Mitt Romney: 'Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille'

Mitt Romney: 'Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille'
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Mitt Romney: 'Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille'
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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It is hard to quantify the smallness of Mitt Romney, but let's just say that if character were measured in shoe size, we’d be using the children's scale to gauge his worth.

He certainly is not qualified to walk in the shoes of President Trump, nor even to follow in his footsteps. Utah’s newest senator is so small he’d get lost in the cavernous legacy left behind by each footfall of the historic president who dares to walk upright among the craven beasts of the Swamp.

Yet Romney continues to surprise in his utter inability to recognize this—or accept his own limitations. Last week, as the rest of us were celebrating the new year, Romney was celebrating his own self-righteousness in a self-indulgent op-ed published in the Never Trumpers’ unofficial house organ, a.k.a. The Washington Post. Published under the lugubrious headline “The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump’s character falls short,” this nastygram was apparently intended to reassure us that a new adult is in the room to take the place of dour and departed Jim Mattis.

Romney's earnest lesson is so ham-handed and schoolmarmish that it's almost as if American presidents’ lessons of the past 60 years on character building were missed by prissy Mitt. Consider the character building by Lyndon Johnson as he fed our young men to the meat grinder in Vietnam. Consider the character building by Richard Nixon as he plotted his political survival by both carpet-bombing in Cambodia and covering up conspiracies in D.C. Consider the character building of Jimmy Carter and his 20 percent inflation rate. Forcing people to work two or three jobs to pay their bills surely must have built character, right? I could go on, but why bother. It's too depressing, and meanwhile right alongside all that character building, you could be measuring the steady decline of the American economy, middle class and nation-state.

Leave it to Mitt to find the real culprit of the collapse of American character. It all comes down to Donald Trump and the haunting green light at the end of the dock on East Egg — oops, that was the Great Gatsby, not the Great Trump, although Romney might find it hard to distinguish between them as he envisions himself as the Nick Carraway moralist who is narrating the tragedy of the American crash that will soon claim our imagined innocence.

Here's how Romney opens his forlorn tale:

The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president's thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.

It is hard to believe we nearly (well, not that nearly) elected a man as president who is shocked to learn that the United States has "long been a 'sucker' in world affairs,” and not just shocked, but completely unable to fathom the concept. Personally, I’d prefer a president who knows we are suckers but goes along with it for purposes of personal enrichment and aggrandizement than to have a president so naive he can't even imagine that other nations could take advantage of us. Better yet, I’ll gladly take a president like Trump who  governs with clear-eyed pragmatic realism and speaks the harsh truth rather than offering ineffectual, if polite, bromides.

Oddly enough, Romney actually acknowledges the many accomplishments of President Trump, but he is still repelled by the street-smart brashness of the kid from Queens just as Nick and the rest of Long Island society are secretly amused by the Midwestern couthness that underlies Gatsby's nouveau riche trappings.

Thus we get this:

He was right to align U.S. corporate taxes with those of global competitors, to strip out excessive regulations, to crack down on China's unfair trade practices, to reform criminal justice and to appoint conservative judges. These are policies mainstream Republicans have promoted for years. But policies and appointments are only a part of a presidency.

Followed by this:

To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring.

There are two things about that paragraph that are most striking. First, Romney chooses to quote Abraham Lincoln, the president whose commitment to his personal vision led the nation into its Civil War, as the exemplar of one who can unite us. Secondly, Romney refers to Trump as "the incumbent," a phrase most frequently employed in reference to an officeholder who is being challenged for re-election. I have no doubt that Romney envisions himself as a most suitable challenger for the times. "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”

With so much to gain from the destruction of Trump, Romney is nonetheless no more reliable a narrator than Nick Carraway was in “The Great Gatsby.” The only difference is that for Romney the green light at the end of the dock symbolizes the power of the presidency that should rightfully be his, but instead was handed off to the self-invented orange-haired billionaire with a penchant for the gaudy “that just missed being absurd,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald might have put it.

Make America great again? “I can do better than that,” the desperate Romney seems to be shouting, anxious to restore the ancien regime that existed pre-Trump. “Just give me a chance, hear me out, turn to me, and I can make America grand again!”

Phooey. This superannuated freshman senator has all the gravitas of Norma Desmond cracking up at the end of “Sunset Boulevard.” “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” The word besides “unreliable” that comes closest to describing the character of Mitt Romney at the start of his latest presidential bid is “delusional.”

Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell Mont., is a columnist for RealClearPolitics. His "Why We Needed Trump" trilogy is available at Amazon. Visit him at to comment on this column or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter @HeartlandDiary.

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