Two cheers to Mitt Romney for taking on Donald Trump. I say two because Romney’s broadside was a mixed bag.
Some counts of the indictment focused on the real dangers a Trump presidency would pose (and echoed some of the points made in a Los Angeles Times editorial). Romney criticized the improbable front-runner’s grasp of policy and warned that “Trump’s bombast is already alarming our allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.”
He also, rightly, argued that Trump lacks the necessary temperament to be president. “After all,” Romney said, “this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.”
There was also a Republican-specific indictment of Trump, notably the argument that his deficiencies as a general-election candidate would cede the election to the Hillary Clinton.
“A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president,” Romney said. “But a Trump nomination enables her victory. The audio and video of the infamous [Jake] Tapper-Trump exchange on the Ku Klux Klan will play a hundred thousand times on cable and who knows how many million times on social media.”
It’s understandable that Romney would couch his indictment of Trump in terms of how a Trump nomination would help the opposite party; he was, after all, speaking to Republicans.
But there was a weird false equivalence in the implication that both Trump and Clinton are equally unfit for the presidency. And surely Trump’s evasion when asked to repudiate a former Ku Klux Klan leader is more objectionable in itself than because it might provide Clinton with an advantage.
Finally, though Romney didn’t follow Marco Rubio in trying to match Trump in “third-grade theatrics,” a lot of Romney’s attack was personal — and arguably priggish.
In offering a litany of Trump’s sins, Romney — himself a paragon of propriety — seemed to find Trump’s “vulgarity” as offensive as his cruelty. Romney’s final dig at Trump — that “his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill” — could come across as snobbish sanctimony, not righteousness indignation. That might not be too persuasive for Trump sympathizers who are tired of being lectured to by their social superiors.
That’s why only two cheers for his speech — but it was still an admirable attempt to slow the Trump bandwagon.