A good consequence of Mitt Romney’s retirement from the Senate is that he has decided to let loose his quasi-aristocratic ire against Donald Trump (who Romney of course carefully cultivated in 2016 and 2017, when he was angling for Secretary of State):
So many Republican senators privately expressed their support for Romney’s public criticism of Trump that the Utahn began keeping count, telling staffers he’d had more than a dozen nearly identical exchanges. He recalled one senior lawmaker complaining to him: “[Trump] has none of the qualities you would want in a president, and all of the qualities you wouldn’t.”
“Almost without exception,” Romney told Coppins, “they shared my view of the president.”
In March 2019, Trump descended on the GOP senators’ weekly caucus lunch to wax lyrical about his recent victories. The senators broke into “a standing ovation fit for a conquering hero,” Coppins writes, before settling in to listen politely as the then-president jabbered almost incoherently. The minute Trump left the room, according to Romney, the entire caucus burst into laughter.
Some of Romney’s most withering observations in the extract are reserved for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who served as Senate Majority Leader until 2021. The McConnell that Romney saw behind the scenes was very different from the one who played Trump’s toady in public. In private conversations, McConnell called Trump an “idiot” and told Romney he was “lucky” for being able “say the things that we all think” about him. (A McConnell spokesperson disputed this.)
McConnell’s alleged distaste for Trump came out in full force during the first impeachment trial. After the trial’s impeachment managers had finished their presentation, Romney walked past McConnell. “They nailed him,” McConnell remarked, according to Romney.
Romney, taken aback, said that Trump’s team could spin his misconduct to make it appear as though he was just investigating the Biden family’s corruption.
“If you believe that,” McConnell reportedly replied, “I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.” The Senate leader told Coppins that he did not recall this exchange, and it did not match his thinking at the time.
On Jan. 2, 2021, Romney got a heads-up from another senator who’d spoken to a senior Pentagon official, warning him about extremist threats that law enforcement had been tracking in connection to protests planned for Jan. 6.
Romney passed on the concerns to McConnell, texting him, “There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol. I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.”
McConnell never wrote back, according to Coppins.
Over his four years in the Senate, Romney accrued a special kind of loathing for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH). During the Capitol riots, while huddled in the Senate chamber with his colleagues, Romney recalled whirling on Hawley to yell at him that this was his fault.
“They know better!” he told Coppins of his far-right colleagues. Granting that Hawley was “one of the smartest people in the Senate, if not the smartest,” Romney speculated that the Missouri lawmaker had made “a calculation” that ended up putting “politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution.”
Having lost the stomach for collaborating with his more Machiavellian counterparts, Romney at one point over the last two years outright told Coppins that he doubted he would ever “work with Josh Hawley on anything.”
Last year, Vance similarly stoked Romney’s ire. Initially a fan of Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Romney turned on Vance after his “MAGA makeover,” as Coppins put it. Watching Vance rail against Biden and the woke left on the campaign trail, Romney said, he wanted to grab the younger man and scream in his face that debasing himself like this wasn’t worth it.
“It’s not like you’re going to be famous and powerful because you became a United States senator,” Romney said. “It’s like, really? You sell yourself so cheap?”
None of this is in the slightest bit surprising, but it’s still good to have it in print for the historical record, such as it will be.
As for an overall assessment of Romney’s career, I’ll leave that to those who have the patience to make the necessary scholastic distinctions between the various strands of the GOP’s degeneration over the course of the more than half century since Mitt’s father was the governor of Michigan.