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Mitt Romney: when 'no' doesn't mean 'no'

By Jed Lea-Henry - posted Friday, 11 March 2016


There is an old psychoanalytic, and well-worn story, worth remembering at moments like these. A man and a woman are involved in a long and loving relationship. She eventually decides that her feelings for him have changed, and she breaks things off. The devastated man does his best to move on with his life, but never quite resolves his feelings of longing for the woman.

After a period of time, and dictated by social convention, they both decide that they ought to try and be friends. As they slowly become comfortable with each other again, the woman begins expressing certain friendly platitudes: "you are a great guy", "any woman would be lucky to have you", etc.

The man's residual feelings are suddenly brought back to the boil, and, embarrassing himself in the process, makes an unrequited pass at his former lover – The hapless man in this story is Mitt Romney, and the woman in his life is the Republican Party.

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It is a rare thing to be able to say that Donald Trump is right. But his analysis of Mitt Romney's latest excursion into national politics was spot on: "obviously he wants to be relevant, he wants to be back in the game". And that is exactly what it looked like: the message was an attack on Donald Trump; the spectacle was pure campaign strategy.

A pre-announced, open-ended press release, followed by an underwhelming speech on a well-worn topic, for a handpicked audience in a sympathetic state – Romney looked very much like a man running for office. And his message did little to save him from this implication. Pivoting from a description of Donald Trump as a "fraud" and a "phony", Romney implored Republicans to vote in a manner – any manner – that denies Trump an absolute majority of delegates prior to the cycle-ending convention in Cleveland.

According to Romney, voters should give-up on trying to defeat Trump outright, and should now focus on a spoiling strategy. People should 'vote for Ted Cruz in Texas, John Kasich in Ohio and Marco Rubio in Florida' in an attempt to dilute the overall number of votes that Trump can secure. And perhaps he is right on this point; perhaps this is the only remaining way to keep Trump away from the nomination.

What began as nothing more than a comical distraction has – and particularly so after a landslide Super Tuesday victory – become an unparalleled crisis of identity; a hostile takeover of both the Republican Party and their ideology. However, Trump's polling numbers amongst Republican voters remains stuck around the 40 percent mark (nationally), whilst at the same time, a majority of Republicans say they won't vote for him under any circumstance.

So the Party's best, and perhaps only, hope of defeating Trump before the convention is to force him into a one-on-one race and hope that the anti-Trump vote mobilises around the other candidate.

This is now beginning to look wishful: at a bare minimum it will be a three man race. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both have the backing and the supporter-base to take them all the way through to the convention – at least on current polling. This, and the presence of 29 states or territories who use varying degrees of proportional voting rather than a 'winner-takes-all' format, makes a convention deadlock an increasingly likely prospect.

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Romney's sudden political re-emergence at just the same moment as a brokered convention is being spoken about as a serious possibility, will have many in the Republican Party shifting nervously in their seats. Whilst aids close to Romney have begun actively leaking about the desirability of a brokered convention, Romney's friend and colleague, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, said what no-one yet dared, but what everyone must have suspected: "If the convention is locked up, there's a possibility [that Romney will put his name into contention].

The image is hard to shake: Mitt Romney still believes he can be President of the United States – and Donald Trump is his ticket. This will not end well. If there is anything concrete that can be taken-away from this unpredictable election season, it is that the Republican Party have well-and-truly moved-on from the Party they were four years ago. There are no fond memories to be found.

For Mitt, this seems to be a hard reality to accept. Over a week ago he began tentatively testing the waters with a fragile criticism of Trump for not releasing his tax returns, speculating that he is hiding a "bombshell". This ought to have been laughed away by the sheer irony that Romney suffered from the same criticism in 2012 after a delayed release of his own taxes.

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About the Author

Jed Lea-Henry is an Australia born academic. After graduating from La Trobe University with majors in Political Science and Philosophy, Jed completed his post-graduate education in International Relations at Deakin University. His research has covered a broad range of topics, including humanitarian intervention, civil conflict, violence prevention, regional development and moral philosophy. Jed is currently an Assistant Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at Vignan University, and the host of the Korea Now Podcast. You can follow his work, or contact him directly at http://www.jedleahenry.org/

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