Who knew that Mitt Romney watches John Oliver? Four days after the HBO comedian’s often hilarious, mostly accurate, shamelessly one-sided, and certainly ineffectual 20-minute diatribe against Donald “Drumpf,” the 2012 Republican nominee converted nearly every broad stroke into a precise carving of Trump’s record, disposition, and general election chances.
In truth, the two takedowns might be unrelated, but they share significant strands of DNA: both men bit their tongue for most of the primary season, both men finally unleashed hell when their conscience ended their hesitance, and neither men will have changed the mind of one Trump voter. Not one.
When Oliver did his bit, I laughed along with everyone but the most sensitive of Trumpeters. I also understood why he did it: ratings, viral potential, and a genuine inability to hold back his incredulity. I don’t think, however, he expected to change anyone’s minds. He’s just a comedian, though. His job is ratings.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has seemingly nothing to gain. Moreover, he’s not a stupid man. On the contrary, he’s an incredibly smart man, and in light of recent history we can say that he was probably a candidate underrated by much of the country. So has this smart man gone stupid? Did he think his speech would change Trumpeters’ minds or NOT embolden them and their champion? I entertained those thoughts yesterday when I tweeted:
First, no, I did not get any retweets or favorites. The lesson, as always: few people read this blog, fewer follow me on Twitter, and about ten times a day my brain screams at itself, “Why are you DOING this!” But that’s neither here nor there.
Second, after Romney’s speech, we got the reaction we were all expecting. When establishment folks attack Trump, he returns with aggressiveness, relentless ad hominem defenses, and implicit instructions to his supporters to dig in their heels even deeper. That’s exactly what happened.
Hilariously, these two were singing each other’s praises four years ago, making Romney a problematic heckler. In 2012, Romney gratefully accepted Trump’s endorsement and praised his understanding of the economy. Trump responded with: “Mitt is tough. He’s smart. He’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love. So, Gov. Romney, go out and get them. You can do it.” (Side note: it’s great to see that in four years Trump hasn’t lost his rhetorical flourish.)
So if Romney wants to stop Trump, was this really the way to do it? In other words, what is he thinking?
I am so glad you asked. I’ll tell you exactly what he’s thinking.
For starters, he probably read Wednesday morning’s PPFA post on Super Tuesday’s fallout and came away agreeing with its very first sentence: “It’s Donald Trump or it’s a contested convention.”
See, the game has totally changed. We’re so used to candidates jockeying to win a majority of delegates that I don’t think people have yet re-wired their brains to look at this race in the new way. Forget Cruz or Rubio coming back to win or why Kasich is still in it if he’s only won 25 delegates. These guys want to force a convention, and that means keeping Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates.
Mitt Romney, the last nominee of the party, just made that goal official. “The only serious policy proposals that deal with a broad range of national challenges we confront today come from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. One of these men should be our nominee.”
He didn’t endorse. He didn’t push a candidate that could potentially catch Trump. He left it open for all three. And that’s because this new approach to the primary — that of just aiming for a convention — frees all the candidates to try a different strategy. What Mitt Romney did is start the coordination of that process.
“Given the current delegate selection process . . . I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.”
I’ve said this before. Rubians should not have wanted Ted Cruz to drop out before Texas. Similarly, they shouldn’t want Kasich to drop out before Ohio. Cruzers shouldn’t want Rubio to drop out before Florida, Pennsylvania, and the West coast. Because no one is catching Trump before the nomination, they need to limit Trump’s delegate count, and Romney knows it. He is making official what we were only wondering about in blogs and cable news. Let’s get to the convention and see what happens, because it’s our only shot at stopping Donald Trump.
So no, I don’t think Mitt Romney expected to change the mind of any Trump supporter. Instead, he’s looking at that slice of remaining mainstream Republican voters — let’s face it, if they weren’t mainstream, they ran to Trump months ago — who haven’t made up their minds. Let’s remember that Trump has only won one-third of the vote and 46 percent of delegates. If those numbers continue, Romney doesn’t need to change Trumpeters’ minds. Rather, he gave the undecideds something to think about. If they are considering voting for the frontrunner, Romney’s laundry list of Trump’s dubious positions and record — trade policy, fiscal policy, foreign policy, an overrated entrepreneurial record, inconsistent recountings that challenge his self-anointed “world’s greatest memory,” inappropriate bellicosity for a president, a general election disaster waiting to happen, and a blistering assault on Trump as a “con man” and “phony” taking advantage of people’s gullibility — Romney may have convinced them to hold off for a little bit longer.
Yet, we still haven’t come to the bottom of Romney’s impetus for yesterday’s speech. The strategy he outlined was just the means to an end. He cloaked himself in selflessness while sharpening his dagger for the summer.
Something else Romney knows is that even if Republican voters do force a contested convention, Trump would still come in with more delegates and more votes than any other candidate. To then ultimately hand the nomination to Rubio, Cruz, or Kasich, who received so many fewer votes and delegates than Trump, would be indefensible. As Trump has said, it’s not quite an effective argument that “two-thirds of voters have voted against Trump” if 85 percent have voted against Cruz or Rubio.
So, after the deadlocked first ballot, what happens then? The delegates are all released to vote for whomever they choose, primary candidate or not. We must wonder, then: on the second, third, or tenth ballot, who becomes the consensus candidate?
How about someone who, four years ago, finished with many more votes and delegates than Donald Trump, assuming we do have a contested convention, did this time around? How about the guy whose speech outlining a concerted anti-Trump strategy became the turning point of the 2016 campaign? How about a guy who won on his second attempt to win a Massachusetts office, on his second attempt to win the Republican Primary, and now just needs a second attempt to win a general election to become the next president?
That’s right. Naturally, the delegates of Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz would turn to Mitt Romney, still the standard bearer of the Republican Party.
If you’re into politics, I probably don’t have to remind you that House of Cards returns today. If you don’t enjoy the fourth season of that fiction, however, feel free to sit back and revel in the real thing.