Still, it seemed that Romney had painted himself into a corner. “His op-ed is a repudiation of Trump that the president is unlikely to forgive or forget, and which Romney won’t easily back away from,” I wrote. “For better or worse, Mitt Romney has joined the resistance. The real question is if he’ll make it matter.”
Now we know: It doesn’t matter.
Of course, nearly the entire Republican Party has been silent in the face of Trump’s provocations. But Romney’s silence is particularly salient. Not just because he represents what used to be the party establishment, as the last GOP presidential nominee before Trump. But because he promised so publicly to fight back against the president’s worst impulses. By essentially giving Trump a pass on the last two weeks — by being so mealy mouthed about it — Romney has signaled that Trump’s latest behavior doesn’t merit serious opposition. He is giving Trump, other Republicans, and the public permission to move on as though none of this matters.
Trump will keep being Trump — he benefits from what former President George W. Bush once called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Nobody expects him to be any better than he is. But there was a time, just a few months ago, when it seemed possible that Romney might meet the moment with bravery and boldness. The moment has passed.