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Column: Mitt Romney has the ‘middle lane’ to himself

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Kansas City Star illustration -- Hector Casanova

For the Valley News
Published: 10/19/2019 10:20:10 PM
Modified: 10/19/2019 10:20:08 PM

As I write this, it seems increasingly possible that Donald Trump will not complete his term of office and will not be the GOP candidate in 2020. It is hard to imagine Republican leaders continuing to rally behind him, and if he is ousted, those who surround him, including Vice President Mike Pence, will likely be scarred by the fallout.

In the spirit of Wayne Gretzky’s oft quoted aphorism — “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been” — I am going to assume that Trump shortly will be history. If that is the case, I foresee Republicans coalescing behind a leader who can unify their party and possibly broaden their base going forward.

Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential candidate and the former governor of Massachusetts who was elected to the Senate by Utah voters in 2018, could be ideal.

He has been increasingly bold in speaking out against the president. He has rejected some of Trump’s appointees, questioned some of his political decisions and attacked his character. He has positioned himself in what he called “a middle lane” between the Democrats who think he’s too soft on the president and the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party who think he’s too hard on him. At this juncture he’s alone in that lane, though it’s easy to imagine Paul Ryan and Nikki Haley joining him.

Despite his misgivings, Romney has been supportive of the general direction the president is leading us. Politico reported earlier this year that Romney “supports Trump’s tough-on-China policies and his hawkish stance toward Iran, (and) gushes about the Trump economy.” In that same article, Romney said Trump “by and large followed the Republican playbook,” but expressed misgivings on “matters of conduct or communication that I think are highly divisive or misogynistic or anti-immigrant.”

In effect, this is a “Trump lite” position. Should party leaders look to Romney, they would be selecting a man with a strong moral compass, an individual who has had success in the public and private sector, and a politician who will adhere to the Republican playbook.

Democrats, in turn, would need to revamp their strategy. They could not run an “anti-Trump” campaign. And if the economy remains robust, they would be hard-pressed to run an anti-capitalism campaign. Worse for Democrats, candidate Romney — well-known and thoroughly vetted — would be immune from criticism of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, Cabinet appointees and foreign policy. They’d have to find an eloquent, centrist candidate who could articulate how “the Republican playbook” is not helpful and offer a clear vision for a better way forward.

In the end, I believe the country will be better off if the 2020 campaign is not about Trump but instead compels voters to examine the realities we face.

The mathematical reality is that we cannot continue to run up deficits. We need to cut spending or increase taxes. The scientific reality is that our planet is warming. We need to reduce the carbon footprint across the globe or develop serious contingency plans for climate migrants who will be forced from their homes. The sad reality is that we are experiencing an increase in deaths of despair — from alcohol abuse, drug abuse and suicide. These difficult issues can be addressed only through thoughtful, bipartisan dialogue and compromise. Should the 2020 election become a referendum on Trump, I fear these difficult issues will be sidelined or reduced to partisan sound bites.

I am sure I am not the only Valley News reader who has looked at the lay of the land and come to a conclusion like this, and I am sure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership took such a scenario into account when they tamped down demands for impeachment for as long as they did.

While Trump’s recent conduct compelled an impeachment inquiry, I hope it proceeds quickly so that we can stop reacting to tweets and start facing the tough problems we need to work on together. I hope we will look back at the 2020 election as the time when our country began to make decisions based on where the puck was headed, and not where the puck has been.

Wayne Gersen lives in Etna.

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