No one is ever going to put it any better than conservative scribe George Will, who called Donald Trump “a bloviating ignoramous.” But credit fellow conservative Russ Douthat with a more thorough skewering of GOP candidate Mitt Romney for hitching his star to the birther gasbag. As Douthat puts it in his New York Times column:
…Throughout the presidential selection process, the Romney camp has repeatedly pulled back the curtain of highmindedness to acknowledge more cynical realities.
…Think of Romney’s famous debate explanation for why he fired a landscaping company after learning they were employing illegal immigrants (“I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals!”), or his attempts later in the primary season to defend delaying the release of his tax forms, which emphasized the hay that Democrats might make with them rather than any principled reason for non-disclosure…The description of the general election’s arrival by Eric Fehrnstrom, a key Romney adviser, as an “etch-a-sketch” moment, in which the slate of base-pandering primary season positions could be shaken clean, was unusually dunderheaded precisely because it was so unusually honest, saying out loud what most campaign operatives would only say behind closed doors.
The same thing happened Tuesday, after Donald Trump used the occasion of a joint fundraiser with the Republican nominee to embarrass Romney with a burst of “birther” nonsense…Responding to the inevitable questions about Trump’s paranoid pose, Romney issued an anodyne bit of evasive politician-speak — “You know I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in” – but then followed it up with a characteristic Romney-ism: “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people”…But “I’m running for president, and I need Donald Trump in my corner” manages to be at once cynical and stupid.”
Like Will, Douthat seems perplexed that Romney’s political calculus is so warped as to see any kind of benefit accruing from their joint public appearances. Douthat speculates that whichever GOP strategists see merit in Romney hooking up with The Donald “confuse the existence of a fan base (which Trump certainly has) with the existence of a meaningful constituency (which he almost certainly does not).” Douthat adds:
Indeed, precisely because Trump’s highest goal is so transparently the perpetuation of his own celebrity, his latest attention-seeking stunt offers Romney an almost cost-free chance to repudiate a figure who’s notionally to his “right” (though in reality lacks any ideological commitment whatsoever) without risking any kind of sustained conservative revolt…
Given the bad publicity he’s obviously capable of generating for Romney’s campaign, then, giving Trump the stiff-arm would not only be the right thing to do but the crafty thing as well. The fact that Romney thinks otherwise suggests that underneath his public cynicism lurks something more troubling: A deep miscalculation about which votes he needs to win and how.
You’d think that a Republican presidential candidate who has weathered the primaries would have enough sense to heed the advice of two of America’s smartest conservative journalists. But that would presuppose assumptions about the adequacy of Romney’s character and judgement that he evidently can’t meet.