Laura Ingraham: I might have to move to Utah to primary Mitt Romney

Fox is the GOP’s prime messaging operation, and effective messaging of course encourages election turnout, so it’s interesting that Ingraham would go on at length here about Romney when not one, not two, but three Democrats from reliably red states also upset their Republican constituents yesterday by voting to remove Trump. Many more Democrats from purple states that were won by Trump in 2016 did so too — Gary Peters in Michigan, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. We can expand the universe further by including blue states that are trending red and might be ready to flip this fall. Minnesota, represented by Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, went for Hillary in 2016 by just a point and a half. Peters, Smith, and Doug Jones are all on the ballot this fall, making last night a prime opportunity to get the Fox faithful revved up to turn out and beat them.

Instead it was Romneypalooza, aimed at a guy whose seat will surely remain Republican in 2024 whether it’s him or someone else on the ballot. And I think it probably will be someone else, not because Romney’s going to lose a primary but because he’ll eventually decide that a 77-year-old has better things to do with his time than fart around in a Senate caucus that now exists solely to rubber-stamp judges and run interference for Trump on whatever the political mess of the day is. He’ll retire before his next race. Certainly he’ll retire if Trump wins reelection this fall and the party looks set to follow a Trumpist path for the next decade.

Conor Friedersdorf noticed something in Ingraham’s hosannas to Trump’s swamp-draining prowess in the segment below. She seems to take it for granted that Utahns can and should be punished for one vote cast on a non-policy matter by a senator who votes consistently with Trump on policy. Which seems … kind of swampy.

“If you’re one of Romney’s constituents in Utah, you’re out of luck,” she said. “If you’re a businessman in need of a regulation reexamined, don’t bother calling his office. He has no power anymore.”

Let us consider this businessman Ingraham has conjured, suffering under dysfunctional regulation. According to her, the businessman’s fate and that of his employees depend not on the merits of his request for relief, nor his senator’s willingness to alert congressional colleagues to his problem. Rather, the businessman’s fate turns on Beltway power games––how the senator voted on impeachment, a perception of partisan disloyalty, and the impulse to punish him for it.

That ought to scandalize us. The sincere needs of citizens should be the priority in Washington. Yet Ingraham was not decrying corruption. She was attacking Romney and gloating over his ostensible loss of power.

This is an old point by now, but “drain the swamp” was never actually about draining the swamp. It was about making the swamp work for a different group of cronies while cutting enemies out. Ingraham’s just following that logic to its conclusion.

The best political argument against Romney’s vote yesterday isn’t the yammering about loyalty but the point made by Rick Santorum this morning on CNN. (Ed has a fuller post about that coming soon.) Romney deprived vulnerable GOP incumbents like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner of political cover by voting to remove, he noted. If he had stuck with the team, Collins and Gardner could have answered their critics on the stump by noting that no Republicans in the House or Senate concluded that what Trump did was wrong. They can’t do that anymore. Now they’ll have to answer this question from Democratic voters: “Why did Mitt Romney see a removable offense when you didn’t? You claim you’re an independent but he’s the one who showed real independence.”

It’s true that Collins and Gardner have less room to maneuver now, but they still have plenty of room. Collins already previewed some of her arguments in defense of her vote in her floor speech a few days ago. My first response to critics if I were her would be to point to the House vote. Sure, fine, the vote to remove in the Senate was bipartisan but the vote *against* impeachment was bipartisan in the House. The Ukraine matter was a close call on the merits, a fact borne out by every poll on impeachment/removal, not just the partisan splits in Congress. We’re not supposed to remove a president on “close calls,” which is why there’s a 67-vote threshold in the Senate. And really, why focus on Romney as the one true barometer of independence when a variety of other centrist-y Republicans, most notably Lisa Murkowski, agreed that Trump should be acquitted? Why isn’t Murkowski the touchstone of “reasonableness” here?

There’s another point. If Romney made life harder for Collins and Gardner, he also made life harder for Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema by boxing them into removal votes despite the fact that they represent red states. Jones may be a special case since he’s probably doomed this fall no matter what but Sinema and especially Manchin had sound electoral reasons to want to support acquittal. Once Romney showed his cards, that became hard. If it’s uncomfortable for Collins and Gardner to answer when Democrats asked why they didn’t behave as Romney did, it would have been really hard for Manchin and Sinema to answer the same question. “You call yourself a Democrat and you voted to acquit? Mitt Romney had the guts to vote to remove as a Republican and you didn’t even have the guts to do it as a member of our party!”

Romney forced them to cross the Republican majorities in their home states. Granted, the time horizon for revenge here is long, as Manchin and Sinema won’t face voters again until 2024. But Trump’s memory is long too. If he wins a second term, I sense he might remember their removal votes and mention it on the trail four years from now. Or will he be too obsessed with Romney’s (unlikely) reelection campaign that same fall to bother targeting easily beatable Democrats? Senate majorities are nice and all but revenge is the spice of life.