March 2016. Former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney joined the army of politicians who fought to stop Donald Trump. If “the establishment” chose Romney for this task, it was a poor choice.
After all, many conservatives were unhappy when Romney was on the verge of becoming the Republican presidential candidate back in 2012.
On abortion, Romney had previously been pro-choice. On healthcare, he instituted the Massachusetts mandate that foreshadowed Obamacare. He supported amnesty for unauthorized immigrants. Nonetheless, most Republicans supported Romney. Even Donald Trump.
Back in February 2012, Romney traveled to Trump Tower in New York City. He asked for Trump’s endorsement, hoping that such an important endorsement would not go to his Republican rival Newt Gingrich.
Trump graciously endorsed Romney. There was a news conference. They praised each other. Romney said that Trump was a great businessman, much better than himself. Subsequently, Trump contributed in several ways to Romney’s campaign, including donations, fund-raising, and even paying for telephone robo-calls.
Four years later, Trump tried to become the Republican nominee. To many commentators and conservatives, Trump suffered some awful shortcomings similar to Romney’s: their past liberal positions on abortion, healthcare, etc. Plus, their wealth and religious beliefs seemed questionable.
But then, surprisingly, Trump energized millions of Republican voters, became the front-runner, and won ten primaries and caucuses. Then suddenly, Romney held a press event to condemn the evil Donald Trump.
Romney rattled off the usual collection of accusations that had been hurled against Trump. That he is a misogynist, that Trump University was a fiasco (though Trump claimed that 98% of students were very satisfied with the seminars), that Trump insulted all Muslims, that he accused Megyn Kelly of “menstruating” (not true), that Trump did not disavow the Ku Klux Klan (not true), etc.
Romney also said some true statements. For example, that Trump ridiculed a disabled reporter. True, but since Romney did not explain the incident, listeners could wrongly imagine that Trump ridiculed the reporter’s disability. Actually, Trump ridiculed the reporter for having arbitrarily retracted a story fourteen years after it was published.
Reporters were eagerly looking forward to Romney’s speech. They wanted to sell it as the knock-out moment when “the establishment” finally exposed Trump for his offensive statements and lies.
Right after Romney’s speech, the political pundits bemoaned the lack of voices condemning Trump. In Fox News, for example, Jon Scott and Ellen Rattner complained that, “the media has not done its job criticizing Donald Trump.”
The media did not criticize Trump?!?
To me, it was stunning that news commentators were so vividly ready to misrepresent reality. If someone had not watched the election coverage at all, that is, if someone had been living on Mars without TV or internet, that person alone might well believe that the media had hardly criticized Trump.
But nobody lives on Mars. For many months, it had been abundantly clear that many politicians, talk-show hosts, comedians, bloggers, public figures, Hollywood actors, British Parliament, ordinary people, and above all, news commentators had criticized, ridiculed and condemned the reckless Mr. Trump.
Certain news media, such as the Huffington Post, The New York Daily News, The Des Moines Register, etc., had abandoned all efforts to seem impartial, in order to constantly attack Trump.
Actually, I don’t know of any political candidate in the history of the United States who received as much criticism in as little time as Donald Trump.
Therefore, Mitt Romney’s smiling effort to candidly pour his bucket of water on Trump’s bonfire did not work. The forest fire was just too big. Instead, gracious and competent politicians such as Romney could have done better by reaching out to the wayward Trump to say: “Let me help you polish and improve your policies and your choice of words.” Maybe Trump would have said: “Thank you, I’d be happy to have your help.”
But something worse happened. Romney exhorted Republicans to vote for Marco Rubio if they’re in Florida, for John Kasich if they’re in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz elsewhere. This meant that Romney asked people to not vote for their preferred candidate. Vote for someone else, he said, so that jointly they might defeat Trump.
Romney didn’t realize that this request—by an establishment man—confirmed what many voters already suspected: that the elders of the Republican party were willing to scheme to subvert the democratic process. They wanted to prevent the uncontrolled majority of conservatives from choosing the Republican candidate.
Romney did not realize that this was worse than Donald Trump’s rough edges, his crude words, his impulsive rants, and his flawed policy ideas. Suddenly, stopping Trump was more important than letting individuals vote their mind.
Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Next, Chapter 18: Did Trump Not Rent to Black People?