Mitt Romney is coming back.
Well, maybe. Romney seems to be angling for a Senate seat if Utah’s Orrin Hatch retires next year. And it’s a tribute to the times we live in that at the moment, he looks ... wow, not bad.
It is true that as a politician Romney would pander to a guppy. But last week he was a veritable profile in courage by Republican standards. He told his party to drop the “if true” hedge when they were talking about charges that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore once sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl.
“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections,” Romney said. “I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”
Simple and straightforward. Election to high office is an honor, not a right. Voters, who have been urged in past elections to reject candidates for everything from bad hair to being pregnant, can look at the Moore story — including the multiple women who say he dated or tried to date them when he was in his 30s and they were 16 to 18 — and just say no.
Romney is completely right. It doesn’t matter if you think he’s making a grab for attention. In a way, that’s the whole point. This is a man who always has his finger to the wind, and he intuited that this was the thing the American people want to hear: a political uprising against powerful men putting their grubby hands on powerless women.
It’s not what they’re getting from most Senate Republicans, who are simply shaking their heads and saying Moore should step down ... if it turns out he really did the terrible thing that The Washington Post reported in stupendously credible detail. (John McCain was one of the first to demand that Moore drop out; Jeff Flake was telling the world what a terrible person Moore was even before the sex accusations came up.)
President Donald Trump, according to his press secretary, believes “a mere allegation” shouldn’t “destroy a person’s life.” This is pretty unsurprising. After all, if the president had said anything less weaselly, we would swiftly point out that this is the guy who was recorded bragging that he didn’t bother to wait for permission before he started kissing women.
Which we now have no excuse for bringing up.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Republican Party has been desperately trying to cover Moore’s tracks:
• “Other than being with an underage person — he didn’t really force himself.”
• “The same thing went on when President Trump ran for office; there was about 15 ladies who ran to the press and said the same thing.”
• “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
That last was from the Alabama state auditor — the guy who cited the Bible and argued that Joseph did the same thing with Mary. I have covered politics for a very long time, but I swear this is the first time I’ve seen a race hinging on the issue of virgin birth.
It’s very possible Moore will be elected. Alabama is a super-red state. U.S. voters do not have a strong history of switching parties in order to punish a politician for personal misbehavior. And the ballot is already printed. (A Hollywood studio is erasing Kevin Spacey from an entire movie, but once you’re on a ballot, no earthly power can get you off.)
The whole spectacle would be less awful if at least Republicans from outside the state had the spine to speak up — to follow Romney’s lead.
Whoever thought we’d get to the point of urging everybody to just agree with Mitt? Romney appears to be a man with an exemplary private life, but on the political front, he has had no moral spine whatsoever. He spent all of 2016 warning the world what a terrible, terrible person Trump was, but then he wouldn’t even say who he voted for in November, except that it wasn’t Hillary. Which was exactly as helpful as sitting outside the polling place under a sign that says, “I’m sulking.”
Now, however, we are looking at him with new eyes. And really, he’s due. George W. Bush is getting super-popular, and at least Romney never wrecked the entire Middle East. True, he did get the Republican nomination in 2012 by slamming his opponents as soft on people living in the country illegally. But having a history of babbling about “self-deportation” somehow seems a lot less troubling these days.
It’s also true that Romney once complained that Barack Obama had been elected with the help of college-age women trading their votes for “free contraceptives.” But now we’ve got a president who’s turning pregnancy prevention programs over to people who don’t believe in birth control.
And yes, as a candidate, Romney’s idea of expressing empathy for low-income Americans was saying, “There’s no question it’s not good being poor.” But that’s better than Trump’s recent revelation that he felt so sorry for rich people he had to propose eliminating the estate tax “just to give them something.”
Who’d have ever thought it? I wish Mitt was president.