During the presidential campaign, no mainstream GOP figure was more outspoken in his criticism of Donald Trump than Mitt Romney. The 2012 Republican Party standard-bearer called Trump, among other things, a “fraud,” a “phony,” and a poseur who had inherited his wealth. Romney, who publicly flirted with the idea of voting Libertarian due to the presence of fellow former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld on the ticket, counseled anyone thinking about voting for Trump to remember “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics” of the reality-TV personality.
And then Mitt Romney sat down to dinner with Donald Trump and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus last night. Here’s a picture of the gathering, as distributed CNN’s Chris Mooney. I like to caption this “The Moment Mitt Romney Realized He Wasn’t Invited TO Dinner but that He WAS Dinner.” Many folks, with no real evidence, are theorizing that Trump is toying with Romney, who’s been named as a possible secretary of state, the better to humiliate him publicly when Romney is dismissed as a candidate.
— Chris Moody (@moody) November 30, 2016
Will this be one more shiv from Donald Trump? Who knows.
So far, he’s been more than happy to fill his cabinet with insiders rather than outsiders and there doesn’t seem to be any real method to his madness. But whatever happens in the end, Romney’s willingness to entertain joining Trump’s cabinet further erodes all of our beliefs that sometimes principles are more important than partisanship and personal gain. A few months ago, Gallup released its annual survey of confidence in major U.S. institutions and found that we trust such things at historically low rates. For the third year in a row, in fact, the average trust in 14 major institutions (churches, government, the military, etc.) was below 33 percent.
The reason for that isn’t because Americans have suddenly become incapable of or unwilling to trust authority. It’s because authority, especially as it relates to government, has relentlessly driven down expectations through rotten behavior. Romney’s dinner with the president-elect—”main course, Priebus & PEOTUS had prime sirloin a citrus glaze and carrots. Romney lamb chops with mushroom bolognese sauce” according to New York Times’ reporter Eric Lipton—will only help keep the number of Americans who trust the government to do the right thing for the right reasons at or near historical lows. If that simply turns the United States into a low-trust nation that demands more and more regulation, we’ll be sorry.
But maybe, just maybe, what the Trump era will usher in is righteous indignation at pols who have no scruples and a movement to limit government control over our lives, our futures, and our pocketbooks. The two legacy parties have near-record low rates of voter identification and Americans generally refused to come out in large numbers to back either candidate (indeed, it seems to be the case that while Trump only pulled around as many votes as blah Mitt Romney did four years ago, Democrats just couldn’t be bothered to hustle to the polls for Hillary Clinton). Beyond lack of voter enthusiasm, there are grounds for cautious optimism that some aspects of a Trump presidency will be OK to better-than-OK. Education, transportation, regulation, health-care, and even foreign policy look somewhat promising, even as the bad stuff (immigration, trade, and more) look truly terrible.
All those outcomes, though, ultimately are in our hands and are on our shoulders, as we will ultimately pay for them, literally and figuratively. Which reminds me: This is Reason’s annual webathon, during which we ask people who read our website and watch our videos and listen to our podcasts to consider supporting our efforts with a tax-deductible donation. If you like the way we think about and cover the world, please help us stay strong during 2017.