Last week, Mitt Romney dropped the bombshell that everyone saw coming.
The former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee announced he would not seek re-election to the United States Senate as the junior senator from Utah, citing his age as the overriding factor in his decision.
I have spent my last 25 years in public service of one kind or another,” he said.
At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-eighties. Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders. They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.
We face critical challenges — mounting national debt, climate change, and the ambitious authoritarians of Russia and China. Neither President Biden nor former President Trump are leading their party to confront them. On the deficits and debt, both men refuse to address entitlements even though they represent two thirds of federal spending. Donald Trump calls global warming a hoax and President Biden offers feel-good solutions that will make no difference to the global climate. On China, President Biden underinvests in the military and President Trump underinvests in our alliances. Political motivations too often impede the solutions that these challenges demand. The next generation of leaders must take America to the next stage of global leadership.
For months, Republicans have focused their attacks on 80-year-old President Joe Biden’s age as proof that he is too cognitively infirm to serve another term as commander-in-chief, conveniently ignoring the fact their presumptive nominee is only three years younger.
While Biden has borne the brunt of media speculation, questions have lingered over the physical and cognitive health of both men, as well as that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (81) and California Senator Dianne Feinstein (90), throughout this election cycle.
The difference here is one of rationale. The clean-living Romney — as healthy and youthful a 76-year-old as you are likely to find — is calling on septuagenarian and octogenarians to step aside from politics not because of mental acuity but because they are out of touch with the political challenges of the 21st Century.
Will Romney’s message resonate? I’m of two minds.
Not that age is the only factor in Romney’s decision.
He struck a deathblow to his own chance of re-election to a second term in conservative Utah on January 6, 2021, becoming the first leading figure within the Republican Party to unambiguously condemn Trump’s role in the preceding insurrection, telling the Senate:
We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.
Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy. They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history.
That will be their legacy.
The man who was once seen as a leading light of the Republican Party nailed his own political coffin shut that day, and he knew it. Such is the breadth and depth of Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP.
Even if he were to contest the primary and win the nomination, would he even want it? Put yourself in his position.
Imagine every day in a job you once loved has become a nightmare. Your colleagues all hate you for saying the quiet part out loud when you pointed out that the boss is a megalomaniac and that they are all sycophants for enabling his pathological and possibly criminal behaviour. Such statements which, while undeniably true, make it impossible for you to make even the slightest progress in the job you get out of bed for.
Then remember you have a net worth of $174 million.
At what point would you decide you were too old for this shit?
Despite both-siding the argument against both Biden and Trump’s fitness for office in his announcement, Romney clearly aimed more pointedly at the latter. He not only desperately loathes Trump but holds mortal fears for the nation’s fabric were he to be elected again.
From where Romney stands, Trump is the source of rot that has infected the party he has been a member of for thirty years, telling his biographer, McKay Coppins that “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”
Romney’s remarks are aimed more squarely at Biden. Romney sees that, rightly or wrongly, a large part of the population — 77% of all Americans, according to a recent poll, including 69% of Democrats — feel Biden is too old to effectively serve a second term in office. He also sees a lack of similar concerns over Trump (51% of respondents in the same poll) feel the same way about Trump, who is only three years Biden’s junior.
By reshaping the narrative to emphasise the age factor as a generational issue, not a cognitive one, I suspect Romney’s statements is his gift to Biden. A template for how to recognise the reality of age concerns, and an opportunity to bow out of the race with his dignity and reputation intact.
Behind the scenes, Romney has also been pressuring West Virginian Senator Joe Manchin not to dilute Biden’s general election vote by running for president on the No Labels ticket, something Manchin has reportedly been flirting with.
Romney doesn’t need Joe Biden to win, after all.
He just needs Donald Trump to lose.