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Romney’s high-mindedness is no match for his desire to win

Senator Mitt Romney
Senator Mitt RomneyAlex Wroblewski/Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bl

Given his history, Mitt Romney never made much sense as the last holdout for consistency.

Early Tuesday, our former governor turned Utah senator announced that he supports going forward on naming a successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

Some Democrats had identified Romney as one of the senators who might hold his party to the same standard it invoked four years ago, when it refused to vote on a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election. No dice.

His announcement deals a huge blow to any Democratic hopes of slowing down the filling of Ginsburg’s seat. Even if Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins stick to their pledges to oppose moving forward — two big ifs, given their histories — it would still take two more votes to shut down the nomination. It’s hard to see where those two Republican votes are going to come from.

“The Constitution gives the president the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees,” Romney said. “Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”

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Romney justified his decision by saying, in effect, that two wrongs don’t make a right.

“That the Merrick Garland decision was unfair, and so therefore it has to be made up by doing something which also wouldn’t make a lot of sense — which is saying to President Trump you can’t get your nominee, either — that just doesn’t follow.”

And just that easily, he blithely endorsed a total double standard.

But Mitt’s principles have proven a bit malleable before, right?

He ran for Senate in 1994 as a moderate, pro-choice Republican, espousing positions he has long since abandoned.

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Back then, he spoke of being Lenore Romney’s son, noting that his mother had become a convert to the cause after a relative’s illegal abortion. Now, he has no qualms about potentially helping to drive the last nail in the coffin of Roe v. Wade.

To be fair, Romney has been one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to cross swords with President Trump. He was the lone member of the GOP who voted to convict at Trump’s impeachment trial. That’s a brave vote by any standard.

But there’s something about Trump that brings out Mitt’s flair for equivocation. He is a Never Trumper, except for the frequent times he is something else.

During the 2016 campaign, he was a blistering, and insightful, critic of the eventual GOP nominee.

But that didn’t stop him from turning up at Trump Tower on bended knee after the election, in what may have been a disastrous audition for secretary of state. He’d barely left the building before Trump was reportedly gleefully mocking him.

The Republicans' desire to move quickly to grab this seat isn’t hard to understand. This moment is the culmination of a long campaign to firmly seize control of the Supreme Court. For a minority party — Trump lost the popular vote, remember — it’s their most powerful vehicle for long-term political power. What they intend to do with that power unnerves me, as does the ruthless means by which they seized it.

What bothers me about Romney is his opportunism posing as high-mindedness. He invokes the Constitution, but he is really all about winning. Romney pretends to be above shallow partisan politics. Yet he ends up, over and over again, standing with all the other partisans.

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But that’s who Romney is. He was for universal health care until he was against it. He loved Massachusetts until it didn’t fit his political purposes. He despises Trump, but only sometimes. He wants a conservative court, and doesn’t seem to care that he voted to oust the president who is now making the appointment.

In Romney’s State House days, sometimes it could be fascinating to try to puzzle out his next move, and how it might contrast with his last one.

Now, with the country on fire, his latest piece of expedience feels more explosive than entertaining.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.