Mitt Romney’s flight to Washington, D.C., hadn’t even taken off yesterday when the chants from the back of the plane began: “TRAI-TOR! TRAI-TOR! TRAI-TOR!”
The Republican senator from Utah is used to angering Donald Trump’s most die-hard fans. But Romney’s latest sin against MAGA orthodoxy—the one that had so riled his fellow passengers—is especially egregious: He’s refused to go along with a plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“A huge portion of the American public has been misled by the president about the outcome of the election,” Romney told me over the phone, a few hours after his flight. He sounded fairly sanguine for a man who’d spent the day getting harassed in airports, and showed little interest in venting about his hecklers. Instead, Romney’s frustration was aimed at Republican leaders cynically fanning conspiracy theories about the November vote for their own political gain. In combustible moments like this one, Romney said, “you can either be a fire extinguisher or a flamethrower. And President Trump has been a flamethrower.”
The spectacle set to play out today on Capitol Hill—where at least a dozen Republican senators plan to challenge Electoral College votes from states the president lost—vividly captures the partisan incentives on the modern right. The Trump-era Republican Party has become a laboratory for innovations in illiberalism. Status flows to those who conjure the most creative defenses of corruption; rising stars prove themselves by smashing democratic norms. And anyone who voices dissent risks swift retribution from the president and his followers.