Tag Archives: mitt romney

A kingly presidency casts a long shadow in Republican thought

In the cavalcade of strange that was last night’s townhall debate, one particular exchange stood out for many:

DONALD TRUMP: So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been — their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Secretary Clinton, I want to follow up on that. I’m going to let you talk about e-mails.

HILLARY CLINTON: Everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised.

TRUMP: Oh, really?


CLINTON: Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is — it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

We’ve heard this same pivot from questions of legality to morality before, from someone very different: Mitt Romney.

If for no other reason than his clear opposition from early in the primary, Romney is quite clearly not interested in supporting Trump. Even still, as much as he might disagree with Trump, this moment last night especially echoes Romney’s own statements at funnily enough the corresponding debate in 2012. This pattern, from such different candidates, speaks to an emerging political tendency in the Republican Party.

Many seem to have trouble recalling this, but many of Trump’s lines can be seen as having passed through Mitt Romney’s hands if not originating with him. All of the ingredients for a Trump-style candidacy were there in 2012, even if missing the curiously distinctive feeling of Trump himself. Quickly, who said which of the following?

1: “It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, I think you have to ask yourself”

2: “These are radical Islamic terrorists. […] He won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.'”

3: “The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.”

(Answers: Romney in 2012, Trump yesterday, and Romney in 2012, respectively.)

One particular point stood out then in 2012 and stands out now, and perhaps demonstrates the unique effects of Trump on this shared vocabulary. That is, the notion of the president as someone unconcerned and beyond daily legal matters. Just like the magic power of some version of the phrase “islamist terrorism,” both Romney and Trump share an idea of an almost monarchic presidency.

It’s easy to overlook the basis of agreement here. As I wrote about at the time, Romney’s borderline kingly presidency was shaped by inaction, with him promising to set a moral standard of sometimes hiring women. His idea of the presidency was not one of creating legal realities to prevent discrimination (in this example), but actively avoiding that for simply setting an example.

Trump’s promise to investigate and jail Hillary Clinton if elected is not only more proactive than that, but bombastic in tone. A violation of basic principles of democratic governance, it’s much harder to overlook. Still, let’s not erase the roots of this kind of Trump-style despotic presidential policy.

At its core, his explanation for why he would tap a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton is tonally quite similar to Romney’s justification for having “binders full of [the résumés of] women”: it’s an act of moral conviction, not legal action. He presses the point on the basis of Clinton seeming mendacious, not there being the possibility of broken laws (in part because there isn’t much of that left after so much investigation).

Questions of legal standards take a back seat to morality – whether the particular concern is fairness in the workplace or conduct of a public servant outside of the realm of legality. The law is secondary or even irrelevant… in a position of literal executor of laws.

5906767325_f454beca73_o(Credit to Quinn Dombrowski, from here.)

Legality has long been understand in US political thought as not the be-all, end-all. From our founding, arguably, critiques of the legal system simply being how it is have been part of what has shaped us as a country. But from a revolution which began as a protest against voting and taxation procedures and policies of quartering and invasive searches, to a Civil Rights Movement about many of those same concerns, the classic concern about the limits of legality has been about correcting it with arguments from morality and decency, not replacing it with hazily subjective ethical standards.

The modern Republican Party in part seems preparing to break with that long tradition by not just approaching laws from a place of skepticism, but utter doubt of their existence. While Trump may have exacerbated those trends, this isn’t a new phenomenon and arguably a tendency that’s fueled his rise more than been a product of it.

Last night’s townhall debate has been transcribed here. For a video and transcription of 2012’s corresponding debate, look here.

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Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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The invisible racist

TW: racism, classism

Earlier today, Brittney Cooper published a thoughtful criticism of the way the Romney family was insulated from criticism about race, and in fact, Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor and television show host, was put on the spot to apologize for a segment she oversaw that poked fun at one of Romney’s son’s recent adoption of a Black child. It’s well worth the read, but at its core was a particularly enlightening comparison:

This faux-outrage on the right about MHP’s racism and insensitivity obscures exactly this set of truths about the right’s shoddy record on race. That both Mitt Romney and Phil Robertson have and love black grandbabies should remind us that racism is not primarily about individual attitudes. White folks can love individual black people and still build a world that is inhospitable to black folks. In fact, individual and exceptional black achievers are necessary to maintain the lie of racial progress. Their presence has very little to do with systemic change, though.

