Mitt Romney's Departure, Cheered by Trump, Is a Sad Comment on Many Things

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

After another long day on the campaign trail in 2012, some Secret Service agents of my acquaintance safely delivered their candidate into his hotel and returned to their SUV to retrieve the “sticks.”

Those are the machine guns they’re not allowed to leave in a vehicle overnight. As they lifted out the heavy bags of automatic weapons and ammo, they were startled to hear a very familiar voice behind them: 

“Here, let me give you a hand with those.”

It was Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate they had just delivered safely inside the hotel.

Romney, who last week announced his retirement from the Senate after the 2024 elections, has a strict code of behavior that involves helping those he sees needing it and, as Donald Trump has learned, calling out behavior that Romney sees as inappropriate, regardless of their team jersey.

That doesn't go over well in the hyper-partisan environment of the D.C. Swamp unless the alleged offender is in the other political party.

So, the blunt criticism of the former president who brought the Republican Party back into the White House in 2016 but lost it in tumult in 2020, has earned the senator the eternal enmity of Trump and his obedient legions.

That seems to happen a lot to Trump’s one-time friends and allies. And Romney, being the only GOP senator voting to confirm Trump’s impeachment not once but twice, asked for it in Trumpian eyes that expect absolute fealty.

Romney’s stated reason for leaving Washington now is a good one, the need for fresh, younger leadership in the country and party:  

I'm a little long in the tooth already. We don’t need more like me. The issues of the day relate to China, climate change, A.I. And a lot of the guys in their 80s don’t know how to deal with those issues.

As former governor, ambassador, and current primary candidate Nikki Haley put it the other day, “Right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country.” She’s 51.

Washington’s system of rewarding seniority with addictive power is the major culprit keeping so many old goats shuffling the halls of power. I’m old, too, but I’m not passing laws to control the lives of others. Or ignoring the need.

We also have inattentive voters who gripe about D.C. denizens but keep reelecting incumbents anyway because they recognize a familiar name on the ballot and neglected doing homework on the others. 

Some might see that as much like the hypocrisy they claim to detest in politicians.

Romney is 76. Trump 77. Joe Biden turns 81 in two months. Mitch McConnell 81. Nancy Pelosi 83. Dianne Feinstein 90. The other leading candidates in the GOP primary contest are in their 40s and 50s. Gov. Ron DeSantis just turned 45.

Personally, I’ve come to suspect that, in the end, Biden will not be the Democrat nominee. The evidence of his mental and physical decline is just too ubiquitous. And Democrat bigs care more about retaining power than dumping the two incompetents they nominated in 2020. 

Polls confirm that voters see it, too. Three-quarters of Americans and two-thirds of Democrats agree Biden is too old for the Oval Office.

Forget the unfolding China scandals. Can you picture Biden on national TV shuffling on to a debate stage with those glassy eyes and that slightly open mouth to confront any one of these candidates? He’d forget the questionthen ramble on about a fictitious train conductor, his long truck-driving career, the devastating house fire, or digging through 9/11 rubble with rescuers.

Romney has a new book out. That explains why his retirement announcement came 16 months before it happens. 

An observant Mormon, Romney burns all kinds of political bridges in the book with opinions and anecdotes revealing the two and three faces of prominent Republicans who applaud Trump in public, then laugh at him behind his back.

I don’t have much truck for any of these folks, whatever side they’re playing this month. I have those I favor policy-wise and those I dislike. Generally, I try not to fall in love with any political personality, as tempting as it might be at times, because we’re all human and politics is partly show biz where sincerely faking sincerity is a useful skill.

Politics is a fascinating process in our country. I’ve followed it longer than many of its current actors have been alive. I spent a decade working inside both politics and government. And came to admire a few who really wanted to make a positive difference.

Politics reveal the good and bad sides of individuals as well as our society’s willful ignorance and what we’re willing to believe collectively at any given moment. 

