Mitt Romney is receiving a hero’s welcome in certain circles for saying that Donald Trump engages in bigoted rhetoric. But let’s be clear: What’s really getting Romney’s goat isn’t that Donald expresses bigotry and sexism; it’s that he does it so blatantly.


Mitt Romney sat down for an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, during which he said that Donald might inspire “trickle-down racism.” Said Romney, presumably without a trace of irony: “This is not a matter of just policy; it’s more a matter of character.”


Romney, just four years ago, was largely undone by a video in which he was caught on camera at a private fundraiser disgorging sneering contempt for the 47% of Americans who he claimed would never vote for him because they don’t pay taxes and “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

“My job,” said Romney, “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Now, technically, Romney was essentially attacking his own base, since most of the people who don’t pay taxes in the US live in red states, and most welfare recipients are white. But thanks to a long history of Republican race-baiting and scapegoating, transmitted using dog whistles like taker, moocher, and welfare queens, we’re all pretty clear about whom Romney was talking.

Romney is hardly the champion of social justice as which we’re suddenly meant to regard him, just because he used his eyeballs on Donald and reported what he saw.

He doesn’t deserve any credit for acknowledging that Donald’s racism and misogyny is pretty bad. That’s not brave. That’s what decent people are supposed to do.

And that’s not even what Romney is doing. Not really. What he’s doing is trying to distance himself and his party from the brashness and directness of Donald’s extremism, as though that extremism is not — and hasn’t long been — central to the Republican platform. He’s not actually condemning Donald’s beliefs, but the unabashed ways in which he conveys them.

After all, Romney may never have publicly called women “pigs,” but “binders full of women” was pretty dehumanizing, too.

The context in which this is happening is one in which the Republican elite, despite their public soul-searching about whether to rally around Donald, are still trying to figure out whether there’s a way to simply push him out of the way and run someone more “moderate.” (Which translates to: Willing to use those dog whistles and put away the bullhorn.)

Their hope rests, in part, on conveying to Donald — by way of tepid criticism the media amplify to suggest an outsized lack of party support — that he risks losing to Hillary spectacularly. That he will be embarrassed. Humiliation being one of his worst fears, they’re hoping that he’ll simply drop out, providing them an opening to install someone who appears to be more reasonable.

Like Mitt Romney. Who, if you haven’t heard, is real mad about all this racism and misogyny! What a hero!

But given a second bite at the apple, Romney would push the same radical agenda as Donald; just as much as he did during his first bite. It’s just that Romney has the polish to promote it in more “civil” language.

That is: Coded language. For which Donald has no use.

Nothing is more dangerous to the GOP brand than a nominee who flatly refuses to pretend that their policies are anything but what they actually are. The challenge for Republican elites has always been how you convince people who aren’t obscenely wealthy to vote for a platform designed to exploit them, and they met that challenge by designing a strategy based on appealing to prejudice and victim-blaming, dressed up in Orwellian language about morality and patriotism.

They sowed the seeds of bias and intolerance for decades, and now they reap nothing but the only crop such seeds can yield.

So here we are. And now they’re trotting out Romney to try to force the genie back into the bottle.

That’s all this is. It is not the principled stand of a man who cares about the marginalized people who will most be harmed by Donald’s contemptible bigotry. It is the cynical ploy of a man who cares about his party and their continued power to exploit those same people for their own gain.

Don’t be fooled by Romney. He isn’t mad about what Donald is saying; he’s just mad about how Donald is saying it.