Chapter 25: “Deep Doo Doo”

Published January 5, 2018

News that Mitt Romney has reportedly discussed a Utah Senate bid with Donald Trump prompts me to present to you, in its entirety, Chapter 25 of “The Great Divide.” Toward the end of the chapter it describes Romney’s hatchet job on Trump during the 2016 primary campaign. Enjoy.

 

“They are in deep doo-doo,” said a former Republican strategist, referring to the dilemma faced by the GOP. Donald Trump’s strong Super Tuesday showing made it difficult to see a realistic path to the nomination for any of the other three GOP candidates: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. (Ben Carson had, indeed, ended his campaign.) Before Super Tuesday vote totals were even finalized, however, Trump’s rivals and others in the party not only continued their attacks on him but ratcheted up the intensity.

The GOP implored voters to stop voting for Trump and to turn their support over to one of the other candidates—any of them. The GOP was saying that Trump—the party’s leading candidate—would be a disaster for the country. The party was at war with its own constituents over the candidate those constituents seemed to overwhelmingly prefer.

It wasn’t just that the other candidates were not yet ready to give up while they still had a mathematical, albeit improbable, shot at the nomination. This ran much deeper. Prominent Republicans, not just the other candidates, began taking strong anti-Trump stands. There were Republican-sponsored anti-Trump ad campaigns—the kinds you’d expect to see run against Democrats.

What was Trump’s reaction to all this?

“Look, we have expanded the Republican Party,” he said, which was true. A lot of people voting for Trump were not typical Republican voters. Some were, though. You would think religious conservatives would be flocking to Ted Cruz, but many were voting for Trump. Mainstream Republicans were pulling mostly for Rubio.

Republicans didn’t trust Trump. They were afraid he would take office and turn into a Democrat. Actually, they didn’t know what to expect—that’s what really scared the shit out of them.

Cruz urged Rubio and Kasich to drop out of the race and throw their support to him. He claimed to be the only one who could still catch Trump and then go on to beat Hillary Clinton in November. But Rubio and Kasich both wanted to stick it out at least through their home-state primaries later in the month.

“Two weeks from tonight, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear,” Rubio told supporters at a Super Tuesday night rally after winning one state. “We are going to send a message that the party of Lincoln and Reagan and the presidency of the United States will never be held by a con artist.”

I found this “party of Lincoln” shit annoying. That was 150 years ago. Lincoln freed the slaves. Today, he’d be a Democrat. So, for that matter, would Reagan.

Republican governors, senators, and congressmen up for reelection were being forced to declare whether they were for or against Trump and whether they would vote for him if he were the GOP nominee in the general election. Some said they would. Some said they wouldn’t.

Rubio and House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking elected GOP official, felt the need to call out Trump for not disavowing David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan when Trump was first questioned about Duke’s endorsement, even though Trump later did so.

“How do we prevent the party of Reagan and Lincoln from being taken over by someone who for days refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and someone who is carrying out the most elaborate con job we have ever seen in politics?” Rubio said.

“I want to be very clear about something,” said Ryan. “If a person wants to be nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.” When asked if he would still support Trump if Trump were the GOP nominee, however, Ryan said he would.

I thought Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee hit the nail on the head with his description of what his party was going through over Trump: “The ‘establishment’ Republicans are all bed-wetting over this and they don’t seem to understand that we have an election. At some point, we need to recognize that if you want to oppose Donald Trump, do it, but don’t pretend that somehow all these voters who have gone out and voted for him are stupid. They’re not stupid. They’re angry, and they’re angry at the very establishment that is going nuts because Donald Trump is doing so well and they don’t get it that they’re the problem.”

Trump had some supporters in the GOP besides Chris Christie. But many in the GOP were like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who said on his Facebook page: “If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate.”

People were talking about how Trump’s candidacy could destroy the two-party system, as if this would be a bad thing. The hostility between the two parties had grown such that the system produced nothing but hate and gridlock.

Now one of those two parties had internal divisions that rivaled the divide between the two parties. Whether a third party might emerge from all this remained to be seen, but suddenly, even Ted Cruz was being viewed as a more viable “establishment” option than Trump. Ted Cruz, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, one of the biggest obstructionists in Congress, and universally disliked by both parties—this was a better option than Trump for many establishment Republicans.

On the morning of Thursday, March 3, two days after Super Tuesday, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivered a nationally televised speech in which he blistered Trump and urged Republican voters to support someone else. He didn’t endorse another specific candidate. Instead, he seemed to be pitching a strategy that would deny Trump the necessary number of delegates before the July convention. In such a case, convention delegates would be free to choose anyone as their nominee—maybe even Mitt Romney.

Romney urged Republicans to vote for Rubio in the Florida primary, Kasich in Ohio, and Cruz or whoever else had the best chance to win (other than Trump) in the other state primaries and caucuses. Romney denied any interest in another presidential run. But if he’d given a speech like this when he’d run in 2012, he might have been elected. It was arguably the strongest speech he’d ever given.

“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” he said. “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.” He also called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud,” saying Trump was “playing the American people for suckers” and that Trump’s “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”

Romney attacked Trump’s business prowess: “His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business; he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”

On foreign policy, Romney said Trump’s positions were “already alarming our allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.”

Romney called out “Donald Trump’s personal qualities: the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.” Romney said he understood the anger that Americans were feeling but that Trump was “directing our anger for less-than-noble purposes. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”

I was not the only one who said “wow” at the end of Romney’s speech. I had never heard a party leader so unabashedly trash the party’s leading presidential candidate, particularly at this point in the campaign, when it looked like it would take close to a miracle to derail that candidate.

I couldn’t wait for Trump’s response to Romney’s hatchet job. Trump had endorsed Romney for president in 2012. “He’s a man who begged me for my endorsement four years ago,” Trump said. “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees’ and he would have.” Trump called Romney a “stiff” who had blown the election in 2012 because he hadn’t worked hard enough.

If Trump did end up winning the GOP nomination, the Democrats could recycle Romney’s speech almost word for word in campaigning against him, save for a few derogatory comments about Hillary Clinton. Essentially, we were looking at a three-party race already: the pro-Trump Republicans, the anti-Trump Republicans, and the Democrats.

Oh, and the Republicans had a debate fewer than 12 hours after Romney’s speech. This promised to be must-see TV.