Conveniently lost amid the endless jabber over President Trump’s character flaws are the myriad shortcomings of his predecessors and critics. No more vulgar or erratic than exhibitionist Lyndon Johnson, no less learned than haberdasher Harry Truman, no more a womanizer than Bill Clinton, JFK, LBJ, and FDR, Trump starts to seem disciplined by comparison. As Roger Kimball quotes Cardinal Newman in an excellent piece at American Greatness, a man “may be great in one aspect of his character and little-minded in another. … A good man may make a bad king; profligates have been great statesmen or magnanimous political leaders,” which brings us to the sad case of Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor, current Utah senator, and twice-failed presidential candidate published a sanctimonious op-ed in Pravda on the Potomac this week in which he bemoaned the “deep descent” of the Trump presidency. Romney took issue with Trump’s “resentment and name-calling,” his lack of “honesty and integrity,” and his overall “shortfall” in the “qualities of character.” Romney excels at seeing the speck of sawdust in his president’s eye; he fails to notice the plank in his own.
Mitt Romney had no issue with name-calling when he called the president “a phony” and “a fraud” in a 2016 diatribe at the University of Utah. You may have missed those comments, sandwiched in between his presidential and Senate runs in 2012 and 2018, respectively, when he requested Trump’s endorsement. In 2012, Romney gushed, “Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight. I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.” In 2016, he declared, “On the economy, if Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession. … A business genius he is not.” In 2012, Romney raved, “Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works, to create jobs for the American people.” He even complimented Trump’s superior business acumen, observing, “I’ve spent my life in the private sector — not quite as successful as this guy, but successful nonetheless.” Are we expected to find Romney's honesty and integrity in his flattery or invective?
Trump’s business record may not have changed between 2012 and 2016, but Romney’s public views certainly shifted with the political winds, as they have for his entire career. During his failed 1994 Senate campaign, Romney distanced himself from the legacy of Ronald Reagan, insisting, “I was an Independent during the time of Reagan-Bush! I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush!” During his failed 2012 presidential run, he described himself as “severely conservative.” If only Romney had been more severely conservative as governor of Massachusetts, he might have avoided inventing Obamacare.
President Trump has kept more of his campaign promises than any president in recent memory, the very standard of honesty and integrity in public office. President Trump’s critics call him an immoral lout. By strict moral standards, so are we all. Still, compared to his fellow politicians, Trump’s character seems relatively upright, at least where it counts in public life. How does Mitt Romney fare in such a comparison?