It was the editorial heard round the world.
Or at least as far as London. I know because the BBC had me on one of their radio programs to explain why The Salt Lake Tribune’s Editorial Board had chosen, in the 2012 election, to endorse incumbent Barack Obama over challenger Mitt Romney.
Like NPR and other U.S. media outlets, the British radio journalists were surprised that the dominant news operation in deep-red Utah would not only back the Democrat, but choose him over Utah’s adopted favorite son, Mormon in good standing and, as we pointed out, amazingly successful manager of the once-besmirched Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics.
Folks who aren’t from around here, especially, didn’t grasp that The Tribune had backed Obama the first time and had a tradition of supporting incumbents unless there was a big reason not to. (As Muhammed Ali used to say, “You got to whup the champ.”)
But, then, those of us who inhabited what was then the editorial writers’ cave were a bit startled, too. We had anticipated that the folks who then owned the newspaper and called the shots would, indeed, back Romney as the local boy and kindly let down Obama as a good man who had his chance and didn’t accomplish all that much.
Then came the 47 percent tape. You know, the secretive, smuggled smartphone video of Romney schmoozing a group of wealthy donors, bemoaning the fact that a full 47 percent of the American electorate, happy to be dependent on government largess, would never vote for him.
That, piled on to some other flip-flops in which Romney was pulling a not-uncommon trick of a Republican candidate sucking up to the extreme right, was a deal-breaker for us.
The resulting editorial, headlined “Too many Mitts,” expressed our frustration that the Romney who saved the Olympics — clearly a good try-out for the role of commander in chief — seemed to have disappeared and been replaced, in What-have-you-done-with-Dr.-Millmoss fashion, by someone not nearly as appealing.
That was then. This is now.
Now, The Tribune editorial position is that Romney ought to throw his hat in the ring again. That he ought to replace Orrin Hatch in the Senate, whether by Hatch’s long-overdue decision to step down or by taking him on — and, most likely, beating him — in the 2018 election.
Hatch’s behavior over the last couple of weeks has only served to make that an even better idea. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch has thoroughly embarrassed himself in encounters with Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Clare McCaskill of Missouri as he seeks, unsuccessfully, to portray the Republican tax “reform” bill as something other than a theft from the working classes and a gift to the ultra-wealthy.
The two resulting viral YouTube videos expose Hatch as someone who may have just lost it, carping, in his best You-kids-get-off-my-lawn style about how he stood up for the not-wealthy “my whole stinking career” and claiming that the Democratic view of the tax bill as favoring the wealthy was “bull crap.”
Except it isn’t. Virtually all of the independent analysis of the two Republican tax bills — one in the House and one in the Senate — concludes that most of the benefits go to the richest Americans and to corporations, that it would explode the deficit and, if anything, be a drag on the economy, not a spark.
Thus we return to the question of which Mitt we’ll get. Like the already disappointing answer to similar questions about which Jeff, and which Bob, we have.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, to name two of the most prominent examples, have been outspoken in their criticisms of President Trump, his persona, his crude behavior, his racist dog-whistles. But unless they also use language just as strong and independent to shout down their own party’s abomination of a tax bill, they all just as well be shooting another round at Mar-A-Lago.
Romney was widely, and justly, held up as a good example of a true statesman when, well before the last election, he roundly denounced the very idea of a Trump presidency.
Then, during the transition, Romney paid what turned out to be a humiliating call on the president-elect, who was probably not really considering appointing him secretary of state.
Romney would be an improvement over Hatch in demeanor, diplomacy, stature and a much-reduced cringe factor. But, until we get him into a debate with likely Democratic nominee Jenny Wilson, we still can’t be sure that the votes he would cast would be that much better.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, did not write the editorial “Too many Mitts.” He did present its author with a copy of the children’s book, “Too Many Mittens.” firstname.lastname@example.org