written by Valerie Morales
In the HBO series Succession, the main character is a nasty billionaire named Logan Roy. He negotiates betrayal and gluttony while moored to a despicable brand of leadership. His children are equally narcissistic and viperlike. Thematically, the series wants us to hate the Roy’s while being romanced by their selfishness. Suddenly, being rich isn’t aspirational when given a contemptible glimpse.
At the end of the second season when father Logan willingly sends his son to slaughter, as if to say your crucifixion is my pleasure, the son then turns on his father with clinical precision. It incentivizes how wealthy white men brutalize each other.
Mitt Romney’s assault upon Donald Trump slips seamlessly into the Succession misery with the questions overwhelming the answers. Is Romney being ruthless, jealous, vengeful, or vain? While the Roy clan of HBO triggers class biases such as rich people are immoral, Donald Trump, without being mentioned in the series or alluded to, is a figure of imitation and infatuation. He is punished in theory.
Like Logan Roy, Trump is a bitter patriarch losing his grip, flailing his wings at the power he can see, and the institutions he can monetize. He is addicted to bitter rebukes and situational meanness. But what balloons self-loathing is more self-loathing. It is how the non-selfish among us can begin to understand that Logan Roy the character, and Donald Trump the president, are symbiotic. They politicize the most ruthless things while simultaneously, in an act of desperation, their repressed children eroticize their power.
In Succession, the vulnerable children enter into a loveless arrangement with their autocratic father. It is the son Kendall, perpetually submissive and fragile enough to break, that impulsively acts upon revenge and frankly it is stunning as a plot twist. I had to rewind the stream just to watch him do it all over again. It is the daughter Shivvy, who is manipulating from the back row, making sure she is protected the way feminists are taught to do: be cunning.
In real life Washington, it is Mitt Romney who is flanked in hypocrisy: while cramming revenge porn down our throats, he is gleeful about pissing off the GOP. These days, Romney is an arsonist in awe of the house on fire.
It is safe to assume that Trump did something to Romney to create all of this. But Romney is hardly a victim. When he ran for Senate he knew exactly who Donald Trump was as a fey character. Perhaps, the Romney strategy all along was to take a page out of Julius Cesar, to become Brutus on purpose. It was Brutus you remember who opposed Julius Cesar’s megalomaniac power grab and dictatorship, and fought against him, even plotting to assassinate Cesar. But there isn’t glory in stopping a hedonistic bully. Brutus eventually died because there is no winning when you end the inevitable train running through town. You get flattened. Cesar lost, but so did Brutus.
Is Romney aware that revenge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies? He can’t kill Trump by being a Republican outlier. He brings all the misery upon himself. His Utah constituents are confused, raised as they are in Republican rules of conformity. Romney is not acting in character, and as one voter put it, he isn’t who they voted for. Utahans support Donald Trump. Noisily.
Romney is walking to his own drummer and- this is the bread and butter of it all- he is willing to accept the consequences of the damned man.
But what he seems to have forgotten in his anti-Trump aesthetic is he isn’t an independent. He’s a Republican. He has group membership with group rewards and privileges, if he behaves. He is not behaving. While some of his GOP cohorts privately like what he is doing because they don’t have the nerve to do it themselves, publicly Mitt Romney is diseased.
His Trump attacks make the rest of the GOP seem like feckless Trump sycophants who are being led by the nose because they want to be re-elected more than they want truth. Mitt Romney is exposing their lack of moral spine.
He was the only male GOP senator who didn’t put his name to Lindsay Graham’s resolution. The resolution is ceremonial but it has a powerful weight as a roadmap. The path to impeachment is placid in the Senate with the exception of Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Mitt Romney. Romney has aligned himself with independent thinking women who refuse to be lassoed into the GOP offense. The problem is the state of Utah backs Donald Trump, so what is Mitt doing?
When historians write about these times the Republicans collective character as constipated suck ups who were infantilized will lead the text. How easy it was to bury virtue and leap from conservative to apologist to ghost.
To look at Mitt Romney today is to see a face more aggrieved than when he lost the Presidential race. He is a mixture of melancholy and exhausted. He has a chronic furrow. What he knows as truth and what he says out loud are in alignment. It puts him smack dab in no-man’s land. He is the minority in his own party. He is the visitor, the unwelcome guest. All the debits and credits add up. Romney is saved and tainted at the same time.
Republicans are dissatisfied and a little nervous about the impeachment trial forthcoming. It feels like they can stop it just because of the numbers, but barely. The culture war that keeps them incentivized has shaky legs in an impeachment typhoon where no one can really swim well. More Mitt Romney conversions spell trouble. Republican voters are dissatisfied. They want their representatives to just man the hell up and keep Trump in his job, regardless of their misgivings about the president’s behavior.
A lot of people don’t like Mitt Romney. They think he is a loser because he is, having lost the most thirsty race in American politics. They don’t like his wealth, don’t understand his religion, despise his lack of shame at losing the biggest thing and then running for something smaller. Where is his ego?
Most kids grow up having played tug of war. One side pulls. The other side tries to hold. The winning side pulls harder. They grimace. Their adversaries ground their heels into the patch of dirt. Then they pull and give some traction. It goes on and on until one side gets tired. Or, gives up. Or, quits.
Romney isn’t quitting his self-induced crusade. His insurgency isn’t coincidental, nor is it accidental.
When monoliths collapse among themselves, creating outsiders, those on the margins rebel. It’s human nature to want to be at the table but only if you can determine the rules. The GOP’s ideological problem is the center of Mitt Romney’s crusade. It’s nativism with a twist, a white men who have virtue paradigm. The Republicans have spent the past three years shaming and excoriating non-whites while looking the other way at themselves. Romney has turned the knife inward. And the mirror. Those who think the GOP has a racist soul find Romney that chicken who has come home to roost.
But what he is doing by pathologizing the GOP is heroism a little too late. Mitt Romney came to the party after the dj’s last song and the bar shut down. He gets some credit though for not caring what the cost is, for being the lone man.
History tells us that policy failure, not personal failure, gets a politician thrown out of office. This is where Romney is breaking new ground and is becoming linguistically perfect in how to wreck party unity. Trump, he wants us to know, has failed as a man.