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JOAN VENNOCHI

Trump not good enough for Mitt’s grandkids, but good enough for the country

Globe Staff/Adobe

Mitt Romney says President Trump is not a role model for his grandchildren. But his policies are better than expected.

And so it goes. Another Republican, once horrified by Trump, now buys into his party’s deal with the devil. Romney knows this president lacks even the barest outline of a moral compass. But forget about integrity. Generally speaking, he’s fine with the direction Trump is taking the country.

Romney reboots are numerous enough to no longer count as news. But Mitt’s retooling as he runs for Senate in Utah is worth noting, if only to kill any lingering fantasies that the former governor of Massachusetts will go to Washington and lead a Republican charge against Trump. He won’t.

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During a Tuesday night debate with his GOP primary opponent, Romney said he agreed with Trump on a range of issues, from gun rights to construction of a border wall. And the once-fiery critic who denounced Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud,” in a much ballyhooed speech during the 2016 presidential campaign, now brags that he has known the president for a “long, long time” and has been endorsed by him.

In an interview with NBC News over the weekend, Romney also said, “If the president were to say something that I consider highly divisive or racist or misogynistic, I’ll call him out on it.” Well, what about the presidential goading of a Nashville rally crowd into calling immigrant members of the street gang MS-13 “animals” and referring to “the MS-13 lover Nancy Pelosi”? Not to mention Trump reveling in the usual “lock her up” chants and “Crooked Hillary” name-calling.

Tossing red meat like that is standard operating procedure for Trump. But now it’s also embraced without apology by the GOP. Roseanne Barr may have crossed a line with ABC when she tweeted that Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman and a senior advisor to President Obama, would be the outcome if “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.” But no matter how reprehensible Trump’s remarks, there’s no red line for Trump voters – or for Republicans anxious to woo them.

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The Washington Post calls Romney’s debate performance an example of threading the needle. That’s kind. Vox got it right, noting Romney’s “evaporating courage to call out Trump.” With his NBC interview and debate performance, Romney is walking away from his 2016 warning that if Republicans choose Trump, “the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.” In that 2016 speech, Romney blasted Trump’s trade policy proposals, saying they would lead to a trade war. But as the Post reported, during the debate, “he praised Trump . . . for taking a hard line on China and for threatening to raise tariffs on auto imports from Mexico.”

In 2016, the real deal-breaker for Romney was Trump’s huge character deficit: “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics,” he said. “Now, imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does. Would you welcome that?”

Romney still wouldn’t welcome Trumpian behavior in his offspring. As he told NBC, “I don’t think that I would point to the president as a role model for my grandkids on the basis of his personal style. He has departed in some cases from the truth and has attacked in a way that I think is not entirely appropriate.” But, as Romney also added, “I think that his policies have been by and large a good deal better than I might have expected.”

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Immigrants, bad; a bit more money in the paycheck, good. End of character-versus-policy debate.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.