For pure unintentional laughs, The Atlantic’s fawning profile of Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, published last Sunday, is worth reading. It shows just how much temporary redemption can be bought by a Republican in the eyes of the media if one just decides to bash Donald J. Trump.
Consider this open, which is right up there with monster truck results in terms of things you never thought you’d see in The Atlantic: “Mitt Romney is leaning forward in his chair, his eyes flashing, his voice sharp,” McKay Coppins’ piece begins.
“It’s a strange look for the 72-year-old senator, who typically affects a measured, somber tone when discussing Donald Trump’s various moral deficiencies. But after weeks of escalating combat with the president — over Ukraine, and China, and Syria, and impeachment — the gentleman from Utah suddenly appears ready to unload.”
Or consider these few paragraphs in, in which Romney grapples with the Twitters (a paragraph which, may I add, ended up with the doxing of Romney’s Carlos Danger-esque pseudonym, “Pierre Delecto“):
“While the president spent a too-online Saturday earlier this month unloading on Twitter — launching #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY into the canon of viral Trump taunts — Romney enjoyed a quiet afternoon picking apples with his grandkids in Utah and refusing to take the bait. When I met him in his office a couple of weeks later, I asked if the Twitter insults bothered him,” Coppins wrote.
“‘That’s kind of what he does,’ Romney said with a shrug, and then got up to retrieve an iPad from his desk. He explained that he uses a secret Twitter account — ‘What do they call me, a lurker?’ — to keep tabs on the political conversation. ‘I won’t give you the name of it,’ he said, but “I’m following 668 people.’ Swiping at his tablet, he recited some of the accounts he follows, including journalists, late-night comedians (‘What’s his name, the big redhead from Boston?’), and athletes. Trump was not among them.”
I really wish I could just paste the entire piece here and let it stand as a combination of summary judgment and Duchamp-ian commentary. Alas, plagiarism is generally frowned upon and I kind of think Duchamp was a hack anyhow. However, there’s nary a critical word in it. Even the parts where Coppins takes Romney to task are so mild they could practically pass as a profile of Mitt Romney written by Mitt Romney. (“With his neat coif, square jaw, and G-rated diction, Romney has always emanated a kind of old-fashioned civic starchiness. In the past, this quality has been the object of occasional ridicule … But in these decidedly more vulgar times, there is a certain appeal to the senator’s wholesomeness.”)
Mitt might even be more self-flagellating, come to think of it.
As for McKay Coppins’ positionality on this, it’s probably worth noting that he covered Romney’s 2012 campaign for BuzzFeed and has been a longtime adversary of Donald Trump’s, having engaged in Twitter kumite with him before he became president. His experience in this department is probably different from most writers’. However, this is hardly the only uncritical piece to come out about Mitt now that he’s NeverTrumper #1 — and he’s certainly getting a lot more media adulation than I remember from the past.
You wonder how much of this is conscious. Romney is the kind of Republicans certain media types like to flatter themselves into thinking they might have tolerated. Secretly admired, even.
They were civil, played fair, would turn the other cheek. They were different. They were the good Republicans. George H.W. Bush. John McCain. Charles Krauthammer. Jeff Flake. They were remnants of a GOP of a bygone era, one which Trump has crushed to bits under his heel. If only we could go back to those genteel, civilized days.
You know, the days back when they used to call Romney a racist, cancer-pushing, dog-abusing pig.
It’s only been seven years since Romney ran for president. In between that time, we’re supposed to have forgotten how much the media raked him over the coals for his “47 percent” or “corporations are people” remarks. That’s pretty standard stuff if you’re a Republican politician, although we shouldn’t pretend he was treated with any degree of fairness in either teapot-contained tempest. We can forget the number of times that Bain Capital got mentioned. We can forget all of that.
Instead, I’d like to go back to some of the more ugly, despicable labels that Romney was branded with.
Bigot? Take Alex Kane’s “Nine most racist moments of the 2012 election” from Salon in October of 2012, which promised readers that “The ’47 percent’ is only the tip of the iceberg — and the election is still weeks away.”
Most of these didn’t deal with Romney directly, but one of them noted that “Romney has been touring the country and spouting this totally false talking point: that President Obama has gutted the work requirement required by President Clinton’s welfare reform.” This, noted AlterNet’s Joshua Holland, was “the big, racist lie at the center of the Romney-Ryan campaign.” Several other points were little more than guilt-by-association smears against Romney and his supporters.
But you don’t even have to lie about entitlement programs to be a racist: According to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, even talking about entitlement reform made Mitt a racist, in addition to an obvious joke he made about Obama’s birth certificate conspiracies.
“Are there a lot of people that say, ‘You know what, the number one issue that I want to hear about from either presidential candidate is about his policy on welfare reform?'” she told U.S. News and World Report in August of 2012.
“I mean, why else — it’s so shockingly transparent — why else would Mitt Romney make a supposedly casual joke about the president’s place of birth, you know, juxtaposed against his own place of birth? Why else would he spend millions of dollars of Mitt Romney campaign money talking about — putting out a lie, and then repeating it over and over and over when there isn’t a single fact-checking organization that has said that it’s accurate, that it has any accuracy — in fact it’s the opposite — except to be a dog whistle for voters who consider race when casting their ballot?”
There was even an academic paper titled “Mitt Romney’s racist appeals: How race was played in the 2012 presidential election,” which focused “on a particularly salient form of racist appeal, one based on the long-standing stereotypes of black laziness and taking advantage.”
But you know what isn’t an appeal that goes too far? Tacitly blaming Mitt Romney for someone’s wife dying.
“The Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action is unveiling perhaps the harshest, most personal ad of the 2012 presidential race, featuring a former worker at a Bain-owned company talking about the death of his wife after their family lost health insurance,” Politico reported in August of 2012.
And what an ad it was:
“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” the plant worker said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.
“I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer and by then it was Stage 4. It was — there was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days.
“I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone,” he said. “And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
Far from calling this out as blatant demagogy, Politico said it was “among the gravest criticism of Romney’s business record and personal character delivered in the 2012 cycle.”
Oh yes, and let’s not forget Mitt Romney’s dog. Just in case you’ve forgotten, Romney, nearly 30 years before the race, put the family dog on the roof of his car in a carrier specifically designed for that on a trip up to Canada. But that’s not what it sounded like from the media.
Take this, um, evocative lede from HuffPost: “When Mitt Romney strapped his Irish setter to the roof of his car in 1983 and drove all the way to Canada as the dog defecated in fear, he couldn’t have guessed his decision would follow him for decades, enraging animal lovers and raising questions about his character and management style.”
So now, “in these decidedly more vulgar times, there is a certain appeal to the senator’s wholesomeness”? But I thought this guy was a racist who let people die of cancer and abused his dog.
Again, I don’t even know if this is a conscious thing on the media’s part.
Many in the media establishment love patting themselves on the back, thinking that they all didn’t mind Republicans of the not-too-distant past. Romney, after all, probably isn’t going to run for president again. Rest assured if he does, assuming the opponent isn’t Donald Trump in this year’s primary, all the Trump-bashing in the world won’t have bought him a moment’s respite from the same kind of battering he got just seven years ago.
Romney’s redemption is temporary, contingent on his attacking Trump. Media hostility to anyone opposing the Democratic agenda isn’t going anywhere.
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