Mitt Romney warned that Russia was this country’s “number one geopolitical foe.” It was March 2012. President Barak Obama mocked the comment during that presidential debate. Seven years later, in February 2019, former Obama Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized to Romney, noting that “we underestimated what was going on in Russia.” At the debate, Romney also warned of Iran and North Korea as nuclear powers. He cautioned that Russia, along with China, “always stands up for the world’s worst actors.”
In March 2016, Romney called presidential candidate Trump a phony and a fraud and advocated for other candidates in a crowded field. He pointed to Trump’s “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.” That was long before the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol. It was long before the “big lie” about election fraud.
Following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Romney pointedly blamed Trump: “What happened here was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit ... will forever be complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may not care much about what Sen. Romney thinks. But their support of the twice-impeached president may someday place them among those most complicit in dividing Americans, upending American democracy and escalating domestic violence.
Both McConnell and McCarthy showed courage and understanding following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. On Jan. 19, McConnell said, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” He told his Republican colleagues that he had not ruled out convicting President Trump following a House impeachment.
CNN reported and the Wall Street Journal confirmed that “A furious McCarthy told the then-President the rioters were breaking into his office through the windows, and asked Trump, ‘Who (epithet deleted) do you think you are talking to?’” Out of concern for the country’s future, he reportedly “wrestled with whether Mr. Trump was fit for office.”
That was before the quest for greater power and fear of Trump’s wrath took them in the opposite direction. They are now complicit in promoting the “big lie.” Many of their colleagues push arguments about election fraud and a riot that to was no more than a peaceful expression of dissatisfaction by true patriots.
Trump’s comments last weekend point to how much the Republican Party has become the Trump Party. At a speech Sunday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, he again called the election “rigged.” Multiple audits, more than 60 court decisions, former Attorney General William Barr — and a new report from a Republican-led Michigan Senate committee — found no such evidence. Despite this, state GOP committees are increasingly led by Trump supporters, even in blue states.
A day before CPAC, he told Maria Bartiromo of Fox News that Jan. 6 protestors were “peaceful,” that police and rioters engaged in a “love fest,” and that his speech to the crowd that day was “mild-mannered.” He also claimed more than one million people attended his “rally” that day, bringing full circle the lie about the crowd size at his inauguration that was discredited quickly. It turned his then-press secretary, Sean Spicer, into an SNL joke.
Perhaps the most important event in recent weeks that speaks truth to Romney’s remarks about Trump is the indictment of the Trump Organization and Trump’s chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg for fraud. The 25-page indictment lays out an alleged criminal conspiracy spanning 15 years. It includes 15 counts of conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying records. In addition to the defendants, it mentions “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1,” without naming the individual. Under any circumstances, the alleged fraud is against American taxpayers. Few individuals and very few public corporations, which Trump Organization is not, could get away with it.
Even if Donald Trump is not indicted, the indictments and perhaps others, followed by a trial, may reinforce Romney’s view of Trump as a fraud. Regardless, fraud – for unlawful gain or to deny rights to others -- may not be enough to change the opinions of his followers.
Ironically, Donald Trump comes across as authentic to his followers despite changes in positions and party affiliations over many years. Romney may have been right about Russia and Trump. However, he and other more traditional Republicans, both conservative and moderate and with no help from Sen. McConnell and Rep. McCarthy, have been unable to get their messages to register with a Trump base fueled by rage. Regardless, Romney was right on Russia and might be proven right on Trump.
Carl Gustin is a Gloucester resident and columnist who writes on local, regional and national issues.