Mitt Romney’s missed opportunity

It’s hard to oppose your own party’s presumptive nominee, even one as demagogic and ill-prepared as Donald Trump. So Mitt Romney deserves great credit for his principled stand against the man who is now the face of the GOP. I can certainly understand why Romney is appalled by Trump. Whatever one believes about Romney’s ideology, he has led an exemplary personal life, been a widely-respected public manager, and a successful private business leader. Trump is almost the photographic negative of Romney in at least two of these three departments. The Clinton camp is hammering this theme, adding a new twist on President Obama’s 2012  pitch: Trump is an uncaring plutocrat like Romney, only Trump is also bad at his job.

Still, Romney and other Republican luminaries must understand that they could have spared America much grief had they acted sooner with greater principle. Instead, last time they had the chance, they openly courted Trump when he could benefit them politically. In 2012 — a full year after Trump sent private investigators to Hawaii in search of President Obama’s birth certificate — Romney sought and won Trump’s endorsement.

More here, from me, in my first piece for the New York Daily News.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

18 thoughts on “Mitt Romney’s missed opportunity”

  1. In other news today, Hillary has blown yet another golden opportunity to confess being a felon, and throw the nomination open to someone who isn't under criminal investigation by the FBI. Gary Johnson neglected an opportunity to admit that free markets suck. And Jill Stein skipped her most recent chance to embrace the burning of low grade lignite.

    Don't you think this whole, 'partisan misses an opportunity to embrace his opponents' views' genre is kind of silly?

    1. Except that this is a case of, "Partisan misses an opportunity to embrace his own views."

      1. Oh, come on. Harold's scenario has Romney praising Obama, agreeing with Democrats that the Republican party is bad on race, rather than disagreeing with Democrats in a principled way about what constitutes being good on race.

        He pictures Romney, in other words, agreeing with the Democratic party's take on the Republican party. Embracing the other side's views.

        Now, it's quite possible that Romney privately really does think that way. Likely, even. It's still the Democratic party's take on the topic, not the Republican party's, that Harold has Romney embracing.

        But why was there an opening for Trump? Why, precisely because the Republican base thinks their 'leaders' are privately in agreement with the Democrats. On a long list of issues. And deliberately being ineffective in fighting for the Republican viewpoint because of it.

        So you think Romney and the other establishment leaders could have headed Trump off by confirming this suspicion? Seriously? Maybe Bush could have sealed Trump's fate by being interviewed in Spanish on Univision, and come out in favor of citizenship for all illegal aliens?

        No, sorry. "Partisan comes out and agrees with the opposition." is a lame genre, and it's the last way they could have stopped Trump.

        1. You really didn't understand Harold's piece at all, did you? He didn't claim that Romney should say any of that now; he said that, given what he has said about Trump recently, he should have spurned him four years ago.

          1. I quite understand that. And I'm saying that, if he had, it would have made Trump stronger, not weaker, because it would have amplified the dynamic that gave Trump his primary victories.

            The reason there was an opening for Trump, is that the Republican base are convinced that their leaders don't actually represent them in good faith. That their leaders privately agree with the Democrats on a bunch of issues, are insincere in their appeals to Republicans, and deliberately taking dives in the fights over them. So along comes Trump, willing to say what the base believes, not knuckling under when Democrats demand he shut up, and the base, perhaps foolishly, thinks they've finally got somebody who's willing to represent them and fight for their views.

            If Romney had done as Harold proposes, it would have pried that opening wider, given Trump even more room.

            If the Republican establishment had wanted to foreclose any chance Trump had, they'd have to have done the exact opposite of what Harold proposes. Romney would have gone before the NAACP, and started a riot by calling them out as a pack of racists who are demanding official government discrimination. Bush would have gone on Univision, and in English said, "Illegal aliens are criminals. The only thing we owe them is a buss ride home, and a bill for the ride."

            They wouldn't have confirmed the base's suspicions by agreeing with Democrats, they'd have relieved them by disagreeing!

          2. the Republican base thinks their 'leaders' are privately in agreement with the Democrats.

            If these suspicions are true, I am actually a bit encouraged. I mean, if GOP leaders really do understand that climate change is a real threat, not a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese, that high-end tax cuts do not cure all economic problems while paying for themselves, that deporting 11 million people is neither rational, nor humane, nor possible without massive rights invasions, etc. there is some hope yet.

            Now if they will just show some courage and explain that to their followers. Too much to hope for?

          3. Absolutely too much.

            Look, there's already a Democratic party. There's no room in the political marketplace for a second Democratic party, it already monopolizes the market for being a Democratic party.

            That means that if you want to run a half-way successful party, and you don't have the good fortune to be running the Democratic party, you have to run a party that disagrees with the Democratic party. Even if you personally don't disagree with them. Because you need to appeal to the part of the political market that isn't already served by the Democratic party.

            The people running the Republican party are obliged to pretend to be conservative Republicans, even if they aren't.

            They had it much easier back when they were sort of a permanent minority in Congress. They could be seen "fighting the good fight", and in losing get the policy they actually wanted, and their losing wouldn't be blamed on them. Because as a minority, how could they win?

            Then the dog caught the car, so to speak, and the Republican party ended up the majority in Congress. And they tried to pull the usual con job, fighting the good fight and losing. Only, as the majority, when you lose people notice that you took a dive. The game was up, the base understood what had been going on.

