The cavalcade of Republican dignitaries criticizing, or at least distancing themselves from the president’s mealymouthed response to Charlottesville grows longer each minute. But one particularly heavy wingtip just dropped, as Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, went medieval on Trump in a Facebook post:
Whether he intended to or not, what [Trump] communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn’t mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.
After suggesting that Trump is undermining the morale of the U.S. armed forces, undercutting our standing with stunned allies, and giving our enemies cause for celebration, Romney cut to the chase:
The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis–who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat–and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.
The third sentence of Romney’s petition could create an immovable stumbling block: Donald Trump, to put it mildly, has some difficulty acknowledging he is wrong and offering plain and forthright apologies. In August of his 2016 campaign, he offered a vague blanket apology for a host of insults that “may have caused personal pain.” And then in October, he apologized for what he said about women in the Access Hollywood tape, which represented an existential threat to this candidacy. As president, he seems to regard himself as having reacquired a cloak of infallibility, despite the many, many people who have let him down. So if Mitt is serious about expecting an act of contrition with a firm purpose of amendment from the 45th president, he could be waiting for a while.
It is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that Trump’s list of foes includes the last two previous presidential nominees of his own party. John McCain, among the first to feel the sting of a gratuitous insult from candidate Trump in 2015 (“He’s not a war hero … He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”), cast the deciding vote to finally kill the zombie of Trumpcare — a fact that Trump angrily brought up twice in the very press conference where he set off the current stink bomb about Charlottesville. And now Mitt Romney’s frosty-but-proper relationship with the president has gone fully toxic.
The unfriendly total invisibility of the Bush family when it comes to All Matters Trump was broken by a joint statement from the 41st and 43d presidents just after the 45th’s horrific presser, and it was a bit pointed, too:
America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.
You have to go back to Bob Dole to find a former GOP presidential nominee who has been truly friendly to Trump, and even he broke with Trump a few months ago over the administration’s proposal to eviscerate international food-assistance programs. The 94-year-old Dole hasn’t commented on Charlottesville, but a passage from his 1996 acceptance speech is again getting some circulation:
[I]f there’s anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln. And the exits which are clearly marked are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.
Maybe Steve Bannon is delighted as Trump’s actions continue to burn bridges to past Republican leaders, and perhaps Trump’s “base” voters don’t care. But every time someone like Mitt Romney takes Donald Trump to the rhetorical woodshed, it becomes easier for GOP members of Congress to declare independence from the White House and plot their own course for survival in 2018. As Trump discovered when health-care legislation ground to an abrupt and embarrassing halt, that can have consequences.