Et tu, Ronna?
It was bad enough that when President Trump named Mitt Romney’s niece the head of the Republican National Committee in late 2016, he told her to quit using the family name that had helped propel her rise to state party chairman in Michigan, where her grandfather had once been governor.
Now, the woman formerly known as Ronna Romney McDaniel has been conscripted to join the pile-on that greeted a Washington Post op-ed in which the 2012 GOP nominee and incoming Utah senator said publicly what many senior Republicans say privately about Trump.
All in all, the senator-elect’s declaration that Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office” was a pretty judiciously worded column on Romney’s part.
It is not that all of the president’s policies have been misguided. He was right to align U.S. corporate taxes with those of global competitors, to strip out excessive regulations, to crack down on China’s unfair trade practices, to reform criminal justice and to appoint conservative judges. These are policies mainstream Republicans have promoted for years. But policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.
To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.
But of course, it brought an eruption from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — along with speculation that Romney might be thinking of a 2020 primary challenge.
What was surprising was that Ronna Don’t-Call-Me-Romney McDaniel quickly jumped aboard the president’s characterization of her uncle as “a Flake,” which was some middle-school-level wordplay. Jeff Flake (R) is the outgoing Arizona senator who has been one of his party’s biggest Trump critics, though the bar for that distinction is not terribly high.
The GOP chairman not only quote tweeted Trump’s blast at her uncle, but she also accused a certain “incoming Republican freshman senator” of giving aid and comfort to the Democrats and the media.
In some ways, this is the same kind of battle — or when people are behaving themselves, the strained awkwardness — that played out at countless dinner tables throughout the country during the holiday season. Trump, the great divider, just does that to families. While blood may be thicker than water, what he demands is as sticky and hard to wash off as maple syrup.
And of course, it must be pointed out that Mitt Romney himself had managed to mute his contempt for Trump — even accepting his endorsement — until he had his new Senate seat safely in hand. As my colleague Philip Bump so aptly puts it, Romney’s criticism of Trump tends to come “at a time in his political career when he doesn’t need Trump for anything” and is always “well attuned to the political thermostat.” Bump has a great timeline of the tortuous Trump/Romney relationship here.
The War of the Romneys stands as Exhibit A of how our dysfunctional politics have strained the relationships most central in our lives. At least, that is, until we see the next blast of tweets from George Conway.