Small government groups find exciting new cause: Dumping on Romney for wanting to call witnesses at Trump's trial

They’ve learned the same lesson that Kelly Loeffler has. If you want to make Republicans eager to support you in 2020, you don’t chatter at them about the national debt or government spending or the looming entitlement crisis. They don’t care. Not unless there’s a Democrat in office and the issues can be weaponized as a partisan cudgel.

We can always worry about running trillion-dollar deficits next year. Or in 2025, as electoral circumstances warrant.

If you want to get Republicans excited enough to line the pockets of your campaign or your advocacy org, you chatter at them about owning Trump’s enemies. Usually that means the libs, but in special circumstances it might mean dorky old-school Republican Mitt Romney.

This feels like the perfect complement to Rand Paul’s tussle with John Roberts today. Click the image for the full-sized version as it’s cut off at the bottom as you see it here:

Paul got elected to the Senate in 2010 at the height of tea-party fever, vowing to shrink government before it swallowed Americans’ liberties. Nowadays he spends most of his time running interference for Trump, occasionally getting a political payoff in the form of the president doing something dovish on foreign policy. (And occasionally getting the opposite.) As others have noted on political Twitter today, it speaks volumes that one of Congress’s few self-described libertarians is more interested in fighting with Roberts over naming the whistleblower than he is in challenging Team Trump’s ambitious concept of presidential authority. But in a way he’s stayed true to himself: He’s a free marketeer so he’s following the laws of political supply and demand. Defending Trump at all costs is in high demand, libertarianism is in very short demand, so Paul’s adjusted his supply accordingly.

Same for FreedomWorks, one of the highest-profile small-government groups to emerge during the tea-party era. They have a history with Romney, sort of. In 2011 they protested his appearances on the presidential campaign trial in New Hampshire because of his questionable conservative resume, most famously his role in bringing RomneyCare to Massachusetts. “We have to defend our brand against poseurs,” said one of the group’s top organizers. In 2020, two days after CBO announced that America is projected to run another unimaginably huge deficit next year and even bigger deficits for the rest of the decade — this, despite a booming economy that should be closing the gap between revenue and expenditures — they’re consumed with Romney’s vote on witnesses in Trump’s trial.

A vote, by the way, that’s all but certain to be meaningless in deciding the issue. And that’s being cast by a guy who won’t face voters in Utah again for nearly five years. If you were in charge of ad expenditures for FreedomWorks and you *really* wanted to try to influence tomorrow’s vote on witnesses, would your money be better spent targeting Romney or targeting Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander, the two Republicans who are most famously on the fence about what to do?

This ad isn’t aimed at Utahns, obviously. It’s FreedomWorks’s version of virtue-signaling to online Trump fans. “You hate Romney? We hate Romney too. How about signing up for our mailing list or maybe making a donation?”

Cynical, but it’s not this FreedomWorks ad that hurts the most. The TV ad below from the Club for Growth is what really hurts, partly because the CFG is — or was — such a well-respected advocate for fiscal conservatism on the right and partly because it’s so aggressively stupid in its criticisms of Romney. It starts off as an attack on him for wanting to call witnesses before transitioning into … a demand to call witnesses, specifically Hunter Biden. Except:

1. Romney sounds willing to call Biden. Two days ago the Washington Examiner asked him if the Bidens should be subpoenaed in exchange for Bolton testifying and he answered, “I think if you heard from one side, you probably ought to have the chance to hear from a witness from the other side.”

2. Even if he didn’t want to call Biden, Romney surely understands that Biden would be called once the door is opened to calling witnesses because Republicans have the votes to call anyone they want. Here again, as with the FreedomWorks ad, we have a case of a righty outfit demagoging Romney to do what they want when their effort would be better spent elsewhere. As of now Romney and Collins are the only two Republicans who *are* willing to let people like Bolton and Biden testify. If the Club for Growth wants to hear from Hunter so badly they should have aimed this ad at McConnell, Cruz, Graham, and the 48 other Senate Republicans who are planning to march in there tomorrow and vote no on all witnesses.

3. It takes brass balls to accuse Romney of not being able to “handle the truth” at a moment when the GOP is prepared to block Bolton because they fear, for good reason, that he might have something incriminating to say about the president. This won’t be a case of skipping a witness because he has nothing material to add to the evidence. This is a case of suppressing a witness because he probably does have something to add, maybe a lot, and the inevitable acquittal will smell a little better if his testimony isn’t on record when that verdict is issued.

Why is this ad so idiotic when it could have been a straightforward “Romney’s a RINO, there shouldn’t be witnesses” jab? Because the CFG knows that attacking Romney and attacking Hunter Biden are two distinct political erogenous zones for its target audience and they wanted to stroke both of those zones in hopes of maximizing whatever it is they’re hoping to get out of this — social-media engagement, donations, mail-list sign-ups, approving Trump tweets, or some combo of all of that. It doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to demagogue the right people. Mission accomplished.