Opinion: A new Mitt or the same old weenie?

Right now you’re probably asking yourselves — How is Mitt Romney doing?

You know he’s running for the Senate in Utah, right? It’s going to be one of the really big races this fall.

OK, possibly not as riveting as the Republican primary in West Virginia, which features a former coal mining executive who hopes voters will be so enamored with his pro-business platform they’ll ignore his role in a fatal mine explosion, the poisoning of local drinking water and the fact that he actually seems to live near Las Vegas.

But a Romney comeback would still be pretty darned interesting. True, the world was totally sick of him after those two terrible presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Remember when he claimed he’d only been pro-choice when he ran for governor of Massachusetts because he didn’t understand what an embryo was? Or when his position on the wealth gap was, “There’s no question it’s not good being poor”?

Then he moved to Utah, and we forgot all about Mitt until he popped up in 2016 as a never-Trumper, tossing out the worst slams his little entrepreneurial heart could think of. (“He inherited his business. He didn’t create it. And what ever happened to Trump Airlines?”)

After Trump was nominated, Romney swore he’d never vote for him, although he backed off the obvious alternative of Hillary Clinton. No, Mitt was a proud and useless Mystery Vote, musing about the relative advantages of going with the Libertarian or writing in his wife.

When Trump won, Romney reappeared in a third incarnation, as the Secretary-of-State-in-Waiting who dined out with the president-elect, burbling about his “message of inclusion.” Then it became clear Trump was just dangling the nomination for the fun of seeing his old enemy leap up and down trying to grab it. No Cabinet Mitt.

Then, the Senate announcement. Maybe this time Mitt could have a point! Maybe he’d become a nationally known Republican voice who could call the president out when he did something stupid or mean, giving Trump something to worry about besides the dreaded Base. Maybe he’d be a primary challenger in 2020. Hope springs eternal.

First, he had to get the nomination in a state where he’s lived only a sliver of his life. Romney’s been trying to dig in, buying mansions in Utah (half his four houses are now there).

Then — whoops! — Romney, who’s spent more than $500,000 so far on his campaign, lost the vote at last weekend’s Republican convention to a state representative who’d spent around $30,000.

Maybe they still regard Mitt as an outsider.

A more likely answer is that the delegates resented Romney for collecting signatures to qualify for a primary in case the convention thing didn’t work out. The good news here, people, is that you don’t need to educate yourself about this matter. You have a lot of things on your mind, and the inside politics of Utah ballot access does not have to be one of them.

Virtually everybody expects Romney to win the primary in June. And the actual election shouldn’t be a problem in a deeply red state. But what then? Will we get a new principled Republican opposition or just another guy waiting for his chance to be interviewed on CNN about the glories of tax cuts?

We need that principled national voice, not just a guy who bounces around on issues like a well-coiffed rubber ball. Romney has to do better. Otherwise, we’ll go back to discussing the time he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the car roof.

Writes for the New York Times.

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