In November 1963, former President Dwight Eisenhower and a few professional friends met at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, concerned about the bandwagon developing for Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). They were anxious to discuss "moderate alternatives," and on top of the list was Michigan Gov. George Romney (R).
How like now, as son Romney's son Mitt brings a similar challenge to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton camp blasts Trump over Brexit response: 'He patted himself on the back' Trump shifts immigration plan: No 'mass deportations' Evangelical leader applauds Trump for 'relationship with Christ' MORE in this time of crisis: "The Republican Party is shattering," reads the headline on Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column this morning. "Stop Trump? Unite behind him? No matter the outcome, nothing will ever be the same."
It is as if son Mitt, former Massachusetts governor, has been standing here in the shadows all these years and this challenge, an existential challenge of life and death to the Republican Party as it was understood to be by Romney senior or even William F. Buckley Jr. in the day, was in the end given to him because no one else was left standing. Romney was perhaps brought in by reputation since he had saved the 2002 Winter Olympics, which likewise had fallen into dire straits. He has since come to be seen as the fixer of things on the very edge of falling apart.
President George W. Bush gave the best speech of his life just before the South Carolina primary to try and gin up support for brother Jeb, to know avail. Jeb, holding the keys to the Eastern Establishment, fell flat and Trump soared. If anything else now, we can see Romney as the singular moral leader of the Republican tradition. Which is interesting: Trump has all but destroyed the Republican Party. But he has not destroyed Mitt Romney.
"I'm no Ronald Reagan and this is a different moment in time, but I believe with all my heart and soul that we face another time for choosing, one that will have profound consequences for the Republican Party, and more importantly, for our country," said Romney in his speech Thursday on the 2016 primary.
So if this party survives — and there are serious questions today whether it will — Romney will be its master and mentor.
Romney did not hold back in this important moment. I have never heard such a direct, personal attack by a politician in the same party to another: Trump "has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
Earlier: "And let me put it very plainly. If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished."
But is it now too little, too late? I do not think so, simply because there is so little to Trump besides bluster and dash. I watch with everyone else and have no comprehensive idea of what his policies are.
"There's plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake," said Romney.
The fact is that Trump is way ahead of the others in the polls and may be beyond reach. That is to say, that Trump has already sealed the nomination and sealed the fate of the Republican Party. Romney suggests that the immediate fate would be a Republican loss to the corrupt Clinton machine in the general election. Very likely.
But there is the possibility, suggested by Romney's speech Thursday, that Romney himself might in time enter the race, although he has said he will not be running. I hope he does run. He would win in a landslide. But if Trump felt slighted and he is apparently quite sensitive to any suggestion of slight, he could run as a third party to throw the race to Clinton.
In the abstract, we are already into a third party. Trump's philosophy and core principles, such as they are — Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (R) says Trump has no core principles — are in opposition to the conservative tradition. But he has suggested a third party, so comparison with third-party runs in the past is useful. President Teddy Roosevelt established the Bull Moose Party to run against mainstream Republicans in 1912. Alabama Gov. George Wallace ran in the American Independent Party for president in 1968. And while not a third-party challenger, Goldwater brought a new direction to the Republican Party in his 1964 race. All three lost their races but all three had strong influence on the future of their parties.
It should be noted that each of these three ran as America was rising into the dynamic cultural and economic middle of their political eras. We today — 70 years from the Yalta Conference, when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin sat together in conquest — are at the very end of our political era. What happens today and in the immediate future brings an end to history as we have known it and the beginning of something yet unseen and unseeable ahead.
Classically, it is the moment of greatest chaos into which the world descends into breakage, until it finds its way through the mayhem and rises again to its new destiny.
The timing is perfect for Donald Trump, who breaks things. And for Mitt Romney, who fixes them.
Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.