Not so long ago, there was a popular story on the right about Republican presidential candidates: No matter what they did, no matter who they were, the left and the media would savage them. When the GOP nominated Mitt Romney, an accomplished, unquestionably upstanding, experienced politician, he was subject to the usual attacks. The Democrats cried wolf. And that’s part of why the country ended up with Donald Trump. Talking with attendees at the 2016 Republican National Convention, I must have heard that story a dozen times.
How things have changed. Yesterday, Republicans savaged now-Senator Romney for the vote that he cast to convict President Trump in his impeachment trial. Fox’s Laura Ingraham called him “the ultimate selfish, preening, self-centered politician,” and even suggested that she might move to Utah to run against him.
The larger segment was a mishmash of poor reasoning, bad metaphors, and ad hominem attacks—no reason to waste time on it—but one argument Ingraham put forth as she gleefully asserted Romney’s demise was noteworthy. “If you’re one of Romney’s constituents in Utah, you’re out of luck,” she said. “If you’re a businessman in need of a regulation reexamined, don’t bother calling his office. He has no power anymore.”
Let us consider this businessman Ingraham has conjured, suffering under dysfunctional regulation. According to her, the businessman’s fate and that of his employees depend not on the merits of his request for relief, nor his senator’s willingness to alert congressional colleagues to his problem. Rather, the businessman’s fate turns on Beltway power games––how the senator voted on impeachment, a perception of partisan disloyalty, and the impulse to punish him for it.
That ought to scandalize us. The sincere needs of citizens should be the priority in Washington. Yet Ingraham was not decrying corruption. She was attacking Romney and gloating over his ostensible loss of power. Like so many creatures of The Swamp at Fox, she is so caught up in the insular power struggles of elites that it never occurs to her to insist on what’s right rather than what’s done.
Any Republican who would ignore the concerns of that Utah businessman as a consequence of Romney’s vote is perpetrating a civic and moral wrong. But I agree with Ingraham that Trumpist Republicans are quite likely to subordinate the needs of regular citizens to their self-aggrandizing Washington loyalty games. They’re just unlikely to tell on themselves as she did.