Phil Robertson (the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family who was called out for his heterosexist and racist comments) and Mitt Romney? To quote Pia Glenn on Romney’s new grandson: “One of these things is not like the others.” No, it’s not, and that’s the entire point of Cooper’s comparison. More of her readers rightfully can interpret Robertson’s actions and statements as racist, but Romney is a little bit harder for some to grasp their heads around.

Writing about this is tricky, because it’s actually not that Romney is more wealthy or socially powerful, so much as that Robertsons willingly set the markers of their wealth and similar lifestyle aside in the name of reality television. Even if it’s all an illusion though, the Robertsons are easier for many White people to mentally cast as racists compared to the Romneys who are whatever the US’s equivalent of the British “posh” is.

That’s a divide that has many outcomes. There hasn’t been an outcry over, for example, the Wall Street Journal publishing a wistful look back at the WASP dominance that once was, complete with half-century stale stereotypes of Irish Catholics as lecherous and a carefully unspecified non-WASP group of bankers as “greedy pigs” (golly gee, what could that mean?). Discontent with equating (perceived) moral failings with ethnic statues, the article likewise insists that corruption was non-existent during the days of WASP dominance. Given that according to its author, conservative writer Joseph Epstein, the Bush political dynasty “lost” its WASP status between George H W Bush and his son, it seems like corruption or failure disqualifies you from being a WASP, so as to keep the ethnic reputation intact.

(This article, the above image it contains, and millions of people around the world would disagree.)

That same sort of fence-post moving seems to be at play in the reasons why Epstein and the Wall Street Journal didn’t come under fire for quite literally implying that things were better under codified legal dominance by not only White people, but a very specific brand of White people. A few places passed around the article as an amusing demonstration of confusion and rudeness, but most carefully sidestepped labeling Epstein, his editors, or the publisher anything like racist. One article quoted a tweet that called the article “racist”, but without really agreeing, so much as noting that as an opinion. Another one only drops either of the r-words in relation to the articles contents (or its author, editors, and publisher) in saying it was “almost too transparent, resembling something closer to satire than to outright racism.” Quite literally, a privileged, educated and fundamentally well-off racist screed is easier to understand as poorly executed humor than an extension of racism.

None of this is to claim that if racist words had come out of not Robertson’s mouth but that of a distant relative or childhood neighbor it wouldn’t be racist (or, alternatively, that the racist ideas about a happy pre-civil rights past are not prevalent throughout the South and the US generally). Instead, it’s to question who we let off the hook when it comes to racist statements without even realizing it. More often than not, it seems like it’s well-off writers for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that are called out by fellow White people for classism, when racism is a clear factor as well. We’re too slow in picking up on and shutting down the racism of people who look like Robertson, but too many of us don’t seem to even realize the cruelties people who look like Romney regularly spew.

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Wild speculation is wild

Tonight’s post is late and short for a variety of reasons, but at the top of that list is the fact that I honestly have no idea what to make of this. In the short space of three months, almost every Republican who’s been closely connected to or directly experienced an electoral loss in Massachusetts has been floated as a potential runner for the opening Senate seat in that state. Why? We just don’t know.

This all began with speculation that Scott Brown, still smarting from Elizabeth Warren’s win in November, might return to the Senate in the other Massachusetts’ seat, which seemed increasingly likely to become available after John Kerry would be tapped to serve as Secretary of State. With his candidacy having been fairly effectively ruled out, however, idle thoughts have now turned towards both Ann Romney and Taggart Romney, the wife and son of Mitt Romney, who was decisively walloped in the presidential election in Massachusetts, in spite of it being one of his “home” states. I’m not exactly clear on what makes them desirable candidates other than being Republicans. They don’t really have political track records, which Brown at least did when he was elected to the Senate.

(Remember when we thought his loss in the election would mean he’d no longer be the center of attention? Ah how foolish we were. From here.)

So, I suppose this could be said to be an example of falling upwards, but it’s oddly fixated on this one Senate seat and on particularly electorally disastrous candidates. The desperate need for Scott Brown to be elected Senator was originally the byproduct of a variety of issues – namely that he was the only feasible candidate for that seat, that the Republicans desperately needed a filibuster-proof 40 Senators to ostensibly prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and that as it was a special election in the middle of a Senatorial term that was their only chance for a long time.  Now, neither he nor many of these other candidates are actually feasible, the ACA is a judicially-reviewed part of the political landscape, and Republicans have more than 40 seats in the Senate.

Have Republicans lost track of why they even cared about that seat so much and are just desperately fighting to get it back?

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