            Ever since the party base has been fighting a war with the establishment, trying to replace them with people who actually agree with the base. While the establishment has been fighting to keep the base out of control, and co-opt any actual conservatives who get elected.

            But they're not going to openly break with the base. Without the base they're nothing at all. The base is all they've got, no matter how much they despise it.

            I should point out that this analysis has to do with the federal Republican party. The state Republican parties don't always show the same dynamic.

          4. At some point, they'll need to come to grips with the fact that their base is shrinking and never breaking from it will leave them once again in a permanent minority. Which, the way you tell it, would make them happy, so I guess it's all good.

          5. I think that's a remarkably unsophisticated understanding of first past the post political systems, but ignore that for the moment.

            If the Republican party's base is shrinking relative to the Democratic party, it's shrinking. That doesn't mean that alienating their base becomes a good strategy, it just means there is no good strategy. Just because your car is losing a race is no reason to park it and walk, instead.

            But, consider an alternative: Coke is battling Pepsi for market dominance. Somehow Coke ends up run by people who actually prefer Pepsi. Is this likely to help Coke's fight for market dominance? No, of course not, "new Coke" was a disaster, the people who would have liked it already drank Pepsi, and it alienated Coke drinkers.

            A Republican party run by people who'd rather be Democrats isn't good for the Republican party, because they'll do a lousy job of being Republicans. They do a lousy job of appealing to people who would be Republicans if Republicanism were being represented by people who actually believed in it.

            It's hard to sell a product you don't like. It's quite possible the Republican party would do better under leadership that didn't agree with the Democrats, because they'd do a better job of selling positions they actually agreed with.

            Anyway, my point was just that Harold's advise for suppressing Trump was exactly backwards.

          6. I find it amusing that you diagnose the problem as the Republican elites saying things that they don't believe and so losing the trust of their base, and your solution is for Mitt Romney to say things that he doesn't believe.

          7. He's been saying all along things that he doesn't believe. Harold's prescription would end the distrust, yes.

            It would replace distrust with the certainty that Romney was their enemy.

            While I think the Republican elite SHOULD say what they really think, I'm explaining that there's a reason they won't: It would inevitably result in their losing control of the party.

            Understand that: Trump exploited the fact that the Republican base believe that their so-called leaders are actually their enemies, and stringing them along. Proving this belief correct would not have stopped Trump.

          8. That means that if you want to run a half-way successful party, and you don't have the good fortune to be running the Democratic party, you have to run a party that disagrees with the Democratic party.

            This isn't news. We lefties like to snark that "Republicans are against whatever liberals are for, updated daily." Forming principles is hard, after all. So much easier to simply decide who you hate, then invert whatever they're saying.

          9. Nah, you're confusing two distinct things.

            Republicans, the voters who happen to be represented by the Republican party, have their own reasons for disagreeing with Democrats, it's not just to be contrary.

            But the Republican party, institutionally, must represent voters who disagree with the Democratic party, the institution, for reasons that exist on a different level of logic: It has to represent people who disagree with the Democratic party, because the Democratic party already represents the people who agree with it.

            It's like Coke vs Pepsi, at that level: You might have your reasons for liking Coke, I might have my reasons for liking Pepsi, but the reason Pepsi sells Pepsi, not Coke, has nothing to do with our reasons for our preferences. They sell Pepsi instead of Coke because Coke has already tied up the market for Coke!

          10. I think you are conflating policy approaches with empirical fact.

            Building a party around denying reality doesn't look like a sound strategy. Even if it wins some elections, fantasy-based policy figures to fail after a while.

            To me, what the Republican Party needs to be doing is generating sensible alternative policies for dealing with real problems, and challenging Democratic proposals when they overreach.

            This isn't that hard. Fierce denials notwithstanding, Obamacare started life as a conservative idea, So did cap-and-trade pollution regulation. The notion that the primary tool of economic management should be monetary policy, with fiscal policy only used when monetary policy reached its limits, is Friedmanesque.

            But if you start with the idea that, if Democrats say it gets dark at night you have to deny it, then you are not going to have much sensible to say about streetlights.

          11. I think you're conflating policy approaches with empirical fact, too. The idea that we're talking "it gets dark at night" levels of confidence, that's insane. That's just an excuse to treat people who disagree with you as madmen.

          12. But you don't need "it gets dark at night" levels of confidence to be concerned about something. Suppose it's 90%? Not good enough? And counter-arguments matter. You want to be skeptical about climate change? OK. Don't try to claim it's a hoax concocted by the Chinese, or by a secret cabal of grant-grubbing scientists. That kind of claim, by Trump and Cruz respectively, discredit the argument from the beginning.

            The GOP has basically taken the position that nothing is good enough. Further, you ignore my suggestion that they offer sensible ideas, rather than the kind of nonsensical suggestions cloaked in seriousness that Paul Ryan, for example, is so good at generating.

            Look Brett, you're right. I think the Republican Party is institutionally insane. I think the evidence is clear. Nominating Trump – with Cruz the runner-up – seals the case.

  2. Actually Romney was his usual weasel self in that 2012 campaign, and referenced the birther lies when he said, on the stump in Detroit, that "everyone knew where he was born." Good for him for refusing to go the further step of endorsing Trump, but the GOP made Trump the candidate, and on the basis of what Trump has embraced. Trump exposes the GOP. Romney would rather not be exposed.

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