As the new Congress was sworn in early in January, the Republican Party unveiled a plan for its own assisted suicide. In fact, Mitt Romney got started before he was even seated as the latest senator from Utah. On January 1, he published an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he accused President Trump of having “caused dismay around the world” and promised that he would “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.” Romney is, of course, a racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, etc., figure himself, as we learned from publications like the Washington Post when Romney was the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2012. Remember how Romney’s new friends, the people who hate President Trump, responded when Romney described his immigration policy that year by using the phrase “self-deportation”? Remember the way Romney’s remark about “binders full of women” that he wanted to appoint to his never-to-be administration played on the op-ed pages back then?
Progressives have hardly changed their minds about Republicans like Romney—he is simply a convenient weapon to be used against the most important target right now, President Trump. Romney must know this, but he is happy to be used, even to lick that hand that beat him. Maoist reeducation camps had to use a great deal of coercion to produce the kind of conformity that Mitt Romney eagerly adopts for himself. Is this because Romney is truly “woke,” a sinner who has repented? He did run to the left of Ted Kennedy 25 years ago, when he aspired to a Senate seat from Massachusetts. Romney is a being of no fixed address as well as no fixed principles. But mostly what his adoption of the very narrative used to humiliate him seven years ago shows is that a certain kind of shallow, donor-class Republican loser thinks what he really cares about—capitalism—will be served just fine by accommodation with the cultural left. The joke is on you, suckers: left, right, woke or not, Romney and the boys will be laughing all the way to the bank.
If corrupted capitalists were capable of reflection, however, they might pause to consider that it took Donald Trump, campaigning in the Rust Belt, to do what Mitt Romney couldn’t. If the board room needs a Republican in the White House, it needs a Trump, not a Romney—and needs the Deplorables who voted for Trump, too. But what is there to tie Trump voters or industrial Midwesterners to a party that cares nothing for their economic interests and is culturally just a diluted version of the Democrats? An economic populist beat the corporate Republicans and the corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in 2016. That Democrat had a hard time overcoming an avowed socialist for her party’s nomination. Hillary Clinton’s party has moved only further to the left economically since her blowout loss to Trump in the Electoral College. The day may not be long coming when a corporate candidate loses a presidential election not to a nationalist, but to a socialist. And when that happens, the Mitt Romney class will discover that left-wing cultural norms and left-wing economics together are as good as a guillotine.
Just how inept the corporate Republican response to a threat from the left will be was on full display the week the new Congress was sworn in. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dominated the news cycle the way Trump typically does, as the media-savvy left-wing heroine used her swearing in, a friendly press, and apparently backfiring right-wing opposition research as an occasion to promote a “Green New Deal” and 70-percent marginal income-tax rates. The opposition research role in this was to have an apparently right-wing anonymous Twitter account release video of a college-aged AOC dancing as if in a music video, copying a scene from The Breakfast Club. By such standards, it wasn’t particularly provocative or embarrassing footage, and virtually no Republican office holder or conservative pundit deemed it so. Yet news outlets and left-wing pundits reported the story as if Republicans were up in arms—“the mere thought of having a young, articulate, telegenic nonwhite woman serve is driving many on the right mad,” Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, characterizing the response as “hysteria.” (Careful with that sexist language, Paul.) This then drew a real response from Republican-leaning media types, which only had the effect of amplifying the nonstory’s reach—and the reach of Ocasio-Cortez’s politics along with it.
Can a Romney Republican compete for media attention with an Ocasio-Cortez—short, that is, of attacking a more successful, more right-wing Republican? Or even then? Absolutely not: Socialism, youth, and media penetration are all on the side of an AOC. Even an old white socialist like Bernie Sanders generates more excitement than a Romney or a Jeb Bush. Elizabeth Warren’s first forays into 2020 campaigning have drawn impressive crowds in Des Moines. The GOP faces a life-or-death choice between its voters and a cynical elite, and the media are doing everything in their power to help the party make the wrong choice.