Yet another five-alarm scandal is threatening to incinerate the Trump presidency. This time, there’s no waiting for a special counsel report: The details of the whistleblower scandal(s)—in case you missed it, there is now a second whistleblower on the Ukraine matter, one apparently with firsthand knowledge—are appearing in news reports dropping virtually by the hour. The president’s undeniably unpresidential conduct is being confirmed in broad daylight, even by the president himself:
Left unsettled is what to name the scandal. Surely, we can do better than “Ukrainegate.” How about Barr a Lago? Moron-Contra? Quid Pro D’oh? Ukrainium One? High Crimea and Misdemeanors?
Meanwhile, as the president careens from one side of the impeachment bumper-car enclosure to the other, what were once barely audible calls for members of the Republican party to do something, anything, to rein in their increasingly irrational and unstable leader have grown noticeably louder. And unlike in the past, now the calls are coming not from critical Republicans-in-exile, but rather, from inside the house . . . er . . . Senate.
Enter Willard Mitt Romney.
I know what you’re thinking. Romney is the picture-insert when you look up milquetoast in the dictionary. His word salads deserve their own show on the Food Network. He’s taken squishy positions on abortion, climate change, and gun control, and he’s repeatedly demurred when given an opportunity to publicly oppose Trump’s most offensive policies. Time and again, the former Massachusetts governor, 2012 presidential candidate, and current junior senator from Utah has failed to demonstrate even a modicum of political courage. In 2012, Newsweek openly called him a wimp on its cover. And, of course, his grimacing visage has been immortalized as a meme for his failed effort to be President Trump’s secretary of state.
But what if—hear me out—Mitt Romney is the only person in America who is capable of saving the Republican party from itself, and in the process, saving the world from the current occupant of the Oval Office?
Lest we forget, Romney is a former Bain Capital man, and if there is one thing private equity knows, it’s how to read the numbers—and the writing on the wall.
Sure, the drumbeat for impeachment—a recent average of polls show that 51 percent of Americans now support an impeachment inquiry—has thus far fallen mostly on deaf or hypocritical Republican ears. And serious-minded observers concluded long ago that Republicans in Congress are too beholden to the extremist voices in their party to confront the president. The political risk is too great; the job security too fleeting; the sweet proximity to power too addictive.
That is certainly the case in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, where there remains no upside for Republicans in coming out against the president. GOP House members essentially face two options. They can adopt the stance of Mark Meadows, Devin Nunes, and Jim Jordan, a particularly galling form of rhetorical disingenuity that involves contorting oneself into a human pretzel. Or they can avoid the media, the town halls in their home districts, and, probably, themselves in the mirror. It’s a political Sophie’s choice.
Meanwhile, Republicans maintain control of the Senate, but Congress’s upper chamber may as well be an anechoic one, given the extreme scarcity of on-the-record comments from its GOP legislators. Has anyone seen much of Susan Collins since Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry? Surely, wherever the politically vulnerable Senator from Maine is, she’s very concerned. Marco Rubio, once the party’s golden child, spoke out on the scandal, and, quite predictably, it did not go well.
Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson decided to hold Rubio’s beer in an ill-advised attempt to do damage control for the president on Sunday morning with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. It, too, did not go well.
And then there is Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator seems to have walked away from—without ever explicitly repudiating—many of the principles and people he once seemed to hold dear. Today’s crop of garden-variety Republicans will be reduced to a footnote when historians write about the Trump era, but the Chernobyl-level damage the South Carolina Senator has done to his reputation will be dissected in political science classes for decades.
How Romney Can Lead
Senatorial disappearing acts and bumbling statements aside, the stubborn fact remains that if President Trump is impeached in the House by the Democratic majority, it will still take at least 20 Republican senators to vote to convict the president for him to be removed from office.
Which brings us back to Mitt Romney. He is uniquely positioned to turn the crank that could open the removal floodgates: Romney is not up for reelection until 2024, and even if his political standing in Utah were in jeopardy, he is not a man who needs his political career in order to maintain his reputation or fortune.
Yes, Romney’s criticism of President Trump has, until the Ukraine scandal broke, been pretty tepid. And yes, there’s that whole secretary of state flirtation episode. But unlike many of his fellow Republican officeholders, Romney has never gone out of his way to make excuses for Trump’s actions or his character. He was an early outspoken critic of candidate Trump, in a speech so prominent that it has been given its own Wikipedia entry. This past January, shortly before Romney was sworn in as a senator, he wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying again that Trump’s poor character fell short of what we should expect from a president.
There is something very striking about President Trump’s insecurity when it comes to Romney, as witness his outbursts in response to Romney’s recent criticism:
The opportunity afforded to Romney by Trump here is enormous. The first Republican officeholder of consequence (sorry, Justin Amash) who backs Trump’s impeachment and removal will have a chance to become one of the most pivotal figures in American history. Romney could lead some of his Senate colleagues to join him in calling for removal. For other senators, he could provide much-needed cover.
Until someone with gravitas in the GOP sticks his or her head out of the foxhole, Republican elected officials will feel themselves trapped. Right now, their only options are to support President Trump or to support an impeachment inquiry controlled exclusively by Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats. By coming out strongly in favor of the impeachment inquiry, and perhaps also the removal of the president, Romney could give the members of his party a third choice: They could stand with the Constitution and they could protect the prerogatives of Congress.
Romney could also give them a chance to safeguard their own party’s future. A reconstituted, post-Trump GOP is going to need a strong, uncompromised leader to guide the party back from the political wilderness it will likely find itself in.
And beyond the ways he can lead his fellow officeholders, Mitt Romney can lead the country. Regardless of his political views and his reputation among conservatives for fecklessness, millions of Republican voters—and millions of people outside the Republican party—think of Mitt Romney as accomplished, fair-minded, reasonable, and honest. He is considered a man of integrity. Some people might even call him wise. (Remember, it was Romney who was widely mocked for describing Russia as America’s most significant geopolitical adversary way back in 2012.) It might be going too far to call Mitt Romney a unifying figure, but he is certainly a less divisive leader at the national level than nearly anyone else at the highest ranks of either party.
In fact, Romney may already be putting the wheels in motion, as a new report suggests he’s working the cloak room to discuss removal with his “open-minded” Republican colleagues.
Not everything can be saved when a consultant takes over, but the longer you put off the inevitable, the more painful the slash-and-burn and less likely the turnaround.
Senator, be the consultant your party and your country need.