What a comedian that Sen. Mitt Romney is! Take the comedy routine he wrote for the Washington Post. Take it, please. It couldn’t have been funnier if he’d worn a fake arrow through his head while he put his hilarious riffs down on paper. He began with a side-splitting bit about President Donald Trump’s presidency making a “deep descent” because he got rid of a couple of guys who want to keep American troops fighting in Syria and in Afghanistan indefinitely. We’ve been in Syria for about seven years while tangling with the Afghans for close to 18 years. A son born to a soldier as he was dispatched to Kabul in 2001 is about enlistment age, now.
Bringing our troops home would abandon our allies, Romney says. He doesn’t get particular, but he means whoever is on our side in Afghanistan and Syria this week before they start killing us next week and the Kurds. “K” words are traditional comedy gold and Mitt could have cashed in on that with a little Kurdistani cutting up, but his comedy is more elevated. It’s observational, like Seinfeld’s.
Have you ever noticed how we’re supposed to ignore our interests to protect the interests of others, because it’s noble and somehow not stupid? There are good reasons for supporting various players in the Middle East and Afghanistan but there are also good reasons to wonder what kind of support we should send. At any given moment, someone in one of these unlucky spots who was on our side last week is apt to be shooting at our military this week and many of them will be firing with weapons we gave them, sold them, or were stolen from someone to whom we gave or sold them. This might be amusing if you like comedy where a guy hits himself in the head with a ballbat over and over till the top of his noggin is level with his shoulders. Perhaps, we should look more closely at what’s in our interest. Is it keeping our troops there? Is it reducing their number? Trump favors lessening our troops’ exposure to murderous mayhem while continuing other forms of support. To this, funnyman Romney rolls his eyes. How could anyone think caution a wise policy when it comes to spilling American blood?
Mitto the Clown jokes that Trump’s “thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs… [has] defined his presidency down.” He disdainfully puts quotes around the word sucker, like wrapping it in a Kleenex to keep his fingers clean. We’re supposed to think no sophisticated person with an evolved soul would ever think such a vulgar thought, but here, the Chuckle Hut star drops a clunker. Millions of Americans think exactly that. In addition to being tired of fighting wars of dubious value to America, they’re impatient with spending billions over the decades defending countries that cheat us in trade and refuse to adequately defend themselves. Case in point: in February 2018, a report indicated that our NATO ally Germany, a very prosperous country who put big tariffs on American cars while selling us a lot of Volkswagens loaded with farfengnugen and emissions cheating software, could field only 95 of its 244 Leopard tanks. None of its half-dozen submarines were operational, and the Luftwaffe had to fly German troops, of which it has just 200,000, around on chartered civilian aircraft because their military transports couldn’t get off the ground. Sri Lanka fields 280,000 troops.
Years ago, Germany promised to spend 2% of its GDP on defense, but it has spent just 1% and is only now, in part because of pressure from Trump, saying it will raise that to 1.5% by 2025. The U.S. military includes 1.4 million active members with 865,000 in the reserves, and we spend 3.5% of our GDP on defense. Some of those men and a chunk of that money have protected Germany from Russian aggression since 1945.
Romney is upset that polls show foreigners liked America more in the past than they do now. To employ another comedy catchphrase: What’s up with that? Are we supposed to worry that others don’t like us rather than be concerned whether we have reasons to like them? Romney blames Trump for their disfavor. There are other factors — Russia’s renewed antipathy, China’s growing hubris, increasing Islamist influence in Europe — but he’s partly correct. Trump’s trade and defense policies are exacting real costs on foreign economies to our benefit. It’s not surprising that we’re less popular with them in consequence.
Romney goes on to tell a funny story about how “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.”
Romney fumbles his punch lines here. Trump has a shortfall in the character department compared to other presidents? Consider the infamous Bill Clinton or Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama. Was Obama honest when he lied about keeping your doctor? Did he strive to not divide America when he exploited explosive racial incidents like Trayvon Martin’s death and the Ferguson riots to pander to his base? Was it an act of integrity setting the IRS onto his political opposition? They actually wanted Tea Party groups to submit written reports of what they prayed for at their meetings. Trump has a long way to fall before reaching those depths.
Romney should know better than to try to go on stage with such weak material. He is an experienced comic, after all. Remember his national comedy tour in 2012. Back then Republicans thought that the meanest exclamation he could utter was “Gee, willikers!” Romney practically glowed with homey wholesomeness like your local pastor, the guy who sells Christmas trees for the church charity drive. Republicans liked that guy and voted for him. But he wasn’t real. His was a mock presidential run in the same vein as comic Pat Paulsen’s 1968, 1972, 1980, 1988, 1992, and 1996 campaigns. Pat even sounded like Mitt when he gravely said that he was “Just a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.” Romney’s remark about “presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable” shows similar hubris, albeit not for comic effect. If he isn’t advancing himself as the perfect leader to provide this indispensable stuff, whom does he have in mind? Water, food, oxygen, these are indispensible things. Romney’s sanctimonious presidential leadership in qualities of character isn’t. Was he displaying great character when he solicited Trump’s endorsement in 2012, trashed him in 2016, crawled to him for the post of Secretary of State when Trump won, solicited his endorsement for the Senate in 2018, and now trashes him once more?
