What has Romney learned?


Now that Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch has announced that he’s not running for reelection, speculation is running rampant that Mitt Romney will run for the Senate.

But Ross Douthat has a great question: What has Romney learned from his defeat in 2012?

Whether in his father’s Michigan, in his running mate’s Wisconsin, or in Pennsylvania where he campaigned hopefully near the end, downscale white voters who could have gone Republican either voted for Obama or stayed home. And in that failure lay the opportunity that Trump intuited — for a Republican candidate who would rhetorically reject and even run against the kind of corporation-first conservatism that Romney seemed to embody and embrace.

Since taking office, of course, Trump has mostly turned his back on his own economic populism — and lost much of his modest-to-begin-with popularity in the process. But in that time, the men who imagine themselves the party’s stewards or its conscience have learned little from the way he beat them and then beat the Democrats. They are still suffering from what Pete Spiliakos, in a withering column for First Things last month, called “The Romney Disease” — a condition that combines admirable personal probity and decency with an abiding commitment to unpopular economic policies:

The best of the current Republicans (the Paul Ryans, the Ben Sasses, the Mitt Romneys) have certain common features that should be appealing to the electorate. They seem to have the home life of the family man. They have the discipline and diligence of the organization kid. They have the looks of the pretty boy. Yet the public still rejects them, because the voters find their ideas even more unpleasant than Donald Trump’s odious personality.

If Romney joins the Utah Senate race, and ultimately the Senate, there will be a lot of talk about the service he can perform for his country by resisting the worst of Trumpism. But he could also perform a service by showing that he has learned something from watching Trumpism succeed where his own campaign failed — which would mean steering a different and more populist course than those NeverTrump Republicans who pine for a party of the purest libertarianism, and those OkayFineTrump Republicans who are happy now that Trump has given them their corporate tax cut.