The heartfelt eulogies poured in from both sides of the aisle after Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would not seek reelection in 2024.
Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that the Senate, the Republican Party, and indeed the country was losing a good man, a decent man, one of the last principled politicians on the planet.
The media was especially despondent, and many admitted they’d gotten it wrong when they covered him in 2008 and 2012.
Patricia Murphy in the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote, “At the time, he was so gee-whiz and perfectly presented that he was hard to take seriously. Regrettably, I often referred to him on social media as ‘Mittens.’ ”
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She sees Romney differently now, though: “[L]ife under President ‘Mittens’ should not have been so easily dismissed.”
David Brooks wrote in The New York Times:
“Sometimes you do things that make you feel ashamed. It was the first day of the Republican convention in 2012, and I had nothing to write about, so I wrote a humor column mocking the Romney family for being perfect in every way. It was a hit with readers, but the afternoon it was published, I crossed paths with two of Mitt Romney’s sons, and they looked at me with hurt in their eyes, which pierced me. I’d ridiculed people for the sin of being admirable.”
Philip Elliott wrote in Time of Romney’s re-emergence as a “Lazarus” figure in Washington:
“Romney was the lone Republican to vote for conviction during Trump’s first impeachment trial, became an important negotiator for deals with Joe Biden’s White House, and stood-in as a moral core for what conservatism could ideally stand for and against.”
This is all a lovely way to memorialize Mitt’s political career, but it’s also an admission that everyone was wrong about Romney, and for very bad, very cynical reasons.
Too perfect, gee-whiz, goofy, earnest — none of these descriptors should have been disqualifying.
Character assassination from Democrats
But Democrats and the media went even further in trying to ruin Romney in 2012, just to get Barack Obama reelected.
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called Romney a liar, and slammed him as racist and sexist.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Romney’s criticism of Obama’s welfare policies were racist.
Then Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid regularly accused Romney of not paying his taxes for years — a claim that was proven completely false, but even then Reid smugly shrugged off the truth: “Romney didn’t win, did he?”
A Democratic strategist mocked Romney’s wife Ann, mother of five boys and grandmother of 16 children, a survivor of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, for having “never worked a day in her life.” Even Obama condemned the cruel remarks.
But a pro-Obama PAC ran ads accusing Romney of killing a woman! The ad featured a man who lost his job when Romney’s company closed a steel plant. He lost his health insurance, and his wife fell ill and died — all of this was pinned on Romney. The ad earned four Pinocchios from the Washington Post.
Obama also mocked Romney for his foreign policy positions, in particular his insistence that Russia was one of our biggest geopolitical threats. “[T]he 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back….” That sure looks bad today.
And don’t forget Romney’s “binders full of women,” a comment meant to prove how committed he was to hiring women. Instead, Democrats decided it revealed Romney was a sexist monster. One Democratic strategist said, “Sounds kind of kinky and certainly not something you want to be touting.” What??
Looking back, Romney was painted by the left and the media as the devil incarnate — the same Romney who they now see as the last best hope of defending modern civilization from the Visigoths.
So what changed? Donald Trump.
Democrats shouldn’t be surprised that when they decided a decent, kind, smart, and principled man like Romney was in fact a monster, Republicans decided to go ahead and nominate an actual monster — what did they have to lose in this bad-faith game of character assassination?
Trump made everyone else look good. Suddenly Republicans were recasting Obama. Democrats rethought George W. Bush. Ronald Reagan was everyone’s hero. Even Bill Clinton started looking like a semi-moral man next to Trump.
But in Romney’s case, his past life as a villain was always a myth, an invention, a total fabrication that he never deserved. Not then, not ever.
“Doesn’t Mitt Romney look good to us now? Oh my God,” Pelosi said unironically last week.
But he should have looked good to us then. We shouldn’t have needed a Trump to appreciate a Romney.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.