KEVIN LEININGER: Mitt Romney still doesn’t get why Donald Trump is president — and he’s not

Mitt Romney was right to question Donald Trump's character, but would Trump be president without it? (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

To Chicago Cubs fans, Leo Durocher will always be remembered as the manager who blew the 1969 National League pennant to New York Mets. His larger cultural significance, however, was assured decades earlier when as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers “Leo the lip” observed that “nice guys finish last.”

Speaking of Mitt Romney, the man who had incumbent Barack Obama on the defensive after an impressively aggressive performance in the first 2012 presidential before pulling his punches in rounds two and three and losing the election, the new senator from Utah has just publicly blasted fellow Republican Donald Trump for lacking the character needed to lead the nation and the free world.

“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,’ ” Romney writes in the Washington Post. “A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and respect . . . and it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

He’s right about that, of course. Trump’s constant name-calling and belittling of potential allies here and abroad is not in the best interest of his presidency or the nation. Still, if Romney’s purpose was to expose Trump’s personal and political flaws, he needn’t have bothered. The president’s petulance and narcissism were obvious long before he ever sought public office, and Trump’s dismissive reaction to Romney’s op-ed — “I won big, and he didn’t” — indicates that’s not about to change now.

In fact, Romney’s piece may be most useful for reminding Trump supporters why they voted for him in the first place. It’s not just the policies Romney praised (corporate tax reform, deregulation, conservative judges), but also his advocacy of civility and “policies that strengthen us rather than promote tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment.”

Is Trump’s demand for border security stoking such fear and resentment, as Romney implies? Perhaps, but if so Trump supporters may be wondering why a similar standard is never applied to those on the left who eagerly attack any policy disagreement as proof of racism, sexism, xenophobia or some other form of intellectual or moral failing. During the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton, remember, infamously branded Trump supporters “deplorables.”

One can indeed take the offensive without being offensive, and Trump should try it once in a while. But at least Trump fights back, and his approach earned him the White House. Romney’s approach — like that of other can’t-we-all-get-along Republicans before him — brought defeat, after which the principled Romney sought a place in Trump’s Cabinet and accepted Trump’s endorsement during his 2018 primary campaign.

It’s been nearly 20 years since President Bill Clinton was impeached but acquitted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paul Jones. At the time I wondered how so many people could defend such an obviously flawed human being, but now I get it:

What choice did they have? The alternatives, in their minds, were even worse.

I suspect that’s how a lot of Trump supporters feel these days: Like Romney, they wish Trump would stop being so childish, creating enemies out of potential allies. But they nevertheless would vote for him all over again because of what he has done, or tried to do. They also know Mrs. Clinton had her own serious character and policy failings, even if they received far less attention in the media.

If personal morality guaranteed a great presidency, Jimmy Carter’s face would be on Mount Rushmore. Instead, his presidency was a failure. Republicans, who at times have seemed more interested in electing a pope than a president, shattered that mold when they put Donald Trump in the White House. History will ultimately judge his presidency on the basis of results, not style.

Romney, who may or may not be positioning himself for another run for president in 2020, is right to suggest Americans deserve both. But he should know better than almost anybody that, for better or worse, voters of both parties agree about one thing: They care more about what presidents do than how they do it.

That’s not a justification of pursuing noble ends through questionable means; just recognition that, in the absence of political consolation prizes, only victory can produce results. And as Republicans have seen these past two years, sometimes not even then.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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