Since an Op-Ed published just before he took office as senator from Utah, Mitt Romney has been the highest-profile opposition to President Trump from within his own party. On Friday, however, Romney was busy defending the president over the shutdown, just one day before Trump offered a proposal to end the impasse.
During an appearance in Ogden, Utah — where he visited with county commissioners and discussed what impacts the shutdown was having there — Romney told reporters that “it takes two to tango,” but that he backed the president’s position.
Addressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to The Associated Press, Romney said: “You and your fellow Democrats have voted for over 600 miles of border fence in the past, why won’t you vote for another few miles now?”
“I don’t understand their position,” he told reporters. “I really don’t.”
Romney also noted that Trump had intimated he was willing to allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain in the country.
“On policy, it strikes me like there’s not a big gap, but the politics have drawn people into different corners,” Romney said.
He urged both sides to “make a deal,” with Pelosi offering some money for border construction, in order to reopen the partially shut government. Romney also voiced his support for an initiative by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, that would restore paychecks to essential government workers currently working without being paid.
“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me that we ask people to work, we insist that they work, we tell them that if they don’t work they may lose their pension and may lose they their job, so they show up, but we aren’t paying them,” Romney said.
“Somehow that just doesn’t seem right.”
At least, judging by the Democratic reaction to Trump’s remarks yesterday — in which the president offered to extend DACA protectionsfor three years as part of a deal to reopen government and secure funding for the border wall — that plan hasn’t yet generated any traction.
“It’s clear the president realizes that by closing the government and hurting so many American workers and their families, he has put himself and the country in an untenable position,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in response to the speech, according to Fox News.
“Unfortunately, he keeps putting forward one-sided and ineffective remedies. There’s only one way out: Open the government, Mr. President, and then Democrats and Republicans can have a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions.”
And, even before the president’s announcement was made, Speaker Pelosi was calling it “a non-starter.”
However, perhaps the key takeaway from Romney’s remarks on Friday was the markedly different tenor from his Washington Post commentary published on Jan. 1, in which he said the administration “made a deep descent in December” and that the president’s “conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
While the piece didn’t mention the shutdown specifically, aside from the implied mention of it in his alliterative remark about the “deep descent in December,” it managed to draw stern rebuke from many in the party — including the Republican National Committee head, who also happens to be Romney’s own niece, and in a competing WaPo piece from Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia.
“With his attempted character assassination of the president, a fellow Republican, Romney put self-interest ahead of the larger national interest: conservative Republican governance,” Perdue wrote.
“Like others who have run for president and failed, Romney has taken a stance that smacks of jealousy and resentment. It does nothing but serve the radical liberal left and further divides conservatives.”
Perdue also termed Romney “Jeff Flake on steroids,” a reference to the then-outgoing Arizona Republican senator who had made uniform opposition to almost every Trump initiative a major part of his personal brand.
Flake, of course, would never have spoken out this forcefully against the Democrats’ position in the government shutdown.
Whether or not proving he wasn’t “Flake on steroids” factored into Romney’s Friday statement is something probably only known by the senator and his closest advisers.
It is an interesting turn of events, however, and one that seems to indicate that if Romney is going to be the president’s chief critic from within his own party, he might not do so as reflexively as Jeff Flake and Co. did.