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Trump Is the Rosetta Stone for Understanding Mitt Romney

February 6, 2020
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The man in the arena. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

1. Romney

Yesterday afternoon my buddy Shay Khatiri emailed what was probably the greatest line of the entire impeachment:

“Romney should pull a Mick Foley at the 1998 Royal Rumble and primary Mike Lee as Pierre Delecto while retaining his current seat.”

As Curt Hennig would have said: Absolutely perfect.

I have to confess that I’ve been surprised by Mitt Romney’s courage over the last four years.

During his first two acts in public life, Romney was ambitious and flexible. He often gave the impression that he had few core ideas.

But in retrospect, it’s now clear that if he didn’t have core ideas, he had core values: He was, at base, a politician who cared about decency.

And it turns out that he cared about decency so deeply that he was willing to use the third act of his career to stand up for it, even if it meant burning away every last bit of his political capital.

You can criticize Romney’s decision to vote for conviction on the merits, if you want. But it doesn’t make much sense to believe that he did it because he was angling for some sort of advantage.

I am here to tell you that if you are a Republican, or a conservative, there is no advantage to be had—none, zero—in standing against Trump on anything. Not even, as Matt Gaetz discovered, single-issue votes about future executive authority.

There is now a medium-sized list of politicians who have sacrificed their careers to oppose Trump. Believe me, they’re not doing it for the bennies.

On the contrary, supporting Trump—at all times—is what the ambitious people looking for advantage do. Both inside electoral politics and Conservatism Inc. If you want to run for office or you want to sell a book or get a TV contract, being #AlwaysTrump is the quickest path.

Now, if you love Trump, you could argue that this is evidence of Trump’s rightness: All who support him prosper! And I would say that while this might perhaps be a reach as analysis, it’s pretty undeniable as fact.

So let’s at least give Romney credit for taking a stand that’s against his own self-interest.

You can think he’s right or you can think he’s wrong, but at least he’s standing on principle.

Which is something we always say we want our politicians to do. Or at least, we used to.

2. Capitalism

Every once in a while I like to drop a nugget in here pointing out why reasonable people might find our current economic system to be, at times, suboptimal.

Today’s entry comes from Richard Rushfield’s Hollywood newsletter, the Ankler. (Subscribe!) It concerns a television executive named Joe Ianniello.

Ianniello works—worked?—for CBS. Over the years he’s been the CFO and the COO. In September of 2018, he was named “acting” CEO of CBS after Les Moonves stepped down.

Last week, Ianniello was asked to stop being CEO of CBS and, per the terms of his contract, was handed $70 million in order to get him to stop adding value to the company.

So let’s do a little math: If the value to the company of Ianniello not working is $70 million, then what’s the monetary value of the work he was contributing? It would have to be more than negative-$70 million, yes?

Either that, or the new CEO will be adding even more value than all of Ianniello’s value plus $70 million. Which would be really amazing. But also I wonder what economic model was used to make this computation?

I mean, the only other possibility is that at the executive level of large corporations the salary structure is utterly untethered to either supply, or demand, or outcomes and is instead determined largely by inside-dealing and favor-trading amongst a set of people who, unlike the rest of us, are largely immune to market forces.

Seen in this way, you might think that the pinnacle of success in our current version of what passes for “the free market” actually means unlinking yourself from capitalist forces so as to enter a world that more closely resembles the corruption of third-world oligarchy.

But if you saw things in that way, then you might want to take action to reform some aspects of the system.