Romney tells Trump to apologize for Charlottesville comments, but his words are hollow

Romney embraced Trump during the midst of racist birther hysteria, now seeks moral high ground.

Donald Trump greets Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, after announcing his endorsement of Romney during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Donald Trump greets Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, after announcing his endorsement of Romney during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday condemned President Trump’s response to the clashes in Charlottesville, publishing a lengthy Facebook post in which he said the president should apologize. Just how sincere he was in his rebuke is questionable.

“Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn,” Romney wrote. After lamenting their lasting effect on minority children, Romney added that Trump’s comments—in which the president claimed “many sides” were to blame for the violence that left one woman dead and 19 injured—were damaging to the United States’ reputation around the world.

“[W]ho would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?” he wrote. “…The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize.”

Despite the initial negative reaction to his comments on Facebook (most of which appeared to be from Trump supporters), in many corners, Romney’s post was unsurprisingly welcomed with open arms. Democrats and Republicans alike called his comments “powerful” and “unambiguous.” One Twitter user noted his surprise at how much he “like[d] and respect[ed] Mitt Romney lately.” Another thanked the former GOP presidential candidate for “[taking] Trump to woodshed” and “stand[ing] up for constitutional order.”

But Romney’s own track record betrays him. It’s hard to forget his previous willingness to work with the president, a man he had once claimed was a “fraud” and a “phony.” Also glaring is his eager acceptance of Trump’s endorsement during the 2012 presidential race—which, at the time, Romney said was an honor and a “delight.”

More troubling than Romney’s whiplash reaction to Trump, however, is his own sticky history in terms of race relations; for someone so concerned with condemning intolerance, Romney has shown a remarkable lack of understanding and tact in the past.

In 2012, the former governor appeared apathetic toward Trump’s racist “birtherism” claims, telling a group of reporters that, while he didn’t necessarily agree with Trump’s suggestion that President Obama had been born outside the United States, he was appreciative of the support regardless.

“You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” he said. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”

Again in 2012, after delivering a speech to members of the NAACP—during which he was booed on three separate occasions—the then-presidential candidate stated clumsily that if black Americans wanted “free stuff”, they ought vote for his rival, President Obama.

“When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare, they weren’t happy,” he said. “That’s okay, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this: your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff. But don’t forget: nothing is really free.”

Although Romney had delivered that line in several other addresses, his decision to use it in a speech to a primarily black audience was especially troubling, given that the “free stuff” argument has been used against the black community for years and plays on a dangerous stereotype of black voters as impoverished and lazy.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone, then, when Romney—just months after claiming Trump’s election would lead to “trickle down racism and trickle down bigotry”—met with Trump in November to discuss a possible position as secretary of state, not once, but twice.

“I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump,” he told reporters at the time. “…He [promotes] a message of inclusion and bringing people together and his vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way. …I happen to think that America’s best days are ahead of us.”

He didn’t get the State Department gig.

Romney’s scathing rebuke Friday appeared on the surface to be just the sort of condemnation that the country needed, after such an ugly display of racism and intolerance—a denouncement of white supremacy and a call for the president to do better on race relations. Given Romney’s own flaky history, though, perhaps it’s better for the public to take it with a grain of salt.