As the US's total number of coronavirus cases passes 1m and the Trump administration comes under intense fire for its troubled response to the crisis, Republican senator and longtime Trump critic Mitt Romney has added an implicit attack on the president himself.
Speaking to the Georgetown Politics Forum during a live broadcast, Mr Romney – who was the only Republican to vote to convict Mr Trump in his impeachment trial – described the Trump administration’s performance as suffering from a failure of leadership.
“It doesn’t mean directing everybody what they have to do, but at least co-ordinating it, and doing our very best to make sure that places that need help most immediately get that help. Governors have been doing a real good job, but I think the federal co-ordination has been – less than my personal style.
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“I’ve been involved in a couple of crisis settings, both in my business career and as as a governor, and I have found it helpful to bring together various taskforces with individual responsibilities being given to one taskforce after another, depending on the particular challenge that we face.”
Quoting former defence secretary Bob Gates, who served under both George W Bush and Barack Obama, Mr Romney took a thinly veiled dig at the president personally:
“The key in leadership is recognising you’re not the smartest guy in the room. And in a setting like this, I think it’s important for the people at the top to recognise there are always people out there with more information. You want to bring them in, divide the responsibilities and have them manage them.
“So that – I think we’re not where we ought to be.”
Mr Trump has recently continued to insist that he is the person best-placed to direct the response to the outbreak, referring more than once to his own supposed intellectual gifts. At a recent press briefing, he acknowledged that while he was not a doctor, he then pointed to his cranium and declared he is, “like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”
During the 2016 campaign, Mr Romney became one of Mr Trump’s harshest mainstream Republican critics. In a long speech dedicated to dismantling the then-candidate’s character, he pulled no punches: “Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University ...
“He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
However, a few weeks after the election, a photo of the two men dining together saw Mr Romney widely mocked not just for his awkward expression at the dinner table, but for kowtowing to a man he had only recently disdained in the harshest terms.
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Rumours were circulating at the time that he was being considered as a potential secretary of state; he was ultimately not nominated for a cabinet post, and allies and enemies alike both came to the conclusion Mr Trump had “toyed” with him.
It was not long after being elected as a senator that Mr Romney found himself called upon to decide whether to impeach president Trump on charges of obstructing congress and abuse of power. He voted to convict on the latter charge, making him the only Republican to vote against the party line.
Speaking to a nearly empty Senate chamber, he said that the seriousness of the process and of the evidence compelled him to put party identity aside.
“Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me, for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
Asked on the Georgetown broadcast whether the US is too politically polarised to heal its divisions and come out of this crisis stronger than before, Mr Romney again put responsibility and leadership at the core of his analysis.
“Are we too polarised? Yes. How do we get out of it? I can only look at history. I can only look at settings where nations were in, or civilisations were in real distress, and typically there were two means by which a civilisation pulled out of a downward spiral.
“One was if a crisis came along that was so severe it really woke people up, but not so severe that it killed the enterprise or killed the civilisation.
“The other of course is where there is a leader of such extraordinary personal skill that this leader stood above the division, the anger, the resentment, and brought people together.”