There are religious sects that place an emphasis on handling venomous snakes. Part of their dogma asserts that God will protect those true believers who handle the snakes. Indulge me for a moment for a brief hypothetical about religious snake handlers that will serve as a metaphor for Utah’s lamentable U.S. Senate candidate, Mitt Romney.
We’ll call two members of a sect Snake Handler One and Snake Handler Two. Snake Handler One handles his snake in a truly reckless manner. He holds the snake up so that the snake’s head and fangs are just inches away from his face. Snake Handler One is clearly a true believer who has complete faith he will be protected.
Snake Handler Two, in contrast, is noticeably careful handling his snake. He holds the snake just behind the snake’s head and keeps it away from his body. Snake Handler Two seems more intent on being the leader of his sect and receiving the adulation of the fellow members than actually handling any snakes. Snake Handler Two is an opportunist who is exploiting the faith of his fellow sect members.
If either snake handler were bitten, I would have great sympathy for Snake Handler One, and nearly none for Snake Handler Two.
President Trump is manifestly unfit for office and is inexorably poisoning our civil society. Though Trump is an abomination, a large number of his supporters are not. Many Trump supporters, through a combination of anxiety, frustration, anger and feelings of being neglected, have focused on his promises and completely discounted his gigantic flaws.
Many of us, put in a situation of fear, anger and frustration, do not exhibit our best thinking and clearest judgment. Many Trump supporters truly (but mistakenly) believe that Trump’s bull-in-the-china-shop style will result in beneficial reforms of the federal government.
Mitt Romney is not so deluded. Romney gave a blistering speech attacking Trump in March 2016, after Trump had emerged as the leading candidate in the Republican primaries but was not yet the nominee. In the speech, Romney said that “[Trump]’s playing the American public for suckers.” Romney described Trump as a “fraud.” He said Trump was dishonest. Romney provided a devastating, accurate attack on candidate Trump.
Nine months later, after Trump was elected, Romney apparently forgot about this eviscerating attack. He attended a November 2016 dinner with Trump. He used the occasion to bow and scrape to Trump in an effort to be named secretary of state. His efforts failed.
Trump has accomplished a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Longtime bedrock Republican principles such as free trade and fiscal probity have been abandoned. Romney claims he is in favor of free trade and fiscal discipline. But as a Senate candidate, he has become quiet. He’s not been strident in attacking Trump’s threats to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement. Most distressingly, where is Romney in reiterating his (correct) assertion that Trump is a fraud?
In March 2016, Romney foresaw the kind of person who would relentlessly and unfairly attack our country’s essential institutions such as the free press and the judiciary. These institutions are crucial to maintaining the checks and balances that our country’s founders knew were indispensable to preserving our republic. Today, as a Senate candidate, where is Romney in calling this out? What, in fact, is the true Mitt Romney? Is he center-right governor of Massachusetts who helped create the forerunner to Obamacare? Is he the 2012 presidential candidate who lamented that 47 percent of the voters were dependent on the government?
I give many Trump supporters a pass because they are like Snake Handler One, misguided but sincere and earnest. Mitt Romney will never earn the same forbearance. He’s like Snake Handler Two. Romney knows Trump is a fraud and a threat to our country. Yet he won’t speak out.
Romney is not in the “sincere but misguided” category. Rather, he has cynically calculated that to get elected in today’s GOP he must pretend, he must go along, he must participate in enabling the abomination that is Trump. This cynical calculation is a catastrophic mistake that helps put all of us at risk. Utah can surely find a better senator.
Eric Rumple, Sandy, has an MBA from the University of Chicago and is the author of the novel “Forgive Our Debts.”