By not being the current leader of the Republican party, or of what remains of the so-called conservative movement. Romney represents every bit as much as George W. Bush a consensus that has been abandoned, an ideology with no adherents — or at least no adherents who don’t write a column for one of our few remaining national newspapers. He is about as threatening to the mainstream liberal establishment as the Duke of Edinburgh. He is relevant precisely because he is irrelevant. The former Bain Capital exec (who even has his own erstwhile secret Twitter account for moaning at conservative pundits) is the hero the #Resistance crowd deserves.
This is why we are now expected to swoon at Romney’s kindergarten teacher-in-chief routine (“Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth — those are not private things”) in Atlantic profiles and exclusive sitdowns with that website that does articles in the form of PowerPoints. The actual content of what he says — a lot of gas about “character” — does not matter, nor does the fact that his actual views on a wide range of relevant questions are either the same as Trump’s (e.g., lowering taxes for the rich, Bret Kavanaugh’s suitability for the Supreme Court) or much scarier (the absolute moral necessity of fighting multiple unwinnable wars indefinitely in the Middle East). Since he has been in the Senate, Romney has voted in favor of Trump’s legislative agenda roughly 80 percent of the time, 11 percent more frequently than Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has enthusiastically defended Trump against critics both within and outside the GOP. F.H. Bradley once defined metaphysics as the finding of bad reasons for things we believe upon instinct. Being a Republican opponent of Trump generally means finding principled-sounding reasons for criticizing things someone does without, in many cases, actually disagreeing with them in order to win praise from people who called you a monster less than a decade ago.