The Memo

The Memo: How long will truce between Romney, Trump really last?

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Few political observers think a truce between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney will hold forever, despite the president’s endorsement of Romney’s bid to win a U.S. Senate seat in Utah.

Trump and Romney have feuded repeatedly, a struggle that has included a few schoolyard taunts from the president. 

And Romney, who is a red-hot favorite to win in the overwhelmingly Republican state, could become a thorn in Trump’s side once he has a new platform from which to present a very different version of conservatism than the president’s.

{mosads}Former Romney aides are skeptical that he will adopt a posture of frontal resistance to Trump. But they say he will not gloss over his differences with the president, either.

 

“Gov. Romney is a conservative Republican and he is going to be with the president 75, 80 percent of the time on policy. But he will have different opinions and he will continue to voice his opinions and talk about what he thinks is right,” said Ryan Williams, a former Romney spokesman.

Williams added that, in addition to some policy differences, “the governor and the president have significant stylistic differences; Gov. Romney is a man of great integrity and civility. The president has a bit more of a bombastic approach to governing.”

Others in the GOP, especially those whose sympathies lie with Trump, take a far starker view of the former Massachusetts governor’s intentions.

“Romney is running for the U.S. Senate for one reason and one reason only — to challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 primary,” said one source close to the Republican Party. “Romney knows that; Trump knows that; and most importantly, Trump’s base knows that.”

Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement during the 2012 campaign but blasted Trump regularly during the latter’s 2016 presidential bid. 

Romney accused Trump of “coddling … repugnant bigotry” in February 2016, arguing that the candidate had not distanced himself enough from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

The following month, Romney lambasted Trump as “a phony, a fraud” and said that he was trading in “the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”

At a May 2016 rally, Trump called Romney a “choker” and added for good measure that he “walks like a penguin.”

One Republican strategist with ties to the White House, who asked for anonymity to talk candidly, suggested that Romney needed to be aware of the downsides for him in taking on Trump directly.

This person suggested that the idea of Romney posing any kind of threat to Trump was overblown.

“All Trump has to say is, ‘I’m the president of the United States and you’re the junior senator from Utah.’ That’s how he will bracket him, label him: a junior senator,” this source said.

GOP figures who know Romney well suggest that the 2012 nominee’s willingness to really mix it up with Trump if he reaches the Senate is being exaggerated.

“I think people have unrealistic expectations that Romney can serve as this main counterbalance to the president,” said Kevin Madden, who was a senior adviser on Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and press secretary four years before. 

“He will disagree with the president on some issues and he will speak out. But the idea that Romney will serve as the titular head of an organized, internecine opposition was always unrealistic.” 

In his Monday endorsement, delivered in a tweet, Trump said that the former Massachusetts governor “will make a great senator.”

“Thank you Mr. President for the support,” Romney tweeted in response. “I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.”

The president’s endorsement came within days of comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that Trump should endorse Romney. 

Asked by The New York Times whether he thought Trump was comfortable with Romney, McConnell replied, “I can’t imagine that he’s not.”

Outside observers question how long the veneer of politeness can survive — even as they acknowledge that Romney is temperamentally more inclined to maintain it than the president, whose fuse burns much faster.

“It’s hard to know how long the tension can be contained at all,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “Right now, it could flare by the end of the day.”

Zelizer added: “It is predictable that the president will get angry, but will Romney want to position himself as the anti-Trump Republican, like he did in the 2016 campaign, or will be like the Mitt Romney of 2012, who went along with the right wing of the Republican Party for political advantage?”

Others in Romney’s circle insist that the story of his Senate bid is being whipped up by the media to seem like more of an act of defiance against Trump than it really is.

“I really don’t think he’s going to the Senate because Donald Trump is president,” said one former Romney aide. “Were Hillary Clinton president, he would still be running for Senate.”

The idea that Romney actually needed a Senate seat as a platform to criticize Trump was a fallacy given his standing in the party, this aide added. 

“I don’t think at all that his motivation to go to the Senate is to criticize Donald Trump. He could stay at home and do that.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney
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