Few #NeverTrumpers have better bona fides than Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 nominee for president. Yes, he sought out and got an endorsement from Donald Trump four years ago, but the former one-term Massachusetts governor has been outspoken against the billionaire developer during the entire 2016 campaign. Now he's even talking about possibly breaking party ranks and voting for the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld (who, like Romney, also governed The Bay State, though for two terms).
"Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America," Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview. "I don't want to see a president of the United States saying things which change the character of the generations of Americans that are following."
To be honest, I'm not sure that the president's character or personal example matters all that much. Only fools take their lead from politicians and celebrities. Did the United States become a nation of cheaters because of, say, Bill Clinton? Did we become paranoid nutjobs because of Richard Nixon, and did we become more pious and puritanical because of Jimmy Carter? No, I don't think so. That's not to say we shouldn't expect and demand basic standards of decency and honesty from our politicians, of course.
And at the same time, Trump's musings about Judge Gonzalo Curiel are, as Speaker Paul Ryan put it, "the textbook definition of a racist comment." We can add to that the presumptive nominee's idiotic thoughts about Mexicans more generally and Muslims, too, both of which betray a mind-set that is all about group consciousness and collective identity. While I think it's likely that Trump himself is not a racist in a 1950s version of that term or in a I-won't-let-my-sister-marry-one-of-them sort of way, there's no question he's channeling Archie Bunker in his own mind pretty much 24/7. Not to minimize his remarks, but part of all this stems, I think, from a difference in context and patois. Trump sees himself as a rough-and-tumble businessman from New York City and he grew up in an era when all racial and ethnic groups routinely and openly insulted one another almost as a way of starting conversations. This ethos is precisely what fired up the Howard Stern radio show in its early days in the Big Apple and you can also see it in the early '70s movies of Mel Brooks, contemporaneous sitcoms such as Welcome Back, Kotter and Barney Miller, and elsewhere. Indeed, much of Trump's appeal is that he doesn't speak like other politicians and he doesn't resort to dog whistles—instead, he just hits the bullhorn turned up to 11. How that will play to voters over time is anyone's guess, but the same Bowery Boys' mentality that produces fucked-up statements about Mexicans, Muslims, and judges is also energizing his blunt statements about Hillary Clinton and her husband's treatment of women. Raised in Queens (which surely pains him a bit to admit, as it's not Manhattan or even Brooklyn), Trump is the quintessential New Yorker before the city became "nice" sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s.
True to form, Trump fired back via Twitter:
Mitt Romney had his chance to beat a failed president but he choked like a dog. Now he calls me racist-but I am least racist person there is
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2016
Romney's also told CNN that's he considering voting LP in the coming election.
"If Bill Weld were at the top of the ticket, it would be very easy for me to vote for Bill Weld for president," Romney said. "So I'll get to know Gary Johnson better and see if he's someone who I could end up voting for. That's something which I'll evaluate over the coming weeks and months."
The sticking point for Romney appears to be pot legalization. "Marijuana makes people stupid," Romney told CNN. Maybe, but marijuana prohibition makes the whole country stupid. If that is what's holding back conservative Republicans from voting for Johnson, they have a bigger problem than the Trump candidacy. The culture wars are over—at least in terms of using the government to force lifestyle choices on people—and conservatives seem dead set on losing the peace.
For his part, Johnson praised Romney's curiosity in his charmingly low-key way, saying "I think Mitt Romney hit it on the head. He said, 'Hey, I'm going to check out Gary Johnson and see what he's got to say.'…I think that kind of scrutiny holds up under the light of day."