You didn’t think I’d deny you a thread to stomp on him for officially withholding his endorsement from Trump next year, did you?
He *is* showing some loyalty to Trump here. Kind of. There are now three different primary challengers to the president; Romney happens to be buddies with one of them, Bill Weld, and would doubtless heartily agree with another, Mark Sanford, that the Trump administration needs to take America’s looming fiscal crisis more seriously. And no one in the race this year sounds as much like Romney did in his (in)famous 2016 speech lambasting Trump as Joe Walsh, who lashes the president every day in media appearances for his character deficiencies. Instead of backing one, Mitt’s staying neutral.
You may remember that Trump endorsed Romney in 2012 in one of the more awkward joint photo ops in recent political history, when he was still mainly known in politics as the Birther-in-chief. Romney returned the favor four years later by writing in his wife’s name on his presidential ballot. Weld, of course, ran against Trump in 2016 as the Libertarian Party’s VP nominee before endorsing Hillary Clinton shortly before Election Day. Can’t any of these dudes pick a winner?
“I’m not planning on endorsing in the presidential race,” Romney, who has periodically sparred with Trump, told CNN in the Capitol. “At this stage, I’m not planning on endorsing in the primary or in the general.”…
On Thursday, Romney told CNN that he has concerns with the move by several states to cancel their primary contests in a bid to help Trump as he faces challenges from Weld, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh and former South Carolina congressman and Gov. Mark Sanford.
“I would far prefer having an open primary, caucus, convention process … where people can be heard,” said Romney, who reiterated that he’s not running himself.
Should we read anything into him saying “at this stage”? I don’t think so. He’d gain nothing by endorsing Weld and would lose what little influence he has with Trump. He’s better off staying neutral and keeping up his mix of sporadic lacerating criticism of the president tempered by occasional praise.
A more interesting question than what Mitt will do is how many of the people on this list of former Never Trumpers will end up endorsing Trump for reelection. There were a lot of prominent Republicans who held out on backing the nominee in 2016, way more than I remember. People with some sort of personal grudge against Trump, like the Bushes or Carly Fiorina, will likely continue to hold out, I assume. But as an incumbent president, he’s likely to improve dramatically among Republican senators: Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee will definitely back him this time and Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Rob Portman are likely to. Trump may even flip the two Alaskans, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. As for Ben Sasse, what choice does he have but to return the favor after Trump endorsed him earlier this week? The president may have saved his Senate seat for him by discouraging a primary insurrection among Trump fans in Nebraska. If Sasse were to insult him by withholding his support again, who knows how Trump — and Trumpers — would react.
We can safely say that if Sasse is planning to stay neutral, he won’t make that fact plain until after his primary.
I think ex-Never-Trumpers could actually be a useful campaign tool for Trump next year. Many swing voters will be wary of giving him a second term; an ad featuring someone like Mike Lee discussing Trump’s accomplishments and how he came to be more comfortable with the idea of Trump as president should be more relatable to those voters than someone doing the full Lou Dobbs “WE HAVE ENTERED A GOLDEN AGE” pitch for POTUS. Lee’s reluctance in 2016 would prove to skeptics that he understands their concerns about Trump, making his decision to back Trump this time that much more powerful.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Dobbs last night sounding exceedingly Dobbs-ish.