All this time, I thought that Congress was devoid of politicians who represent the views of my fellow lonely and disenfranchised Salon conservatives. After a painful period of hopefulness I had determined that it was in fact too much to ask for a single senator who was both skeptical of the federal government behemoth and sentient enough to see that the president is a pathological liar who should not be trusted to run a down-market QVC steak brand, much less the White House.
But it turns out that this senator was right in front of me all along. Lurking. Reading my hot fire twitter takes. Sometimes you look everywhere for love and it’s right there staring you in the face.
Yes, that man is Senator Pierre Delecto. The delightful Pete. Never Trump stalwart. Conservative Globalist. The senator I’ve been dreaming for . . . but more in déguiser than reality. The Gene Parmesan of the world’s greatest deliberative body.
Delecto was willing to tweet uncomfortable truths about Brit Hume’s Trump sycophancy Senator Rubio’s timid Trump defenses, and a possible Trump impeachment. Senator Romney has been more circumspect. Sometimes channeling his inner Pierre. Other times, not so much.
But over the recent weeks and months, as the Twitter activity of Romney’s nom de guerre began to spike, so did the anti-Trump passions of the senator himself.
A pair of interviews this week with the Atlantic and Axios, showed Mitt emerging from the wings like a modern-day Clubber Lang ready to take on a flabby and fading Trump. He called out the president on his racial demagoguery, the Stormy Daniels payment, abandonment of the Kurds, his generally low character, and most critically for his invitations and demands for foreign interference in our elections.
It is in this fresh (refreshed?) eagerness to speak truth about the Trump administration, that one Delecto tweet caught my eye. In it, Romney replied to a tweet by my former boss, and John Kasich strategist John Weaver. Weaver wrote, “Trump has betrayed our allies in Syria, at the behest of Russia and Turkey. Innocent children, women and men will be killed. ISIS will have the opportunity to reconstitute and America won’t be trusted again. Congrats GOP Senate. Well done.”
Romney . . . err Delecto . . . replied “John, agree on Trump’s awful decision, but what could the Senate do to stop it?”
And there my friends is the crux of the matter. What could Delecto do?
This rhetorical question is one I get frequently from Republicans who are not fond of President Trump but have resigned themselves to doing nothing much about it. Their basic premise is something along the lines of: he got elected, we still need to get work done, there’s no sense undermining that work with criticism unless it’s outrageously bad, and wouldn’t you rather have me in there than [insert insane MAGA foil].
The problem with this litany is that Trump’s constant flouting of laws, norms, and basic human decency makes essentially every day “outrageously bad.” So members can’t justify ever speaking out because it becomes hard to draw the line between everyday outrageous and ARE YOU FORKING KIDDING ME? OUTRAGEOUS. So saying and doing nothing becomes the default.
It is here where the existing Senator Romney deserves credit for being admirably vocal. But even he has been forced into a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don’t box.
So let’s take Delecto’s rhetorical question at face value: What more could someone like Romney do, really?
Dispensing with the obvious, the first item is supporting the impeachment of the president, without caveat. The impeachable acts have happened in plain sight. And allowing this president to be “cleared” in a party line vote would be a stain on the country and set a clear precedent for future, more competently authoritarian presidents who are keen to illegally meddle in their reelection. If Romney stands alone, again, on this vote, it will be one of historic importance. If he can recruit additional votes, even more so.
The next item is the one that would cause some political pain for most members with the possible exception of Romney: holding up the business of the Senate. It tends to be taken as gospel on the right that the orgy of judicial appointments is an uncategorical victory for the good guys that should not be impeded in any way.
Trump’s apologists mean this as an excuse for his behavior, but that sounds to me a lot like “leverage.” You want to rein in Trump’s ability to cause foreign policy damage? Why not take a stand to place a hold on key nominees until there is an agreement to reassert Article 1, section 8, powers over trade, or troop deployments, or other executive power issues?
Would McConnell eventually run roughshod over a senator working the system to hold up key nominations? Probably. But why not at least make it hard on him? Force the “constitutionalists” in the Republican caucus to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to Trumpism and rebalancing powers away from the executive. There’s no reason to be certain that this wouldn’t work, particularly if it is on an issue with broad support.
The final option is the nuclear delectable.
Now before I try to sell you on this, I’m going to put a disclaimer right up top: I have spent years teasing centrist pundits who wrote fanciful no labels beltway porn-wishcasting hopeless Colin Powell/Joe Lieberman unity tickets into existence via the Innovation Party. So when you inevitably roll your eyes at the next paragraph, I want you to know that I hear you.
But the more I’ve pondered the upsides—and knowing that Pierre Delecto himself might see this—the more I’m convinced that it’s worth putting this idea out into the universe.
Willard Pierre “Mitt” Romney could start a third party.
Now come the next batch of disclaimers:
I am not arguing that this third party would have Electoral College viability in 2020—or probably ever, barring a series of implausible and at this time unforeseen events. But I do think that a Romney-led third party would achieve important ends that most pitches I hear about disrupting the political process do not.
First and foremost, it is electorally viable on a small scale. Mitt himself, thanks to his profile and the unique nature of the electorate in Utah, could survive without succumbing to the partisan poles that most politicians are slaves to. Secondly there are some obvious candidates for existing politicians who could join him to create a real organization. Moderate Republican governors Charlie Baker and Phil Scott from his erstwhile home in New England. Other anti-Trump electeds in Utah. Other Republicans in blue states or Democrats in red states who might need to shed their toxic party brand to survive. And most importantly a few fellow senators who might be interested in making a similar calculation: Namely Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin.
With Murkowski and Manchin by his side, Mitt could go from frustrated senator in a political straight jacket to taking control of a minority caucus that breaks up the two-party oligopoly right at the moment when it has reached its most destructive and pernicious heights.
Because this small group of senators could control who held the gavel. The Lurking Francophile Party (a provisional name, this isn’t etched in granite) could take Mitt from being just the junior Utah Senator, to the political kingmaker who determines the rules of the Senate and possibly who has control of it altogether.
Allow me this hypothetical:
A compilation of the top Senate projections for 2020 give the Republicans 50 seats, the Democrats 46, and have 4 rated as true toss-ups (Maine, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina). If the Romney caucus defected, that would take the Republicans to 48 and the Democrats to 45. So for Mitch McConnell to remain as majority leader, the Republicans would need to win two of those four states and the presidency—or three of those states while losing the presidency. For Schumer to take the gavel the Democrats would need to sweep all four states, pick up an additional seat somewhere like Georgia, and win the White House.
That leaves a not insignificant statistical window where the Romney/Murkowski/Manchin caucus could have the power to negotiate over who is majority leader, make real changes to how the Senate operates and the floor agenda, and have an absolutely critical oversight role should the grim prospect of an unbound Donald Trump serving a second term come to life. That seems much more interesting to me than furtively liking George Conway tweets.
Regardless of the approach Senator Romney chooses, the point is that there are more options on the board than you think.
None of them are easy. But there are possibilities. And the weaker Trump gets, the more beset by scandal, the more shackled by his own web of lies, the more viable every aggressive action becomes.
Let the Delecto dog out, Mitt. He will be your guide.