Mitt Should Take On Hatch, Bannon -- They're the Swamp

Mitt Should Take On Hatch, Bannon -- They're the Swamp
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Judge Roy Moore's defeat in the Alabama Senate race won’t stop Steve Bannon. He doesn't care about being discredited; he cares only about destruction. Nihilists can’t be chastened -- Bannon's "war" continues.

Somewhere in one of his many mansions, Mitt Romney is waiting in gentlemanly deference for Sen. Orrin Hatch to announce plans to retire or run again. He shouldn’t. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee has also maintained a dignified silence since Bannon viciously assailed him, his family, and his faith last week. He shouldn’t. Romney should run against Hatch and take on Bannon. No more Mr. Too Nice Guy.

First Hatch was going to get through the tax debate without diminishing his influence with a retirement announcement, then was going to likely announce by the end of the year his plans to leave. Yet Hatch, despite criticizing Bannon’s attack, has now flirted with a Bannon dalliance that illustrates not only an interest in running for an eighth term but a desire for Bannon’s protection in case he faces a primary opponent. Hatch has enjoyed heir apparent Romney’s patience and relative silence, but also relishes the attention he’s receiving as President Trump and his former chief strategist go all in on another Hatch run out of spite for Romney.

Last Monday Trump traveled to Utah and announced he would reduce the amount of protected lands at the Bears Ears National Monument, a conservative wish-list goody in the Beehive State. But in reality, the taxpayer-funded trip was all “scripted” to convince Hatch to stay in the Senate in order to stop Romney, a White House aide who helped plan it told the Washington Post.

As of last week, before Bannon’s assault, Romney reportedly still didn’t want to challenge the incumbent for the GOP nomination. But he doesn’t have to -- a Romney campaign as an independent would likely send Hatch packing ahead of the election.

Doug Jones’ victory will enrage Bannon, not humble him. Moore’s loss is therefore an opportunity to further divide the party and the country, blaming establishment Republicans for helping to elect a liberal Democrat to represent conservative Alabama in the U.S. Senate. The elite-bashing elitist will try to use Romney’s criticism of Moore against him, to be sure.

Yet it's more than rich that Bannon, who has traveled the country on his billionaire pals’ private jets to seek “outsiders” to knock off GOP incumbents, champions his cause to the forgotten man everywhere except Utah. There he suddenly is all in for a 40-year incumbent who is tight with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bannon’s nemesis and purported poster boy of the Washington swamp.

Speaking of powerful people using the system to enrich themselves (a chief complaint of Bannon’s), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has powerful allies helping him raise millions for an eponymous foundation that will soon create a center in his name. “For months the foundation has been quietly seeking to raise money without drawing public attention,” Politico reported last year, noting that it is seeking high-dollar donations from some of the industries that fall under the jurisdiction of the committee Hatch chairs.

Hatch once thought of himself as a swamp drainer. He got to Congress by running against an incumbent in 1976 on the basis that the senator had overstayed his welcome after three terms. Hatch has served seven. Polling in Utah has shown strong majorities want him to retire. Romney is not only popular, with a comfortable glide path as a Republican or an independent, but there is also stronger anti-Trump sentiment in Utah than in most other red states. “If Hatch aligned with Bannon, there are plenty of people in Utah that will want to make that as costly as possible,” said one state Republican closely watching the race.

After their day together in Utah, and President Trump’s endorsement of Moore, Hatch -- perhaps to please his buddy Bannon -- buckled on the president’s decision. “I don’t think he had any choice but to do that,” Hatch said. “That’s the only Republican we can get down there.”

Before Hatch’s remarks, Romney had tweeted that Moore as a U.S. senator would be a stain on the GOP and the nation, and that “no vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.” That was the hook for Bannon the next night in Alabama.

“You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in Vietnam. Do not talk about honor and integrity,” raged Bannon at a Moore campaign event. The five deferments Trump sought during Vietnam for bone spurs didn’t make the speech. “You ran for commander-in-chief and had five sons -- not one day of service in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have 7,000 dead and 52,000 casualties, and where were the Romneys during those wars?” Bannon asked. No word about Eric or Donald Jr. not serving either.

Hatch came out immediately the next day to defend Romney as a great friend, stating he resents attacks on anyone’s religion, and describing Bannon’s as “disappointing and unjustified.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Mike Lee also criticized Bannon. But where was everyone else in the GOP who agreed the savaging of Romney and his family -- and the Mormon faith -- was vile?

It seems only retiring lawmakers -- and Romney -- are immune to the Trump-taser that mutes congressional Republicans no matter the outrage. Even Romney’s niece Ronna Romney McDaniel has acquiesced to Trump who, after choosing her to run the Republican National Committee, asked that she not use her maiden name. David Brooks last week described a “rotting” GOP tormented by Donald Trump, saying there’s no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him, and predicting ultimately they will even accept him firing Robert Mueller. “It’s amazing that there haven’t been more Republicans like Mitt Romney who have said: ‘Enough is enough! I can go no further!’”

Mitt Romney is in a unique position to fight back against the obliteration of the GOP. He should make Hatch own Bannon and Trump, let him become the Breitbart candidate. It’s probably not the way he wants to end his career.

The Deseret News, one of the two largest newspapers in Utah, this week urged readers and voters to call and write Hatch to urge him to retire so Romney can run. “By pandering to both sides, Hatch has embarrassingly shown that he values party above principles. He has essentially said, ‘Let’s stand for something — unless it’s inconvenient for our team.’ But that’s not how virtue works.”

This doesn’t look difficult, Mitt.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. She is also host of "No Labels Radio" on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel.

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