Or, in the case of Trump, apparently both.
Romney on Wednesday became the first senator in American history to vote to convict a president from his own party in an impeachment trial. There haven’t been a lot of similar trials, of course, but Romney’s vote was still remarkable. And, to Trump, remarkably frustrating: After months of dismissing the impeachment as a partisan attack, the final vote in the Senate included Democrats, independents and one Republican finding him at fault.
Trump responded on Twitter, as one might expect.
Again, it is the case that Romney was a failed presidential candidate. But it is not the case that Trump’s performance in 2016 was better across-the-board than was Romney’s four years prior.
Consider the support each earned in every state. Romney actually got a higher percentage of the vote in 24 states and in the District than did Trump. Trump earned a higher percentage of the vote in 25; the two earned the same level of support in Arkansas.
Looking at that chart, you see one reason Romney was willing to buck Trump. The state he represents, Utah, was much more supportive of Romney in 2012 than Trump in 2016, a function of its affection for the former and skepticism of the latter. Those views still largely hold.
What’s important, of course, are the six states highlighted in orange, the ones that Trump flipped. In five, Trump outperformed Romney by an average of 2.9 points. That was enough to tip the critical states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin into Trump’s column on Election Day and hand him the presidency.
In the sixth state, Florida, Trump actually flipped the state while earning a lower percentage of the vote than had Romney.
Why? Well, one can’t talk about how Trump and Romney fared without talking about the candidates they ran against.
While Trump and Romney each did better in about half of the states, the difference was much more lopsided for the Democrats against whom they ran. Barack Obama outperformed Hillary Clinton’s share of the vote in 46 states, plus the District.
Clinton had lower levels of support from Obama in part because millions of 2012 Obama voters didn’t turn out and in part because there were stronger third-party candidates. Both of those factors to some extent derive from her candidacy itself. She was viewed less favorably than Obama, which may have reduced turnout or prompted people to look to third-party candidates. Or to look to Trump.
The point is, though, that Trump is criticizing Romney for not winning the presidency against a stronger Democratic candidate — even as Romney earned more of the vote in about half the country. He, too, benefited in that comparison from the third-party candidates and, relatedly, from Trump’s unpopularity. But that’s the point: Romney wasn’t as bad a candidate as Trump likes to present.
To Trump, Romney will always be a loser, a sentiment amplified by Romney’s occasional public opposition to Trump’s presidency. Part of that sentiment, too, stems from Trump’s having stuck out his neck for Romney eight years ago, only to see the Republican nominee come up short.
On a state-by-state basis, though, the two didn’t fare much differently.