Polman: Mitt Romney isn't exactly Superman

Dick Polman
Dick Polman

The good news is that a prominent member of the cowed Republican establishment is finally speaking out against Donald Trump. The bad news is, it's Mitt Romney.

This is the best they can do?

The guy who lost the 2008 nomination and lost the 2012 election, the guy who passed on 2016 to clear the way for Jeb, has apparently decided that if nobody else is willing to fight the Batman villain who's been dropped in their midst, it might as well be him. I guess he's better than nothing. I guess it's better late than never.

Mighty Mitt rolled into Fox News recently and trolled the mogul, "We really ought to see from (the GOP candidates) what their taxes look like to see if there's an issue there. I think in Donald Trump's case, it's likely to be a bombshell."

Whoa. What kind of bombshell? Mitt said he was only speculating.

"The reason I think that there's a bombshell in there is because every time he's asked about his taxes, he dodges and delays and says 'Well, we're working on it,'" Romney said. "Hey, we're not talking about the taxes that are coming due this year. Of course they're working on those. They won't be ready for months. We're talking about taxes already filed — back taxes."

It's nice that Mitt is giving it the old prep school try. Somebody in the party hierarchy has to try. As a Washington Post editorial put it, "History will not look kindly on GOP leaders who fail to do everything in their power to prevent a bullying demagogue from becoming their standard-bearer .... If Mr. Trump is to be stopped, now is the time for leaders of conscience to say they will not and cannot support him and to do what they can to stop him .... Is the Republican Party truly not going to resist its own debasement?"

So what the heck, Mitt might as well hit Trump on the tax return issue, because nothing else seems to be working. Assailing Trump for his substance-free agenda isn't working. Rebuking Trump for his vile and racist insults isn't working. Fact-checking Trump's serial lies isn't working.

The problem, however, is that Mitt is not the best messenger. Those of you with long memories will recall that Mitt the multimillionaire was infamously reluctant to release his past tax returns.

Before Mitt ever released anything, he complained about the demands that he do so. He whined, "I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure." In the winter of 2012, he grudgingly released one year (2010) and one partial estimate (2011), and said "that's all that's necessary."

Even Republicans were disgusted. Ex-Bush pollster Matthew Dowd faulted him for "arrogance." Mitt stonewalled until autumn. Six weeks before the election, he released a "summary" of the previous 20 years. Turned out, his tax rate was lower than the average Joe's, because the tax code looks favorably on private equity managers' investment income.

So today, the notion that Mitt Romney can play the populist against plutocrat Trump — the irony is so thick you need a carving knife to cut it.

And Trump, of course, has retaliated in his inimitable way. He tweeted, "Mitt Romney, who totally blew an election that should have been won and whose tax returns made him look like a fool, is now playing tough guy." Another tweet ridiculed Mitt as "awkward and goofy." What fun for the junkyard dog! With Jeb gone, he was jonesing for a new chew toy.

Dick Polman is a national political columnist and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia.