Sen. Mitt Romney appeared on Jake Tapper’s CNN show recently, and for a few brief minutes, I felt transported to a saner world. Asked about the gross things some on the right are saying about Gen. Mark Milley, he responded that “Gen. Milley is a person of extraordinary accomplishment and personal character and a brilliant man.” Asked about continuing allegations from the former president and his enablers that the election was stolen, Romney didn’t hesitate to call it “the big lie.”
On substance, Romney was rock solid. He opposes government efforts to dictate what is taught in schools. He supports spending $1.2 trillion on roads, bridges, rail, air, water pipes, broadband and more, but when Tapper noted that the American Society of Civil Engineers wants to spend an additional $800 billion, Romney responded politely but deftly: “Well, I must admit that I do pay a lot of attention to the engineers, but, of course, they’re paid based upon how much we spend in their arena.” Spoken like someone who wasn’t born yesterday.
Romney knew the infrastructure bill in detail. He praised President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He differed with Democrats about social spending and taxes. He stated unequivocally that the election was free and fair. In short, he was completely out of step with modern “conservatism” and the GOP.
Some said that the permanent change former President Donald Trump would effect in the Republican Party would be a heightened attention to the needs of the working class. That may or may not materialize. Some Republicans are making noises about being a “worker’s party,” but there doesn’t appear to be anything concrete there yet.
No, the biggest post-Trump change is the eager embrace of indecency. On his Fox show, Tucker Carlson played a clip of Milley explaining that he thinks it’s important to hear various points of view (even critical race theory). At the conclusion of the clip, Carlson spat, “He’s not just a pig; he’s stupid!”
The host of a widely viewed TV show should be, if not a model of decorum, at least not a foam-flecked fulminator. That’s part of what it means to live in a civilized society. And certainly, a much-decorated general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is entitled to respect for his service to the country. Every member of the military deserves to be honored for his or her service. Or, if that’s too much to manage, how about not grossly insulted? And this from a self-styled conservative? Didn’t conservatives once fume about someone in the Clinton White House saying something disrespectful to an officer? Didn’t they mock former President Barack Obama over a coffee cup salute?
The 2021 conservatives clearly don’t respect the military or the police (see Jan. 6) if it’s inconvenient. While dissing decorated officers, these new conservatives eagerly embrace war criminals. Fox News has campaigned on their behalf, and Trump pardoned several. When Trump suggested targeting the children of terrorists, or told police to rough up suspects, or denied raping a woman because “she’s not my type,” or intimated that a deceased Democratic politician was in hell, Republicans nodded along.
Nikki Haley, who once calculated that the best path to political prominence in the GOP was to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds following the brutal massacre of African American churchgoers, has now figured out that basic decency is the road to irrelevance. In 2015, she explained movingly that “the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
No more of that. Campaigning in Iowa recently, she told the audience that “Republicans are too nice. I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. I use them for kicking. But I always kick with a smile.” Haley has probably set some sort of record for flushing her own dignity down the toilet in record time. She’s sensing the mood of the Republican base. It’s ugly, so she’s diving in.
Do you remember — eons or five years ago — when it was considered beneath contempt to attack a politician’s family? Bring the heat for the man in the arena, but by all that is holy, leave his wife and kids out of it? It seems antique now. When one of the Biden family dogs passed away a couple of weeks ago, a National Review writer tweeted: “Champ Biden dies, Major lives on. The Biden family tragedy in miniature.”
Mocking a family when they’ve lost a beloved pet, which was the way some on Twitter interpreted this, would have been tasteless and cruel. But this was much more sinister. The implication was that Biden’s “good son,” Beau, had died while his brother, Hunter, lived on. Who does that? And especially those who call themselves conservative and constantly rant about threats to civilization. How can they not see that undermining basic civility and decency is itself an attack on civilization?
Well, at least we have Romney, and a few more, to remind Republicans of what they once were and could be again.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her most recent book is “Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.”