If Donald Trump could have asked for one person to attack him, the person whose criticism would reinforce all the arguments Trump makes for his own campaign, he could hardly have done better than Mitt Romney.
Romney’s speech today, no matter what the merits of its particulars, is a microcosm of the entire effort now underway by party insiders to find some way to get rid of Trump. Too little, too late, and offered by precisely the wrong people, it will probably produce the exact opposite of its intended effect.
If there’s one word Trump would like to be associated with himself, it’s “winner.” He’s constantly talking about how America never wins anymore, and claims: “we will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.” And the thing about Mitt Romney is that, well, he lost. So Trump tweeted:
Looks like two-time failed candidate Mitt Romney is going to be telling Republicans how to get elected. Not a good messenger!
And Trump is basically right. Republicans may still have affection for Romney, but what he represents for them more than anything else is failure, the failure to unseat Barack Obama.
Furthermore, Romney also represents the kind of white-shoe conservatives that are exactly whom Trump’s supporters are rebelling against. Nobody says “establishment” more than Mitt Romney. There’s nothing he can do about that now, but it does make him precisely the wrong spokesperson if he’s trying to persuade Trump voters to abandon their champion.
And that’s what I kept asking as I watched his speech: who is this aimed at? One couldn’t help but conclude that Romney was speaking to Republicans who already know that Trump is terrible for the Republican Party. Here’s the key passage near the end of Romney’s speech:
I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good. Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat. His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.
All true. And there may be some Republican voters who don’t support Trump at the moment for whom Romney’s speech would be persuasive. But what the party needs right now isn’t to keep more voters from rallying to Trump’s side, it’s to persuade Trump’s current voters to abandon him. If they can’t do that, judging by polls showing Trump ahead in multiple states that will be voting in the next few weeks, Trump will wind up as the nominee.
And Romney didn’t tell Trump’s voters anything they didn’t already know. They know he’s bombastic, they know he insults people, they know he advocates war crimes, they know he makes scapegoats out of foreigners and immigrants. And guess what: not only do they not care, those things are exactly why they like him. Or at worst, they’re willing to look beyond what may make them a little uncomfortable, because they think Trump is a winner and voting for him is a way to give the finger to the Republican establishment.
So while Mitt Romney’s heart may have been in the right place, he probably just did Donald Trump a favor, by reminding his supporters of why they should stick with him.