The U.S. may be witnessing a return to the electoral and policy relevance of Sen. Mitt Romney. His disputed warnings about Russia’s ambitions a decade ago are now treated in bipartisan circles as prescient, at a moment when Russian President Vladimir Putin oversees the slaughter of Ukrainian civilians without offering anyone a defensible reason.
Most useful to current Republican messaging might be a recorded moment in the third presidential debate in 2012. That was when Democratic President Barack Obama caricatured Romney describing the Putin regime as a leading threat to peace. Obama mockingly said: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."
On Feb. 22, Fox News Radio host Guy Benson cited the exchange — and remarks from then-Vice President Joe Biden — to point out how correct Romney had been and how Democrats then were softer on Russia. But K.T. McFarland of Southampton, who was briefly deputy director of national security under President Donald Trump — an unabashed Putin admirer — pushed the conversation with Benson in another direction. She constructed an argument that President Joe Biden's energy policies led to the dastardly invasion.
That fits McFarland's factional loyalties in the GOP. Romney, representing Utah, is a longtime Trump nemesis who drew poisonous denunciation from the former president both before and after he cast a lonely GOP vote in the Senate two years ago to find him guilty of impeachable offenses — involving the abuse of Ukraine policy.
Unsurprisingly, the Romney-was-right chorus extends to Democrats in Washington, D.C. And it isn't all that new. Three years ago, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served in the Clinton administration, said before the House Intelligence Committee: "I personally owe an apology to now Senator Romney, because I think that we underestimated what was going on in Russia.
"I was on the CIA external advisory board, there was no question that less money was being put into Russian language and what was going on in Russia."
In a midterm election year when some House candidates are jockeying to get Trump to bless their campaigns from Mar-a-Lago, Romney's support is deemed useful to those in the old neoconservative crowd who'd take away the party reins once and for all from the 45th president. Romney also is a clear ally of the nation's most powerful current Republican elected official, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Romney is due to be a featured guest next Monday at a fundraiser for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), another Trump nemesis. The event is hosted by Bobbie Kilberg, a well-connected Virginia Republican. Ironically, the senator's niece Ronna Romney McDaniel, a Trump loyalist, recently carried out a symbolic party censure of Cheney last month.
Romney has said he texted McDaniel after that storm. "I expressed my point of view," he told reporters. "I think she’s a wonderful person and doing her very best."
Supporters listed on the invitation include a number of Bush administration insiders including Cheney's father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and former VP Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby (whom Trump pardoned in 2018 on his past conviction in the so-called Plame affair).
Less than 10 years ago, Romney as presidential nominee won only two election districts in Manhattan. One of them was the wealthy precinct that includes Trump Tower and, at the time, the man for whom it's named.
That's just a small historic twist. Romney's swift redemption as a Republican statesman may be a bigger one.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.