Romney’s Exit and the End of Congressional Compromise

Senator Mitt Romney has decided not to run for re-election. That means for the next 16 months, Romney will be a putative Democrat, hurling his truth bombs at his GOP colleagues on a daily basis.

“A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” Romney is quoted as saying in a new biography about him from the The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins. Indeed, there’s plenty more where that came from. Washington Post:

  • Close behind are Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), whose furthering of 2020 stolen-election claims Romney seems to regard with particular disdain. “They know better!” he said. “Josh Hawley is one of the smartest people in the Senate, if not the smartest, and Ted Cruz could give him a run for his money.” Romney said they made a “calculation” that “put politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution.”
  • Of former vice president Mike Pence, a man who like Romney wears his religiosity on his sleeve: No one has been “more loyal, more willing to smile when he saw absurdities, more willing to ascribe God’s will to things that were ungodly than Mike Pence.”

Mitt Romney is from a different Republican Party than Cruz, Hawley, and even Pence. Republicans like Romney — and I include myself in that group — are from an entirely different planet. It’s a planet where compromise does not mean surrender, where civility is not a sign of weakness or “squishiness,” and where there’s a recognition that the political opposition is not the enemy of the United States.

That kind of planet is no longer inhabited. The entire middle in American politics has been hollowed out and all that’s left are the true believers on either side.

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With no political center — at least, no center with any power — the question becomes how does a party govern? Republicans are having such a good time tearing at each other that they can’t even pass a budget. Certainly, that says something about the leadership. But it also says something ominous about the party. Even the most rudimentary functions of government are impossible to undertake.

Romney asked a fundamental question about the future.

The GOP agenda involves using the government in one way or another to effect change. But where the Democrats want to use the government to end poverty, help the unions, and promote alternative lifestyles, what do Republicans want to use the government for? Education reform? Protecting children? Destroying the left?

It’s a question yet to be answered. Right now, the GOP is going through a period of navel-gazing, trying to find a unity of task and purpose. Losing Romney won’t help. His was a clarifying voice in the Republican caucus if not a popular one.

But Romney was worried — even terrified — of the effects of demagoguery in the Republican Party. That demagoguery has let loose the political furies that have made politics nasty and dangerous. An excerpt from Coppins’s Romney biography:

After January 6, a new, more existential brand of cowardice had emerged. One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him—why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome? Later, during the Senate trial, Romney heard the same calculation while talking with a small group of Republican colleagues. When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the others urged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, Romney recalled someone saying. Think of your personal safety, said another. Think of your children.

Romney is not as principled as some on the right. He was a notorious flip-flopper on abortion, for example. And as Nick Catoggio (Allahpundit) wrote about Romney, “If political courage means standing firm on policy when doing so would compromise your electability, Mitt Romney is a wimp.”

But with Romney leaving the Senate and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema pondering retirement, the number of senators who would even entertain working toward a compromise could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

With no ability for Congress to compromise, how are things going to get done? Short answer: they’re not. While that may be fine for the political nihilists on the right, most of the rest of us view that state of affairs with trepidation. When even the simplest budget vote becomes a partisan war, there’s not much hope that badly needed reforms in immigration, Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements have a chance of being passed.

That means that an even more dysfunctional Congress is on the way.

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