What to Keep in Mind About Mitt Romney

Reading the recent excerpt from McKay Coppins’s forthcoming biography of Mitt Romney of Utah, I was struck by the depth of the senator’s contempt and disdain for much of the Republican Party, including many of his colleagues in the Senate.

He condemned their vanity, their venality, their cowardice. “Every time he publicly criticized Trump, it seemed,” Coppins writes, describing Romney’s account, “some Republican senator would smarmily sidle up to him in private and express solidarity.” Romney made note of the “rank cynicism” of his Republican colleagues and their almost total refusal to stand up for anything that might harm their future electoral prospects. He saved his harshest words, however, for those Republican senators who would do or say anything for political power and influence.

As for the latest crop of Republicans, Romney had this to say: “I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than J.D. Vance.”

Reading all this, which is surprisingly harsh and unsparing for someone who is still an active participant in American political life, I wonder how much of it is Romney’s sublimated criticism of himself.

On the occasion of Romney’s retirement, which he announced this week, there have been a number of odes, retrospectives and more or less hagiographic assessments of his political career, each colored by his genuinely admirable opposition to Donald Trump. Romney was, after all, the first senator in American history to ever vote to remove a president of his own party from office.

But Romney also played a significant role in giving Trump mainstream political credibility when he enthusiastically accepted the reality television star’s endorsement in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. And beyond Trump, Romney — in both of his campaigns for president — eagerly and enthusiastically pandered to the right-wing rage and resentment that eventually found its champion in Trump. This was the Romney who promised to “double Guantánamo” in 2007 and urged “self-deportation” in 2012. It was the Romney who cracked, to a cheering crowd, that “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” and the Romney who did a great deal to appeal to the most viciously right-wing figures in his party.

Romney was, not unlike the colleagues he criticizes, willing to say whatever it took to win power, even if it meant smearing nearly half the country as essentially unproductive and opening the door to some of the most corrosive forces in American political life.

It is interesting that Romney has such tough words for his colleagues. But speaking as an observer of his career, it seems to me that there are tough words that Romney ought to have for himself. And if he isn’t willing to go that far in public, he should at least do more than leave the scene with a parting jab at the former president.

If nothing else changes, then next November, one of two men, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, will be on the way to a second term in the White House. For his role in creating this mess, I think the least Romney could do is to say, to the country, exactly who he thinks should prevail.

What I Wrote

My Friday column was on Mitt Romney’s comments about his party’s hostility to the Constitution and what that might mean.

Now Reading

Representatives Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib on “Cop City” in Atlanta and the silencing of dissent for The Nation.

Lynn Hunt on the revolutions of 1848 in Europe for The New York Review of Books.

Julian Borger on the 50th anniversary of the Chilean coup for The Guardian.

Kathryn Joyce on the right-wing’s parallel economy for The New Republic.

A two-hour analysis of the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for those of you who are interested in that kind of thing.

Photo of the Week

I was in Montreal for a little bit over the summer and I’m just beginning to go through my photos from the trip. Here is a quick snapshot of a street performer and the crowd around him.

Now Eating: Pearl Couscous With Creamy Feta and Chickpeas

I made this for dinner this week and it was a hit with the whole family. It also helped me use up the abundance of cherry tomatoes we have from our garden, which is a big plus. As always, I went heavy on the herbs. I also served this with a tzatziki sauce and some tinned fish (smoked tuna) that I had in the pantry. The whole meal was filling and nutritious, and felt reasonably virtuous. Recipe comes from New York Times Cooking.


  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

  • ¼ cup sliced scallions

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus more for serving

  • 2 fat garlic cloves, finely grated or minced

  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for serving

  • 3 oregano, rosemary or sage sprigs

  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water

  • ⅓ cup chopped cilantro, dill or parsley, plus more for serving

  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from ½ lemon)

  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

  • 8 ounces pearl couscous (1½ cups)

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 1 cup feta, crumbled (about 4 ounces)

  • ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan (1½ ounces)


Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a 9-inch baking dish, cake pan or gratin dish, toss together tomatoes, scallions, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and oregano sprigs. Roast until tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

While tomatoes roast, heat the stock until it boils, then stir in remaining 1 teaspoon salt, adding more to taste. (You want a well-seasoned broth here to flavor the couscous.) Stir in cilantro, lemon zest and cumin.

Remove tomatoes from oven and fold in couscous, chickpeas and hot stock mixture. Cover pan tightly with foil, and return to oven for 20 minutes.

Remove foil and fold in about ¾ of the feta (save the rest for garnish) and Parmesan. Bake uncovered until feta starts to melt, another 5 minutes.

To serve, pull out and discard herb sprigs if you like, and spoon couscous into bowls. Top with remaining feta, lots more herbs, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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