Mitt Romney is running for Senate. He found new political life by bashing President Donald Trump — who on Monday proceeded to endorse him anyway. (Even a candidate video that sideswiped Trump at least twice wasn’t enough to deter the president.)
If we’re all lucky, Trump will stick with his endorsement and ease Romney’s path to succeed retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah, a state Romney won as a presidential hopeful in 2012 by a nearly 50-point margin over Barack Obama.
Romney was long ago branded a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by conservative activists, but that should be a feature for Republicans looking to hold the Utah Senate seat, not a bug.
Having Romney join the Senate, where he’d bring a moderate temperament and a handful of opinions that stray from what constitutes a Trump Republican these days, would be good for the GOP, good for America’s two-party system, and even good for our democratic institutions.
I know it’s hard to see how a man nicknamed “Mittens” in his last bid for the White House can save the republic.
But if you need proof that RINOs like Romney are essential to our democratic system, look no further than the indictments last week handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller, which detailed the incredible lengths Russian actors had gone to with the strategic goal of dividing Americans leading up to the 2016 elections.
Watch: Intelligence Officials Aware of Russian Activity Aimed at 2018 Elections
On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, teams of Russian social media specialists posed as Americans and created “political intensity” by supporting radical groups, opposing social movements, and sympathizing with users dissatisfied with their social and economic situations. The indictment also says Russians traveled to the U.S. and obtained visas under false pretenses, hired Americans to stage rallies designed to be offensive to other Americans, bought ads micro-targeted to Americans most vulnerable to provocative political content, and crafted messages encouraging minorities not to vote at all.
When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments last week, he said the ultimate goal of the entire Russian plot was to “promote discord and undermine democracy” in the United States.
We also know from recent reporting that Russians are still just as engaged in dividing Americans against each other as they ever have been.
After the horrible school shooting in Florida last week, Russian bots flooded social media platforms to push divisive messages about gun rights and gun control. Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California, told The New York Times that the Russian bots “are going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration.”
Every time Americans attack one another over politics, every time Congress retreats to its partisan corners on contentious issues like immigration or climate change or gun control, we are doing the Russians’ job for them. They want divisions, personal attacks, no agreement and no progress. Without voices in the middle looking for consensus and progress, that job gets easier for the Russians every day.
Voices in the middle aren’t just essential for our democracy, they’re also crucial for our two-party system. They’re extremely healthy for the Democratic and Republican parties, both of which make life harder for the moderates in their parties than they should.
Whether it’s Sen. Susan Collins in Maine or Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, senators willing to find bipartisan solutions to the country’s problems have been the connective tissue between the two parties and the fuel for action on Capitol Hill. It’s no coincidence that as polarization has increased, the list of accomplishments on Capitol Hill has dropped like a rock.
For the GOP specifically, which has long prided itself on being “the party of ideas,” that’s a problem. Republicans’ ideas seem increasingly to come from the far right of the party and remain unchallenged until they’re unveiled to be voted on quickly. But undebated ideas are weak, and undebated principles aren’t principles at all — they are talking points.
On the day Romney announced his Senate run, he spoke at a Utah fundraiser and detailed the issues that had brought him back to politics, including addressing poverty and reducing carbon emissions.
Romney also praised the benefits of immigration, highlighted the atmosphere of respect on Utah’s Capitol Hill and, in speaking about gun violence, said, “We can’t just sit and hope and wait for things to get better.”
Romney’s comments were the stuff of RINO consensus-building that has made moderate Republicans on the right and DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) on the left an endangered species in Washington these days. But we kill off RINOs and DINOs at our own peril.
I’ve been reading a lot about endangered species lately (long story). In the process, I’ve learned that while all endangered species are important in their own ways, some endangered species are more important than others. The most important are the “keystone species,” which play a role in the survival of other animals, and in some cases, the survival of the habitat they all share and need to live.
RINOs and DINOs are Washington’s keystone species. The political ecosystem — even the super-predators who believe they should get credit for their own survival — cannot live without the ones who keep the place functioning and in balance.
Mitt Romney always seemed to believe he was meant for the most important job in Washington. If he wins his race, he may find that joining the Senate as a voice of moderation in an era when our very democracy is under attack is the most important job he could ever have.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.