When fellow Republican Mitt Romney takes charge as Senator of Utah on Thursday, he may emerge as a serious challenger to Trump’s policies and leadership, rekindling a rivalry that dates back to the Republican primaries in 2016.
This is a highly undesirable distraction for the President, even as he faces the challenges of a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on the same day.
Former American President Abraham Lincoln had famously quoted, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
If you believe his fellow Republican Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate and incoming US senator for Utah, Trump lacks the character to lead a ‘divided’ nation. In an essay published in the Washington Post, Romney also accused Trump of deserting the allies of the US.
Blaming Trump for the departures of defence secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, Romney wrote, “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.”
Romney was all praise for Trump on taxation, position on China and also the appointment of conservative judges, but also stated that they were mainstream Republican policies.
Defining the qualities of a good president, Romney felt that he should possess honesty and integrity and raise the level of national discourse with “comity and mutual respect”. Lamenting that US is a ‘divided, resentful and angry’ nation today, Romney opined that it needed a presidential leadership in qualities of character, where “the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring”.
Romney also castigated Trump for his foreign policy, saying that his “words and actions have caused dismay around the world”. The essay referred to Pew reports which said that belief among people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden that Trump would “do the right thing” had dropped steeply from 84% in 2016 to 16% in 2017.
Defending freedom of the press, Romney also criticised Trump for repeatedly attacking some news outlets as an ‘enemy of the people’.
Romney and Trump had sparred previously as Republican Presidential candidates in 2016. The former had called Trump a ‘fraud’ who was “playing the American public for suckers”. Trump countered that Romney had “choked like a dog” vs Barack Obama in 2012.
Interestingly, Trump had endorsed Romney for a Senate seat in Utah in February 2018, and had also considered him for Secretary of State when he became President.
Donald J. Trump responded to the criticism with a relatively measured tweet, “Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not. Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”
Meanwhile, Romney will get sworn in as Senator of Utah on Thursday, and is seen as possibly one of Trump’s largest antagonists in his own party. He had run the ‘Never Trump’ movement during the Republican primaries in 2016, and his state Utah is largely ‘anti-Trump’. So he may hold no punches when it comes to undermining Trump’s authority and even taking a public position against some of the President’s pet policies, like the US$ 5 billion Mexico wall.
Even as he talks teamwork, Trump may have to face deep divisions in his own backyard with Romney on the other end. This is a highly undesirable distraction for Trump, especially as Democrats are now taking control of the House of Representatives on the same day – January 3.