For those of you holding your breath waiting for Mitt Romney to emerge as the “great white hope” who can bring down the reigning heavyweight (literally and figuratively) champion Donald J. Trump, I hope purple is a good color for you. The accompanying picture comes from the third 2012 debate between Romney and Barack Obama, when the former staked his foreign policy chops on the proposition that Russia was the greatest threat to United States security. Whether he was right or wrong at the time is a debate I will leave to foreign policy experts and historians. However, if you look at the flood of media responses to Russian interference in the 2016 election documented in the indictments of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies as well as the Mueller report, one might think it is a settled issue. Consider the following examples.
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” That, of course, was President Barack Obama’s rather lame joke, delivered during the third presidential debate of 2012. He was ridiculing Mitt Romney’s assertion that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” The former president has received just derision for his quip, but it was the gullibility of his outlook—and, indeed, that of his fellow progressives—that now appears so foolish and damaging. (Washington Examiner/February 19, 2019)
Madeleine Albright, who served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state and supported President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, apologized to Romney, then Obama’s Republican opponent and now Utah’s junior senator, for her repeated criticism of his claim that Russia was the country’s “number one geopolitical foe,” as he said during the campaign. (ABC News/February 26, 2019)
Romney described Russia as the greatest US geopolitical foe in his 2012 presidential campaign, and was broadly mocked. I was among reporters who should have given it more weight. (Maggie Haberman/NY Times/April 19, 2019)
For argument’s sake, assume this revisionist perspective on the 2012 debate exchange is valid. Why does it matter now? Because it raises other important questions. Did Romney’s concerns about Russia represent a deeply held concern Vladimir Putin was trying to reassert his nation’s Cold War status to the detriment of the USA? Was Romney’s pivot away from the ISIS threat merely an attempt to differentiate his global assessment of national security threats from that of the incumbent? Or was it a signal to Republican voters, skeptical of his conservative credentials, that he shared the GOP’s then hawkish approach to the successor to the Soviet Union?
Those three question are enigmatic of attempts to figure out who is the real Mitt Romney. In an October 20, 2019 article in The Atlantic titled, “The Liberation of Mitt Romney, McKay Coppins writes of his subject’s disagreements with Trump:
These confrontations have turned Romney into one of the most closely watched figures in the impeachment battle now consuming Washington. While his fellow Republicans rail against “partisan witch hunts” and “fake whistle-blowers,” Romney is taking the prospect of a Senate trial seriously—he’s reviewing The Federalist Papers, brushing up on parliamentary procedure, and staying open to the idea that the president may need to be evicted from the Oval Office.
Oh, really! The presidential contender who once pinned his White House aspirations on his belief Putin and Russia posed an existential threat to America is focused on the Federalist Papers and parliamentary procedure. The man who chastised Obama for IGNORING Russia’s global incursions now reserves a harsher condemnation of the current White House occupant, someone who SUPPORTS and ENABLES Russian geopolitical goals by siding with the Putin over the American intelligence community, verbally attacking allies and echoing Russian conspiracy theories.
Mitt, forget procedures and the Federalist Papers. If you still believe Russia is the greatest national security to the United States, you cannot have it both ways. In 2012 you argued Obama’s response to the Russian menace disqualified him for a second term. Yet you withhold judgment on Trump. In The Atlantic interview, you tell Coppins, “I don’t look at myself as being a historical figure, but I do think these are critical times. And I hope that what I’m doing will open the way for people to take a different path.”
Mitt, historical figures do not have the luxury of deciding how they see themselves. In critical times, they do not spend time and energy on self-assessments. They act and others decide their place in the annuls of time. You have a choice. You can either be included among American profiles in courage or worship at the altar of Latter Day Aints.
For what it’s worth.