iron grip what farseeing elders of state do? What kind of model is he setting for his gazillion grandkids?
“It is impossible to know somebody ‘inside out,’” Stalin once wrote. (While still finding it possible to turn millions of somebodies inside out.) I can’t relay with perfect accuracy what’s going on in Romney’s perfectly coiffed head. But his actions portray a man who aspired to float above the political ruck, only to be consumed by it.
In a toadying exemplum of DC dishing, Romney took a few parting shots at his party in the pages of The Atlantic—the quintessential Washington salon mag. Romney, whose long adopted the have-your-daughter-home-by-ten-sharp persona, took a brazen shot at Ohio’s populist senator. “I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than JD Vance,” he gossed to tabloidist McKay Coppins. Why? Because Vance seemingly sunk from “bright and thoughtful” to growingly MAGA. “It’s not like you’re going to be famous and powerful because you became a United States senator. It’s like, really? You sell yourself so cheap?” Romney vented.
Set aside the punching-down image—the wealthy scion of a political family superciliously flicking a man who grew up with a drug-addicted serially single mom, shuttled between houses, who was largely raised by his grandmother. Class contempt always dies hard.
Vance’s flirtation with MAGA’s more seemly elements isn’t a great look. But even he’s gotten ample praise from the press on his willingness to horseshoe on practical issues. There are plenty of MAGA mouth-breathers in Congress to pick on—and rightfully so! Romney instead singles out a senator who marries Trumpism with bridge-building, the kind of coalition convening a statesman is supposed to do.
The gutter sniping has an ironic garnish given Romney’s backstabbing of his fellow Utahn senator Mike Lee, whom he refused to endorse over an independent challenge from grifter Evan McMullin. Bang up job being above spiteful politics, Mitt!
Therein lies the gutter truth: Mitt Romney failed to rise above man’s natural proclivity to spite his enemies. He went to Washington as Mr. Smith, but leaves a pitiful Frank Underwood. The downfall isn’t just present in gratuitous potshots issued on his way out the District door. Romney voted to confirm hyper progressive, affirmative-action Supreme Court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson after giving her the thumbs down to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which everyone remotely involved in politics knows is a SCOTUS grooming ground. The reason given for the flip? A “change of mind,” which is Washington-speak for truckling tight to the respectable consensus. Romney’s twin votes to affirm Donald Trump’s impeachments, one in which he was the only Republican defector, belied a desperate need to suck up to the Beltway.
The Wonder Bread white senator even joined a Black Lives Matter march on Pennsylvania Avenue weeks after George Floyd’s death, tweeting a selfie of himself, N95 firmly muzzling his air holes, like an insecure high school girl vying for Prom Queen. BLM was always a neo-Marxist grift outfit, but Twitter clout came first for Senator Straightlace.
The dilemma in Romney’s desperate virtue signaling is the dilemma at the core of all virtue signaling: it means nothing because it’s hollow theatrics. Nobody in the Georgetown set was fooled by Romney’s simulacrum of sincerity. A decade ago, the former Massachusetts governor was slimed as a misogynistic slaver who wanted to feast on the organs of the poor. A few mean words about his Hitleresque successor, and some votes to boot him from office, were never going to flip moods on the once-Republican standard bearer.
No doubt Romney leaves Congress angry and resentful over the MAGA takeover of his buttoned-up, c-suite party. And a telepath isn’t needed to know whom he blames for turning the staid elephant’s trunk into a truculent lash.
But Trump isn’t at fault for the GOP’s transmogrification into the “own the libs” club. Voters—the surly, never-satisfied masses—determine a party’s posture. After years of humiliation, Republican voters have acquired a taste for a barreling bruiser, not a Burkean.
Politics ain’t beanbag, as they say. Nor is it white-knighting. Elections are populiarity contests. And Mitt Romney can’t accept the newly degraded dispensation. So he’s U-Hauling it back to Utah, still unwilling to admit he’s every bit as bitter, callow, and vengeful as the town he’s forsaking.