Here we go. Orrin Hatch announced his retirement, Mitt Romney is the favorite to take his seat, and already we’re seeing comments like this:
The prospect of Senator Mitt Romney is a big blow to Trump. It'll be yet another Republican senator who will say mean things about him, while still voting for everything on his agenda
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) January 2, 2018
The dumb version of this argument is that conservatives aren’t “really” opposed to Trump’s excesses and deceptions unless they vote against their own political values. Oppose originalist judges. Vote for higher taxes. Turn your back on Israel. Switch your political positions in the single-minded quest to humiliate and defeat the president. Take no prisoners. Deny him any accomplishments. Good public policy be damned.
This is incandescently idiotic, but it’s a common online sentiment. The smarter version of the total opposition demand (the position Maguire takes in later tweets) is that support for various Trump policies should be filtered through the prism of opposition. Hold up tax bills until he releases tax returns. Dedicate large chunks of the legislative calendar to comprehensive and wide-ranging investigations of virtually all aspects of the Trump administration and Trump business.
The emphasis is different, but the outcome would be largely the same. Consume legislative energy in the fight against Trump while sidelining conservative priorities. But the American economy and Constitution can’t take a backseat to a progressive wish-list of investigations and denunciations. Investigate serious issues, yes, but no senator should neglect the pursuit of policies that will advance the common good.
It’s no secret that I think highly of Romney. My wife and I consider Mitt and Ann friends, and we did what we could to organize evangelical support for him in 2008 and 2012. He’s a man of principle and character. Thus, he’s highly likely to disappoint all the right people. His new progressive friends will be angry the instant that he demonstrates once again that he’s an articulate supporter of conservative social, economic, and military policies. MAGA-land will unleash when he holds Trump accountable for his words and actions.
But isn’t this exactly what we want in a conservative senator, to advance conservative ideas without surrendering to a cult of personality? I don’t know if he’ll run, but if he does we’re already seeing a preview of the distorted debate to come.