Senator Mitt Romney has admitted what other Republicans can’t about the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency: that his departing message has been marred by a torrent of disproven conspiracy theories about the 2020 election result and other “nutty and loopy” behaviour that has threatened US security.
“It's really sad in a lot of respects — and embarrassing — because the president could right now be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine,” the Utah Republican said in an interview on Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“After all he pushed aggressively to get the vaccine developed and distributed. That's happening on a quick timeframe. He could be going out and championing this extraordinary success.”
Mr Romney is the only Senate Republican in the last two years to throw caution to the political winds and openly criticise the outgoing president when he disagrees with his actions. That was evidenced earlier this year when Mr Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict Mr Trump an article of impeachment that he had abused his presidential power with regard to Ukrainian foreign policy.
But Mr Trump has dominated the post-election media coverage with his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and disenfranchise the more than 81m American who voted for his opponent, President-elect Joe Biden.
On Friday, Mr Trump openly floated the idea of invoking martial law — calling in the military — and overturning the election results in key swing state to stay in power, a move concocted after watching a Newsmax interview with his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the New York Times reported.
Mr Romney said on Sunday it was “sad” and “embarrassing” how Mr Trump has handled his electoral defeat.
“He's leaving Washington with a whole series of conspiracy theories and things that are so nutty and loopy that people are shaking their head wondering what in the world has gotten into this man,” Mr Romney said in his interview on Sunday, although Democrats would say the outgoing president’s stream of misinformation and legal challenges to the election fit a broader pattern of his behaviour in office.
“I think that's unfortunate because he has more accomplishments than this last chapter suggests. [But it’s] what he's going to be known for,” Mr Romney said.
Mr Biden’s inauguration is set for 20 January after he received 306 votes in the Electoral College last week, well above the 270-vote threshold to become president.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Mr Biden as the president-elect and called him to congratulate him on his electoral victory.
The majority leader and other top Republican lawmakers have most supported Mr Trump’s election challenges, saying his campaign is within its rights to lodge legal challenges. “The future will take care of itself,” Mr McConnell has said at multiple points this month.
When Mr Tapper pointed out to Mr Romney that he is the only GOP senator standing up to Mr Trump’s post-election rhetoric, the Utah GOP senator acknowledged that he is a lonely figure within his party.
“I represent a very small slice of Republican party today,” Mr Romney admitted.
“As I look at the 2024 contenders, most of them are trying to become as much like Donald Trump as they can be. Although I must admit that his style or schtick, if you will, it is difficult to duplicate. He's an extraordinarily talented person from that standpoint.”
Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012 running a platform of free trade, a stronger military stance in the Middle East than the Obama administration had struck, and lower taxes.
Four years later, Mr Trump’s populist message fundamentally transformed the party and its core voter base.
Mr Romney still thinks the party can rebound and indicated to Mr Tapper that he would not leave the GOP.
“I think I'm more effective in the Republican party continuing to battle for the things I believe in. And I think ultimately the Republican party will return to the roots that have been formed over the last century,” Mr Romney said. “We'll get back at some point, and hopefully people will recognize we need to take a different course than the one we're on right now.”
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