Mitt Romney is discovering that his WaPo op-ed attack on Trump wasn't such a good idea, after all
Mitt Romney knows he is a smart guy and is used to thinking of himself as the smartest guy in the room. But I don't think he thought through the now infamous Washington Post op-ed attacking President Trump's character that he published on New Year's Day, just a few days prior to assuming his new job as U.S. senator from Utah. Virtue-signaling feels great, like a sugar high, but the aftermath often brings predictable consequences that somehow escaped the notice of the person anxious to demonstrate righteousness.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.
Mitt failed to understand that he is joining what is often called "the world's most exclusive club." The Senate, with only 100 members and immense powers, is not at all like the raucous House of Representatives. And though Senators face re-election only after six long years, they are very, very concerned with their ability to keep their membership card.
Politico reporters Burgess Everett and James Arkin took the temperature among Mitt's Republican colleagues in the Senate and found evidence of a chillier reception than he probably expected:
When Romney heads into his first Republican Conference meeting later this week, he might face an awkward reception from many of his fellow Republican senators. Some are scratching their heads about why Romney ripped Trump in a Washington Post op-ed; others are angry about reopening an intraparty divide. And it could color how Senate Republicans view Romney over the long term, raising questions about his effectiveness in the GOP conference.
"Focusing on our political opponents that are trying to annihilate us and embarrass the president is probably a more productive focus, rather than just criticize what the president is, how he does things," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the former whip who is running for reelection as a Trump ally.
Sen. Cornyn is not the only GOP senator whose electoral fate is linked to Trump's popularity:
[E]verything Romney says that's critical of Trump could affect his 52 GOP colleagues, a number of whom are running for reelection alongside Trump in 2020.
Not just the Republican senators facing the electorate in 2020 are at risk; so is the entire Senate caucus. If voters hand the majority to Democrats in 2020, life is going to be a lot less pleasant for the remaining Republicans. No more committee chairmanships, no more ability to determine the fate of presidential appointments. How would you like to be under the thumb of Chuck Schumer?
Self-interest in getting re-elected and maintaining majority status is the dominant consideration, but there are other factors at work, too. The Senate likes to settle differences behind closed doors. Its organizational culture stresses collegiality, offering public respect ("my distinguished colleague across the aisle") to one's opponents. In addition to the personal gratification from being treated this way, the culture also reinforces the superiority of the Senate over the House, a vital concern for all senators.
Mitt has now threatened this. He may have to eat some humble pie, which is a huge challenge for someone who has been a corporate CEO and then a governor, an Olympics Committee CEO, and a presidential candidate. He will be a junior senator, which means a lot in the Senate. The key word is "deference," a quality not common among CEOs and presidential candidates.
For reasons that escape me, he was awarded a plum spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But in the clubby atmosphere of the Senate, there will be many other opportunities to extract a price from him for offending and even endangering the careers of his political faction in that body.