Fact: We hear much more about the negative because media have noticed that headlines about happy couples and passenger planes landing safely do not attract the crowds that advertisers will pay for.

I get that. I was part of media when it was more honest and careful.

I was drawn more to stories about people you’ve never heard of, places you’ve never been, and changes underway that no one else noticed. That was the kind of writing one colleague called “small town s--t.”

I tried to be fair and honest. What’s saddening is how mainstream media and politics have changed in more recent times. I’d call it decay; others might say progress.

Too many don’t tell the whole story now because it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative of the niche they’re writing for. Attempted objectivity is now demode. To be honest, it’s also much harder work than just spouting pre-cooked talking points. 

Media also can display and ignore the kind of hypocrisy they pounce on in others. They report proudly the elections of the first black and two Catholic presidents, all Democrats, but choose to ignore the historic potential in Americans choosing the first Mormon POTUS, who is Republican.

Remember the 2012 presidential debate when Obama mocked Romney for presciently warning that Russia remained a major strategic threat to peace? Obama did zilch when Russia annexed Crimea. So, now Putin is going for all of Ukraine.

In 2012, we also saw much media coverage of Mitt Romney’s wealth because that’s what Obama’s advertising was featuring. We didn’t hear much about Romney’s quiet private charity efforts or magnificent business skills that reformed Massachusetts health care and that saved the sinking Salt Lake Olympics.

And now we don’t hear much about Obama’s wealth and two oceanfront estates.

I miss a more civil, honest code of conduct, where Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan and Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen could disagree and still work together for a greater good that benefited others and, in the end, rewarded both sides.

Romney’s Senate exit is unlikely to change that body's balance. Utah and Wyoming are the two most solidly Republican states. But it will leave only two other centrists who work with both sides—Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema. Both could also be gone soon.

A public and professional code of behavior would be helpful for media that doesn’t ignore serial lying but shines light on it so voters can judge accurately for themselves, even though that might damage a writer's favored candidate.

During the last president’s tenure, the Washington Post lived up to the Fourth Estate’s constitutionally-protected role as government watchdog. It published a running count of the thousands of statements by that White House usurper, Donald Trump, that it found misleading or not truthful. 

I am unable to find any similar running tally of the current president, who was, according to his accounts, somehow raised with both Puerto Ricans and Jews, was admitted to the Naval Academy before a long career driving semi-trucks, fought bravely on the front lines of civil rights, nearly lost his house in a major conflagration, could have been an All-American, personally witnessed the 9/11 destruction on 9/12, never talked business with Hunter, suffered the loss of a son in Iraq, and slashed the federal budget deficit by spending $5 trillion in new money that has nothing to do with our ongoing inflation.  

And Biden says that the multi-million-dollar financial transfers from China into multiple Biden family accounts simply did not happen, despite his own Treasury Department’s Suspicious Activity Reports documenting them.

Most everyone tells fibs. These are not fibs. These are half-pound Whoppers.

No one of us can fix this entire wide and depressing array of social, political, and cultural malfunctions. Not even a lone younger, intelligent president with fresh ideas and energy to go to work before 10 a.m. and stay awake in meetings.

As one result, many of us have been tuning out the news, though that just acquiesces to the status quo.

Through years of service to his community, his employees, his state, his party, and the Senate, Mitt Romney did his duty as he sincerely saw it. He voted consistently conservative, supporting President Trump’s policies until the impeachment votes.

In today’s Them or Us politics, however, there’s no credit for such honorable duty, no matter how nuanced. You’re either with Us, or you’re Them.

When campaigning for office 11 years ago, Romney told a story about his two-year Mormon Church missionary service as a youth in France. He said, good-naturedly, that he got used to doors slamming in his face.

This time, however, it’s Romney himself closing the door on Washington life. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article referred to Suspicious Activity Reports from the Justice Department rather than the Treasury Department. We apologize to our readers for this error.


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