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Republicans close ranks, cast Mitt as misfit for attack on Trump

President Donald Trump seen on Feb. 15, 2018,

President Donald Trump seen on Feb. 15, 2018, and Mitt Romney, seen on Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Composite: Drew Angerer, left, Mandel Ngan

Romney kneed by Trump's GOP

As others in the party fell in line behind Donald Trump after he clinched the 2016 primaries, Mitt Romney was one of the few Republicans of stature to remain an unyielding critic right through Election Day. He wrote in his wife Ann's name rather than vote for Trump.

Few Republicans moved to Romney's side then, and most are keeping their distance now, after he heralded his arrival in Washington as Utah's new GOP senator with a blistering op-ed critique of the president. Trump "has not risen to the mantle of the office," he wrote in The Washington Post. "A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect" — qualities "where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring."

Trump's reaction, by Trumpian standards, was restrained. He took a dig at Romney for losing the 2012 presidential election — "I won big, and he didn’t" — but also urged him to "Be a TEAM player & WIN!" On balance, it was nicer than in 2016, when Trump called Romney "a total joke" who "choked like a dog."

Blood isn't as thick as fealty to Trump for Romney's niece, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel (who stopped calling herself Ronna Romney McDaniel after she got the job). She tweeted that "For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realDonaldTrump as their first act . . . is disappointing and unproductive."

If Romney envisioned taking up the oppositional role to Trump among Senate Republicans once led by the late John McCain, he got no encouragement from McCain's friend and former Trump foe Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "If he's going to be the critic from Utah, it's going to hurt him and Utah," Graham said on Fox News RadioSen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who in 2016 called Trump "a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag," but is now a booster, mocked Romney as someone “running around saying, ‘I’m holier than thou, look at me.’ ”

Romney himself has been on both sides of Trump. He accepted Trump's endorsement with "delight" in 2012 even as Trump had become a polarizing figure making false birther claims against President Barack Obama. After the 2016 election, he auditioned for secretary of state. Romney accepted Trump's endorsement for his Senate run in 2018.

Will he endorse Trump in 2020? "I’m going to see what the alternatives are," but he won't run himself, Romney told CNN. For more, see Laura Figueroa Hernandez's story for Newsday.

No bend on wall

Trump said Wednesday he was prepared to keep the government shutdown going “for as long as it takes” as congressional Democrats moved to deny his more than $5 billion request to build a border wall.

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting with Trump and Department of Homeland Security officials with no deal in sight. “I don’t think any particular progress was made today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the new Democratic majority will vote Thursday on legislation to reopen the government, but McConnell said the Senate will not take up any measure that Trump won't sign. See Figueroa's story for Newsday.

Janison: Filling in the blank

Recent polls have shown that given a choice between Trump and "someone else" or a "generic Democratic candidate," the Trump opponent would win in a landslide. But with the as-yet-unknown candidate will come a still-unknown set of positives and negatives.

The maxim that it takes somebody to beat somebody never had as much currency, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Nothing is assured at this point.

Cuomo's case to go with Joe

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday singled out former Vice President Joe Biden as having the best case to beat Republican President Donald Trump in 2020, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.

"I think of all the names that are out there, I think Joe Biden has the best case because he brings the most of the secret ingredient you need to win for a Democrat, which is credibility,” Cuomo said on WAMC radio in Albany.

Cuomo wouldn't rule out being a Biden running mate, or running himself. 

Stars in his eyes

As he carries on feuds with a growing list of former generals, Trump mused to reporters after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, “I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling saw a hitch, or the lack of one, in the president's thinking. "To be a general . . . you actually first have to be willing to be in the Army," Hertling said in a Twitter exchange with a CNN analyst.

Trump's cold war with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also grew chillier. Pushing an alternative story to Mattis' resignation, Trump said he had “essentially” fired the former Marine general. “What’s he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good,” Trump said.

But there are other generals, not named by Trump, whom he seems to admire. Describing a meeting he once had with them at the Pentagon about Iran, he said, "They were like from a movie, better-looking than Tom Cruise — and stronger."

Trump remakes history

Trump rambled on about a lot of subjects to reporters after the Cabinet session, but one was a presidential first: He said the Soviet Union was justified in invading Afghanistan in 1979.

"The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight."

The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up Afghanistan's then-communist government against internal opponents.

There were no terrorists from Afghanistan threatening the Soviets. After the Soviet Union fell, Russia faced terrorist attacks starting in the 1990s from one of its own rebellious regions, Chechnya. The U.S. under Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan sided with anti-Soviet forces. After 10 years, the Soviets gave up and left. 

What else is happening:

  • One ridiculous moment occurred when Trump knocked Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, for funding a "library" in Afghanistan. Nobody seemed to know what construction if any Trump was talking about. 
  • Trump got laughs at the Cabinet meeting recounting his home-alone holiday wreek. "I was all by myself in the White House. It's a big, big house except for all those guys out on the lawn with machine guns. Nicest machine guns. I was waving to them. . . . They don't like waves. They don't even smile." (That would probably be their demeanor even if they were getting paid during the shutdown. They're not.)
  • How restless was Trump? He evidently got tired of watching the Fox News channels. "I watched last night PBS, I haven't seen it in a while," he said.  
  • Trump offered another explanation of why he wants out of Syria: "We're not talking about vast wealth; we're talking about sand and death."
  • Trump said North Korea's Kim Jong Un sent him a “great letter” and that both of them would like to hold a second summit meeting. On Tuesday, Kim threatened retaliatory moves if the U.S. doesn’t relax sanctions against the country to pressure it to give up its nuclear arms.
  • Pelosi has an unusual distinction among Trump's political foes: His attacks on her never get personal. Trump allies say he genuinely respects her, Politico reports
  • With the Democrats' field of potential 2020 candidates so crowded, several big donors say they are sitting tight and avoiding commitments until the race is further along, USA Today reports.

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