Also, Romney said, “Where does my party go? That will affect the nature of the dialogue. There are two roads we can take. One road is: We need to get the youth, we need to do better with minorities, we need to regain the suburbs that we lost. I don’t see a lot of people arguing for that.”
He meant in terms of future party leaders and Republicans who might be looking at the 2024 presidential race. “Ben Sasse, Chris Christie,” he said, referring to the Nebraska senator and the former New Jersey governor. “That’s about all that I can come up with.”
But, he added, “the other lane” of politicians trying to appropriate Trump’s populism is crowded. He mentioned Senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations. If they drive the Republican conversation, he said, “that would represent a challenging environment for a Biden administration.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “there are a number of us who feel a responsibility to work on a bipartisan basis.” Romney was in a small group of Republicans and Democrats who proposed a stimulus deal that seemed to move the pandemic-relief legislation forward, and the House’s and Senate’s later passage of a sweeping $900 billion relief package, no matter how seriously flawed, “showed the ascendance of moderates as a new force in a divided Senate” and validated Biden’s “belief that it is still possible to make deals on Capitol Hill,” Carl Hulse wrote in The Times on Monday.
Biden could be helped by the care he has taken not to seem too partisan himself. “I haven’t evaluated the cabinet terribly closely, but they have not yet been alarming,” Romney said. “They’re adults. They’re Democrats and they’re more liberal than I am, but that’s what the nation has chosen.”
It’s crucial, he said, for Biden “to recognize that while he won by seven million votes, President Trump got a record number of votes as well. And part of that is because people were very fearful of things that they thought he might do.” He gave the Green New Deal as an example. “Don’t prove the fearmongers right. Don’t go out with a bevy of cultural actions that will terrify and energize the most extreme voices in my party.”
And don’t pin all of the pain caused by the pandemic on Trump. That was the plea of Representative Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican who is retiring from Congress after four terms in the House. “This is not one person’s, one administration’s, one party’s fault, and yet I can already see that beginning: to place all of this death and destruction at the feet of President Trump,” she told me. “And that’s not fair.”