Paulsen’s key issue was Ugly Rights. He held that no citizens should suffer discrimination based on the shape of their skin. Few remember what Romney’s key issue was, but many remember the Democrats’ major complaint against him — he put his dog in a carrier on his car’s roof. That was a bit straight out of a 1960s sitcom.
Some slick salesman in a plaid sport coat fast-talks goofy, gullible dad into buying a super-deluxe, doggy transporter which, from its perch atop the family station wagon, will delight Fido with a snug view of passing scenery as Dad, Mom, and the kids enjoy extra elbow room below. But surprise! When the car gets up to a law-abiding 65, Fido freaks and leaks. As a waa-waa horn sounds and the laugh track roars, we go to commercial. Democrats loved that funny story and it was in daily if not hourly reruns on all the networks. Romney might have topped the joke with a bit about Obama eating dog meat as a boy — “Hey, I’m tellin’ ya, for that kid, a hot dog really was a hot dog [insert rim shot]!” — but Romney was too stiff and his moment passed. Comedy is all in the timing. Flop City for Romney followed.
With no booking in sight for 2016, Romney stayed offstage. Perhaps he expected to get a third banana slot as Secretary of State in a Republican presidency. Unfortunately for him, a political unknown stole the show. Trump beat out a clown car full of Jeb!s, Kasichs, and lesser-known jokers. Their backers, the upper crust of the Republican Party, its roustabouts, and the intellectuals that thought they were conservatism’s ringmasters, were abruptly cut out of the show. Trump had won without them and often in spite of them, and owed them nothing. When it came time to go to the Republican Convention where Trump would be nominated as the Republican candidate for the presidency, some of these backroom boys hatched a plan.
What if enough delegates could be seduced into betraying the voters back home? Then, the convention could be deadlocked. Trump would be thwarted, and a compromise candidate, someone untainted by rejection in the primaries, could stride into the convention and to the cheers of the delegates, mount the stage to modestly declare, “Gee, willikers! I accept your nomination.” Romney clearly saw himself as that guy. He’d gotten the nomination four years earlier. Why not use that as justification for giving it to him again? He hadn’t been rejected like the Jeb!s, Kasichs, and lesser-known jokers. To this end, Romney gave one of the nastiest speeches ever given by one Republican about another. It didn’t work. Trump became president. He made nice with Romney but wisely didn’t make him Secretary of State. As mentioned, Trump endorsed Romney when he ran for senator from Utah. His reward was another nasty attack, the one of which we speak here.
Romney seems to be taking up where Sen. John McCain left off. McCain hated Trump, perhaps because of that clumsy POW joke, but more likely because Trump won the presidency while McCain, who fancied himself a far better man, failed. In bitter consequence, he railed against Trump with his worst act being his theatric thumb down on the repeal of Obamacare. He’d promised Arizonans to vote for repeal, but Trump also wanted that, so McCain voted no. He left life the darling of the media. Romney wants some of that. And maybe, he wants to take his presidential show on the road again.
If Romney wants to make another run, he’ll have to up his act’s razz-a-ma-tazz with a new gimmick, something better than knife-throwing at Trump’s back. He’ll have to give us more than tap dancing while yodeling about Trump being sexist, racist, anti-immigrant, unpopular with Europeans, and undeserving. That’s the Democrats’ shtick. Claiming we must avoid the “politics of anger and fear” sounds too much like Obama’s endless renditions of “It’s Not Who We Are.” Maybe Romney will pedal around on a tiny tricycle ringing a bell and waving a flag bearing “Impeach 45!” No, that slogan belongs to another clown.
Whatever Mitt comes up with, the media, like a proud parent at a school recital, will give it a standing ovation. He may flub his lines and gibber, he may get upstaged by a potted plant, he may trip and fall flat on his face so hard that his nose pokes out the back of his head, but so long as he can spew anti-Trump venom, he’ll be their star. It will only change if by some horrid twist of fate, he wins the presidential nomination. Then, he’ll get the media’s acid treatment. I doubt, however, that Romney’s hysterical histrionics will play well enough in the hinterland to triumph over Trump. To amend a famed Variety headline from the 1930’s, I think their review of “Romney’s Hate Trump Parade” will be:
STICKS NIX MITT’S FITS