Gail Collins: Trump trembles as Mitt’s on the move

Go Mitt!

Back in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected, the world was so upside down you might have believed almost any prediction of our strange future. But I’ll bet you’d still have been skeptical if somebody told you Mitt Romney would turn into an inspirational political figure.

Yes! The same guy who ran one of the most boring presidential races in modern history. (“There’s no question it’s not good being poor.”) Early this year he turned into an impeachment hero. Now he’s calling for “a voice against racism” and marching for Black Lives Matter.

And driving Donald Trump nuts. No holier a grail than that. Yet there’s still one more little thing. Mitt can’t bring himself to say that people should support Joe Biden. He’s keeping his own voting plans secret. There’s a lot of speculation he’s going to write in his wife’s name, like he did in 2016.

That’s a pretty pale rebellion. It’s like saying you’re going to sit home on Election Day and sulk.

Same story for Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who says she’s “struggling” to figure out what to do. Last week Murkowski responded fervently in support of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ anti-Trump essay in which he urged Americans to “unite without him” and create a better world. There are, everybody knows, a great many things the country needs to do to make a brighter tomorrow. But the “without him” part does seem to be the critical priority.

Cheers to both Murkowski and Romney. It’s true that neither of them is up for reelection this year, but if you cast your eyes across the Republican Senate majority, you will see many, many folks in safe seats who are nevertheless afraid to cross the president, even when his behavior causes them to go home and weep, or drink, or sit up all night playing solitaire on the computer.

You may remember that Romney was a Republican candidate for president in 2008 and 2012. But it’s OK if you don’t. Neither campaign was very memorable, although I personally will never forget when he placated social conservatives by announcing that the only reason he had supported abortion rights as governor of Massachusetts was that he really didn’t understand what an embryo was.

There are two ways to look at his current profile in courage. One is that Romney is a very rich 73-year-old in a safe seat who can do pretty much anything he wants. Another is that it’s still … courageous. Take your pick.

Murkowski was once elected to the Senate on a write-in vote after a Tea Party candidate won the Republican nomination. Since then she’s bucked her president on repealing Obamacare, but supported him on everything from Cabinet nominees to impeachment. All the while busily delivering tons and tons of stuff to Alaska’s powerful energy interests. She’s got a certain amount of independence, but you still have to get those drilling rights.

There must be a ton of Republican officials who are at least a little tempted to reject the dreaded concept of Four More Years. But if they want credit for showing some spine, they have to follow through and vote for the only other real candidate in the race. Otherwise, it’s just a wasted vote at best, and maybe a real boost for Trump. Perhaps you remember in 2016, when people who would never in a billion years have supported Donald Trump showed their lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton by voting for the Green Party. Their defection was enough to turn the tide in several critical swing states. In Michigan, for instance, Trump won all 16 electoral votes with a majority of 10,704 voters. Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 51,463.

The White House is already sniping at Romney and Murkowski for their rebellion. Trump vowed to campaign against Murkowski no matter who was running against her — “good or bad. … If you have a pulse, I’m with you.” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany suggested nobody cared if Romney said “three words outside on Pennsylvania Avenue.” The words presumably were “Black Lives Matter,” but we have already learned that McEnany is a spokesperson who has a certain amount of trouble with speaking.

“But,” she added, “I would note this: that President Trump won 8% of the black vote. Mitt Romney won 2% of the black vote.” Actually, the two candidates got pretty much the same African-American support, which would be minimal.

The difference between them, of course, is that Romney’s been growing on racial issues while Trump has been shrinking. If it’s possible to get tinier.

A lot of Republicans who are horrified by the president don’t have the gumption to criticize him at all. After Trump tweeted that the 75-year-old demonstrator who was seriously injured by the police in Buffalo might have been “an ANTIFA provocateur,” reporters cornered Sen. Marco Rubio on what he thought. Rubio pleaded ignorance: “I don’t read Twitter, I only write on it.”

So give M and R credit for taking a stand. But this thing about not voting, or going for the Libertarian, or writing in Brad Pitt, is crazy. They’ve got to back Biden. Then after he takes office, they can attack every single thing he tries to do for the next four years. Everybody wins.

Gail Collins

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.