There are more than a few conservatives who have spent the opening hours of 2019 recoiling at the spectacle of Mitt Romney attacking President Trump as he prepares to take the oath of office as a United States Senator.
I thought the best way to share my reaction to his Washington Post op-ed was in the form of a stroke of columnist gimmickry which I’ve employed from time to time when I wanted to do somewhat more than join a chorus of similar diatribes: the open letter.
No writer should ever think the open letter is actually read by the intended “addressee.” It is a device for adding a flavor of directness, and I have found it is profoundly therapeutic.
So here goes:
Dear Senator Romney:
First of all, congratulations on the new title. You worked hard to earn it, and it adds to a track record of achievement that is admirable by any standard. In your campaign, you gave the people of Utah (and the rest of America) reason to believe you had evolved past your harsh remarks of March 2016, when you scolded millions of voters who had by then made Donald Trump the frontrunner.
After his first year in office, you even displayed a grace and appreciation that gave many conservatives reason to believe that if you reached the Senate, you would not join the small, bitter wing of the party that lives to derail him for whatever twisted reason.
We now know better.
How’s that op-ed working out for you as you prepare for what should be a day of unfettered goodwill? I just paid a visit to your Facebook page, where many replies to the posting of your column run from disillusionment to outright revulsion.
The question arose broadly as your unhelpful words spread: What in the world were you thinking? I am choosing not to care about that, opting instead to share what you have in fact done.
You have given millions of us who proudly voted for you in 2012 ample cause to view that chapter more darkly. We counted on you to protect us from the second term of Barack Obama. If you had directed half of your current anti-Trump aggressiveness toward him, maybe you would have won. The media and elected Democrats brutally savaged you as you fought what must have struck you as a fair, clean fight. For some reason you were not in the mood to fight back at that time. But you surely are ready for battle now—against the President of your own party who has achieved much of what we have begged leaders like you to do for decades.
Your Post piece laments global “dismay,” “tribalism” and “fear,” the frayed index cards of Trump-haters on the left and pseudo-right. You grudgingly give credit for a few of his successes you agree with, but that credit is buried beneath the petulant tone of a man who simply cannot handle that his flavor of leadership has fallen out of favor.
You are mightily dismayed by the ruffled feathers of European elitism. You are alarmed that “democratic institutions” are somehow withering. And you obviously see a desire for strong borders as “anti-immigrant.” I don’t recall you enlightening Utah voters with that chestnut in the home stretch of your election campaign.
The majority of your voters support him. They may not love his every behavior or even every element of his agenda, but you represent a conservative state, and this is a conservative presidency which will benefit from harmony among conservative leaders.
This does not mean unanimity or lack of criticism. But it does mean shelving the urge to spew venom upon arrival in the nation’s capital. I don’t know, and I don’t care if you are planning a 2020 primary challenge or throwing your support behind whatever self-absorbed hopeful may ultimately attempt one. What I do care about is seeing my values trashed in the form of misdirected aggression toward a President you still clearly revile.
Your gripes against Trump are your business, and you are free to air them as you please. But know this: when you assure us of the vigilance you will show against Trump’s racist, sexist, divisive and anti-immigrant views—all your words—you are tarring tens of millions of voters with the charge of embracing those dark instincts.
And Senator, that is ultimately how you really feel. Your larger problem is not with him, but with us, for the sin of saying no to you and yes to him. We have said yes to stronger borders, tax cuts, constitutionalist Supreme Court justices, regulatory reform, climate sanity, and other things we have long been promised by people like you, but which have been delivered by him.
When you announced for the Senate, I heard from many who warned that your derisive tone would not change. I urged them to give you a chance, to give you the latitude to progress from heckler to partner, as former critics like Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley and Rick Perry have done, to the delight of conservatives nationwide.
You complain about disunity while fomenting it. The unity we need is not between right and left, which will never see things the same way, but between the various wings of conservatism and Republicanism. We all have a vital stake in the success of this presidency. We dodged a fusillade of bullets in preventing the election of Hillary Clinton—please tell me you at least still believe that—and now we have a chance to see real progress in areas conservatives have long fought for.
There are few politicians as transparent as the freshly- elected U.S. Senator. Unlike your House colleagues who fire up re-election bids on the way home from their oath of office ceremonies, your six-year term allows you to show us the real Mitt Romney, with plenty of elbow room to take risks with whatever fights you wish to join—or pick.
But memories are long, and conservative eyes are sharp. We will be taking notice of the degree to which you are willing to vilify this President as he seeks to achieve things you told us you believed in when we voted for you six years ago. Many of us had hoped we would see a Senator Mitt Romney that reminded us of the attributes you have displayed along the path of your praiseworthy and remarkable life, as Olympic organizer, Governor and presidential candidate.
Maybe you were never the most conservative knife in the drawer, but you were always unfailingly civil, sometimes to a fault. Everything you have done in public and private life has been accompanied by a biography of steadfast faith and devotion to family and country.
If the President annoys you on some issue on occasion, let fly. He’s more than up to the momentary skirmish, and there is nothing wrong with vigorous back-and-forth among Republicans with differing views on what conservative path to take, and at what speed.
But your op-ed tantrum was nothing of the kind. It was a querulous rant that served only to energize and enable the left, as well as the President’s enemies still suggesting they reside on the right. It was the hope of millions that you would not join that last group. There is a reason Jeff Flake slinked away from office as the most disliked Republican in recent memory.
As you arrive in Washington this week to be sworn in for what we hope will be a happy, healthy and productive chapter of service, please hear the people of your state, your party and your country who humbly ask for an additional promise. We’d like to believe that on the days when you see things differently than the President whom most of your voters still like and even admire, you will speak freely yet constructively, but stop short of the kind of hate speech billowing from that ugly, baseless op-ed. Help us remember the Mitt Romney we voted for. Help us remember the Mitt Romney we admired. And help us forget the bitter, opportunistic Mitt Romney who thought writing that piece was a good idea.