If Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is not running for President in 2020, his oped in the Washington Post was certainly a trial balloon to test the waters. In it, he says that President Donald Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
Mostly, Romney’s evaluation of Trump focuses on foreign affairs. He declares, “To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us.”
Romney accuses Trump of “promot[ing] tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment” and implicitly suggests his statements and actions are “divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest [and] destructive to democratic institutions.” Was the oped written by Hillary Clinton?
Romney whines about the departures of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Although he doesn’t mention Syria and Afghanistan by name — he does write of “the abandonment of allies who fight beside us” — it is Trump withdrawing from the undeclared, never-ending wars in the Middle East that is at the forefront of this line of critique. Trump pulling out of Syria is the reason Mattis is gone.
Showing a particular out-of-touchedness that highlighted his failed run for president in 2012, Romney cited public opinion polls — in Germany, the UK, France, Canada and Sweden — opposed to Trump as evidence of his shortcomings. Since when is pursuing U.S. interests contingent upon appealing to foreign populations? If going to Iraq had been a global referendum, we would have never gone in.
What Trump has done, which is long overdue, is emphatically state that the U.S. will act, on foreign trade and relations, in a manner that benefits the U.S. first. No more one-sided trade deals designed to redistribute American wealth overseas. No more free lunches for the NATO alliance, either. These are measured responses to bankrupt policies that were bankrupting the nation with open-ended military engagements, open borders and the outsourcing of millions of jobs.
Also, no more Iran nuclear deal. No more Paris Climate Accords. No more pretending Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. No more Trans-Pacific Partnership. No more NAFTA.
What Romney writes is globalism writ large: “America is strongest when our arms are linked with other nations.” In war, certainly that can be true. But what this has meant more often in recent years is that our prosperity and well-being come second to lifting up the rest of the world. It is a failed utopian ideology driven not by a view of how the world is and how to act upon the world stage to achieve U.S. interests, but an idealist view of transforming the world in our image.
It also forgets George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 that warned of such permanent foreign engagements, stating, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world… Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.” Alliances, yes, but only and foremost when they are in U.S. interests, and only when they are necessary to counter an emerging threat.
In the current context, it might mean to back those who might serve as effective checks on Iranian aggression in the region, which indeed is an emergency. Backing Saudi Arabia, then, might make sense. For now.
President Trump says 99 percent of Islamic State’s territory has been liberated, and that the job in Syria is done. Moving our forward position back to Iraq, then, as Trump is doing, makes sense. For now. At Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Dec. 26, Trump stated, “There will be a strong, deliberate, and orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — very deliberate, very orderly — while maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests, and also to always watch very closely over any potential reformation of ISIS and also to watch over Iran. We’ll be watching.”
Romney rejects Washington’s essential wisdom that has kept America safe. When America becomes committed overseas, it must be with a clear objective in mind, given the force necessary to win and then get the heck out of there. But if full withdrawal is not possible, then at least move to the defensible ground.
What Romney unintentionally does here is remind us all of why Trump was elected in the first place. Trump in 2016 stated repeatedly that going to Iraq was a mistake but is now willing to stay now to serve as a counterweight to Iran. That NAFTA was a mistake so the trade deal has been renegotiated. That letting China into the WTO was a mistake so he’s working on a deal with them. That open borders were a mistake and so is working to secure the border including with the wall. He’s a builder, not a destroyer.
Overall, Trump suggested in 2016 that the U.S. hadn’t much to show for our efforts, and that those abroad opposed to U.S. interests were on the winning side of these policy errors. So, Trump aims to reorient the policies to favor the U.S. for a change.
That is a necessary course correction after the past failures of prior administrations. And, yes, sometimes medicine doesn’t taste good. But he’s doing what he said he would, and is in fact the policy that has a national consensus. At the end of the day, Trump is the President and it’s his call.
What Trump did was draw an electoral map that the GOP establishment was incapable of devising in 2016. Trump created a coalition with conservative and union households in critical swing states that enabled his improbable victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. That’s what it took to win.
But for Trump running on trade and immigration and beating Hillary Clinton, and instead of a 5-4 constitutionalist majority on the Supreme Court, it would be 6-3 liberal. Republicans could have the privilege of expanding that majority post-2020 — that is, if Trump is reelected.
You see, Romney, or John Kasich, or Jeff Flake or name your #NeverTrumper who might run in 2020, could do significant damage to Trump. Primary challenges do sometimes have a knack of helping to oust incumbent presidents — to the benefit of the opposing party. See: William H. Taft, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
If that’s the direction Romney or somebody else wants to go in, they would be well advised that the balance of power on the courts and in Congress hangs in the balance and that a damaged incumbent from a primary headed into Nov. 2020 risks it all.
In the meantime, Trump needs to keep leading — his way. Putting America first is never wrong, especially by an American president, and Trump need not apologize. Because he will never need to. For many Americans, they’re saying it’s about time.