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The last Republican
Slightly more than 10 years ago more than 59 million Americans cast votes to make Governor Mitt Romney president of the United States. Yesterday, he ended his political career and denounced the political party that gave him its nomination as utterly corrupted and the eye of an authoritarian threat that continues to bare down on American democracy.
Romney has apparently given open-ended access to one of the very best writers and journalists covering American politics McKay Coppins, who has written “Romney, A Reckoning,” scheduled to be published next month. There is a long excerpt from the book in The Atlantic.
The story and Romney’s observations from six years within the Republican conference aren’t necessarily surprising, but they are incredible. What Coppins and Romney both share is a finely-tuned eye for absurdities, and in Romney’s case, the prolific diarist put it all down in a journal. The book will be something very special, in parts searing, poignant, troubling and deeply alarming. I can’t wait to read it.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in my life trying to get inside of Mitt Romney’s head, trying to figure out what makes him tick. That’s what you do when you are running a political campaign against someone — and specifically, in the case of John McCain, who had fallen to last place when he called me to help him after his campaign imploded, Romney was his chief competitor. He was the target, the person we had to knock out in New Hampshire and take down in the early primary states. Along the way and through the years, I came to deeply admire Romney for his intelligence, stamina, decency and character. He may never be president, but Mitt Romney’s public service has been honorable in a time of tremendous dishonor.
Mitt Romney is something extremely rare in public life. He is exactly who he appears to be, an honorable man, imperfect like us all, who has done his best. In moments of great consequence he did not bend, break or wilt. He is every bit the peer of his father Governor George Romney. Both men kept the faith.
Senator Romney said something shocking even though it is self-evident at this point. The Republican Party has lost faith. They have lost faith in our way of life and abandoned it. They have turned hostile to the US Constitution. Let this linger for a moment — something that he said to Coppin:
A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.
Of course, it is true, and so is this observation, captured in the book:
Shortly after moving into his Senate office, Romney had hung a large rectangular map on the wall. First printed in 1931 by Rand McNally, the “histomap” attempted to chart the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful civilizations through 4,000 years of human history. When Romney first acquired the map, he saw it as a curiosity. After January 6, he became obsessed with it. He showed the map to visitors, brought it up in conversations and speeches. More than once, he found himself staring at it alone in his office at night. The Egyptian empire had reigned for some 900 years before it was overtaken by the Assyrians. Then the Persians, the Romans, the Mongolians, the Turks—each civilization had its turn, and eventually collapsed in on itself. Maybe the falls were inevitable. But what struck Romney most about the map was how thoroughly it was dominated by tyrants of some kind—pharaohs, emperors, kaisers, kings. “A man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others,” he said the first time he showed me the map. “It’s a testosterone-related phenomenon, perhaps. I don’t know. But in the history of the world, that’s what happens.” America’s experiment in self-rule “is fighting against human nature.”
It is clear that he is also trying to fully understand the malevolence coursing through a party he led 10 years ago. He has no naïveté about it whatsoever, but remains astonished nonetheless. I tried to write about this subject the other day, providing my explanation for America’s original cancer, and how it manifests itself politically:
Romney’s recollections paint a dire picture of a broken institution in which the concepts of duty and service don’t exist. Some of his stories aren’t surprising, but still leave your jaw hanging open as you read what you knew to be true, confirmed by a witness you can trust. The anecdotes pile on top of one another from his first encounter in the US Senate with a colleague:
There are about 20 senators here who do all the work, and there are about 80 who go along for the ride.
And his written warnings to the soulless Mitch McConnell who turns out to be exactly who I thought he was. Case in point:
Romney sends his text: “In case you have not heard this, I just got a call from Angus King, who said that he had spoken with a senior official at the Pentagon who reports that they are seeing very disturbing social media traffic regarding the protests planned on the 6th. There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol. I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.”
McConnell never responds.
Truly, he is the man who broke the US Senate, which Romney hilariously depicts as a geriatric social club where senators slow shuffle in the senate gym on treadmills in suit pants, glacially spin on exercise bikes, linger at the barber shop, access free health care and engage in conspiracy theories.
Of course, nothing there is on the level. Consider this scene from a Republican Senate gathering when Trump came to visit. Remember, these are OUR Republican senators.
One afternoon in March 2019, Trump paid a visit to the Senate Republicans’ weekly caucus lunch. He was in a buoyant mood—two days earlier, the Justice Department had announced that the much-anticipated report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller failed to establish collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. As Romney later wrote in his journal, the president was met with a standing ovation fit for a conquering hero, and then launched into some rambling remarks. He talked about the so-called Russia hoax and relitigated the recent midterm elections and swung wildly from one tangent to another. He declared, somewhat implausibly, that the GOP would soon become “the party of health care.” The senators were respectful and attentive.
As soon as Trump left, Romney recalled, the Republican caucus burst into laughter.
Over and over again, for many many years the whole of the Republican Party would say one thing in private about Trump and another thing in public. It became commonplace on TV sets, green rooms, Senate cloak rooms and everywhere politicians, consultants, activists and media gathered. When the camera lights went on, Trump became their forever führer. The second that they turned off, he became a con man and a fraud again. The cowardice and lack of principle are incandescent.
The defining issue at this moment in American history is the obliteration of trust and belief between the American people and nearly every single institution in the country. This dynamic fuels populist demagoguery because the world in which everyone is a liar, fraud and deeply corrupt gives rise to men like Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They thrive in an environment in which truth is undiscoverable in demagogic darkness.
Consider the truly incredible comments by Joe Scarborough admitting the discussion about politics taking place when the camera is on is wholly different than the one that takes place when the camera is off. There is a small club in which reality is discussed — and the American people aren’t in it. Instead they get the BS sandwich, and they see right through it. They don’t think what they are watching is performative nonsense. They know it is because it is. It is a terrible, cancerous, banal, reality show with tedious characters, deranged values and deep enmity towards America. This is why the American people hate the media, and view it as a political actor. The crisis in journalism fuels the political crisis, which fuels America’s crisis, which endangers our children’s future.
Mitt Romney is a man of stature, integrity and judgement. He easily meets this test I have written about before that was laid out in one of the greatest speeches in American history. It was delivered before the Massachusetts legislature by John Kennedy in early 1961, en route to Washington for his inauguration.
And now Romney is walking away because he has seen enough, had enough and doesn’t want to spend his golden years squeezed between Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, JD Vance and Josh Hawley, to name a few. Everywhere he looks he sees a despicable person vandalizing his country, our country. Mitt Romney has received no life sentence that I am aware of that yokes him until death to some of America’s most despicable people.
It isn’t Mitt Romney’s duty to sit there helplessly in a cramped room with demagogues. It is our duty to vote them out. When we do maybe the quality of character will improve in the MAGA/GOP. Until then don’t expect to see honorable people with an “R” next to their name serving in the US Senate. It is a nest of sedition, cowardice and malice.
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