CPAC chair Matt Schlapp: I'm not sure Mitt Romney's safety could be guaranteed there

CPAC chair Matt Schlapp: I'm not sure Mitt Romney's safety could be guaranteed there

Mediaite has a transcript of his comments on Greta Van Susteren’s new show but it’s worth taking the 30 seconds to watch them yourself. Click and skip ahead to 20:13. Schlapp doesn’t seem to be joking, and he doesn’t pause to reflect on the implications of what he’s saying. Neither does Greta, for that matter. She doesn’t follow up. This is just … how it is now. Of course Romney’s physical safety might be at risk in a room of angry Trump-loving populists.

Why, it’s so obvious that it’s barely worth remarking on at all.

I remember him claiming last week how he discussed his vote to remove with his family at length before he cast it, knowing there’d be “consequences” from it for them too. That seemed overwrought. The Romneys were going to get an earful from critics and maybe see their social engagements dry up for awhile, but it probably wouldn’t be worse than that, right? No, not right.

Here’s what Schlapp said:

“We won’t credential him as a conservative. I suppose if he wants to come as a non-conservative and debate an issue with us, maybe in the future we would have him come. This year, I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him. The biggest problem we have with Mitt Romney is not that he’s just an individual following his political course. It’s the fact that he’s lied so continuously to conservatives. He’s a ‘use-em-and-lose-em’ kind of guy. When he needed a conservative like Donald Trump to endorse him in his Senate primary last time, he wanted him in. But then, when he gets the Senate job, he wants to distance himself from Trump. He’s a use ’em and lose ’em kind of guy.”

I wonder how many distinct Two Minutes’ Hate will be aimed at him at CPAC this month. If you’re giving a speech and looking for a cheap applause line, nothing beats a Romney dig.

But I appreciate Schlapp’s effort to frame Romney’s exclusion from the event as some sort of ideological objection, which constitutes at least a nod to the idea that “conservatism” means something grander than “staying on Trump’s good side.” Romney has indeed lied to conservatives a bunch, especially before his 2012 run, but that didn’t stop him from being invited to give his awkward “severely conservative” speech at CPAC that year. He’s voted with Trump nearly 80 percent of the time as a senator, a better percentage than conservatives-in-good-standing Mike Lee or Rand Paul. And it’s farcical for a Trump apologist like Schlapp to criticize another Republican for a “use-em-and-lose-em” attitude knowing how transactional the president is in his own approach towards allies. Go ask Matt Gaetz, who cast one vote against Trump in a big spot after three years of fawning support and had to suffer for it, how loyal Trump and his team are to friends.

We’re still waiting for a post-impeachment poll out of Utah to gauge how much of a hit Romney has taken back home. Anecdotally — if that’s worth anything — the NYT believes Utahns are taking his vote to remove in stride:

“Censuring Senator Romney for voting his conscience is a tricky place to be,” the speaker of the state House, Brad Wilson, said in an interview.

The governor, Gary Herbert, told The Salt Lake Tribune, “I think that would be just a mistake to go down that road.”…

Utah Republicans never quite fell for Mr. Trump as hard as the rest of their party did. The state’s political sensibilities, heavily influenced by its Mormon culture, are more agree-to-disagree than salt-the-earth. The president’s coarse language, belittling nicknames and aversion to humility help explain why his approval ratings over all in Utah have been below 50 percent for most of the last three years.

And while they support Mr. Trump as their president — very few Republicans here say they would have voted to convict him as Mr. Romney did — they have refused to join the pile-on they see happening back east on Fox News sets and in social media feeds of the president’s followers, where their junior senator is being vilified as a “coward” and “Judas” who should be expelled from the Republican Party.

NBC also found some grudging respect for Romney in man-on-the-street interviews in Utah this weekend but go figure that a media that’s eager to lionize him might highlight isolated instances of popular support. I continue to think the polls there will shake at something like 40/60 against his vote to remove — not great, but not fatal to a senator who’s universally known and has four years to heal the breach. Although that assumes he even wants to run again in 2024 and serve another six years in an institution as fallen as the Senate, which he probably doesn’t.

One wrinkle for Romney in all this. He’d be fine if it were a one-off thing and he really did have four years to re-ingratiate himself to Republican populists back home but there are bound to be more Trump scandals (although hopefully none on the order of an impeachable offense). What does he say three months from now if House Democrats finally win in court and get Trump’s tax returns, only to discover “irregularities” in them? Romney’s history on that issue is, er, complicated, remember. Does he look the other way in the name of repairing relations with the party or does his conscience once again force him to be adversarial towards the White House? A wound can’t heal unless it scabs over. Romney’s in a position where the scab may keep coming off again and again.

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