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Mitt Romney Is a ‘Judas’ to Many Republicans. But Not in Utah.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Phil Lyman wanted to do something swift and stern.

Within hours of Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to remove President Trump from office on Wednesday, Mr. Lyman, a freshman state representative from southern Utah who keeps an autographed “Make America Great Again” hat in a plexiglass case in his office, was at work drafting a resolution to censure the senator.

“I mean, I respect a guy that will stand up for his opinion, but it’s not without some repercussions,” Mr. Lyman said. “His action warrants an additional action on the part of the State Legislature.”

But just as swiftly came the pushback to Mr. Lyman from Utah’s Republican leadership.

“Censuring Senator Romney for voting his conscience is a tricky place to be,” the speaker of the state House, Brad Wilson, said in an interview.

The governor, Gary Herbert, told The Salt Lake Tribune, “I think that would be just a mistake to go down that road.”

The president of the State Senate, J. Stuart Adams, pleaded for reconciliation. “What I don’t want to do is move into the negative rhetoric I think is coming from Washington, D.C.,” he said at a news conference on Friday.

Barely eight years ago, Mr. Romney was the Republican nominee for president and putative leader of the party. Today, the way many Republicans accept and even encourage the attacks on him from Mr. Trump, who last week accused him of using “religion as a crutch” to justify the impeachment vote, vividly illustrates the turn the party has taken.

Utah Republicans never quite fell for Mr. Trump as hard as the rest of their party did. The state’s political sensibilities, heavily influenced by its Mormon culture, are more agree-to-disagree than salt-the-earth. The president’s coarse language, belittling nicknames and aversion to humility help explain why his approval ratings over all in Utah have been below 50 percent for most of the last three years.

And while they support Mr. Trump as their president — very few Republicans here say they would have voted to convict him as Mr. Romney did — they have refused to join the pile-on they see happening back east on Fox News sets and in social media feeds of the president’s followers, where their junior senator is being vilified as a “coward” and “Judas” who should be expelled from the Republican Party.

Not only does Mr. Lyman’s censure resolution appear to be dead on arrival, but the leader of the State Senate, Mr. Adams, also said last week that he would rather not vote on or debate any action related to Mr. Romney at all. He stressed that anything his chamber took up should be “positive” — a word he used repeatedly as he spoke to reporters at the State Capitol on Friday. He said he preferred something like a unanimously agreed-to statement that affirmed Mr. Trump’s strengths as president.

“It may feel right — you want to swing at someone — but I think it’s better off to do what’s right,” Mr. Adams said in an interview. Though he disagreed with how Mr. Romney voted, he added, “I have respect for what he did.”

Utah is one of the rare places where the few Romney-style Republicans who remain are relatively safe from a challenge from their right, where speaking out against the president can be an act to admire, not an apostasy.

With the most vitriolic condemnation of Mr. Romney coming from outside Utah, there has been something of a rallying effect around the senator.

“Not everyone hates Romney,” read the headline on an opinion article in The Tribune this weekend. “In spite of the loud voices who are busy calling him names, there are many of us out here who are cheering for him,” wrote the author, Holly Richardson, a former Republican legislator.

Salt Lake City’s other major paper, The Deseret News, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, published an editorial arguing against a censure of the senator and has run numerous other supportive pieces, including one declaring that his vote was “what a Christian conscience demands.”

Chris Karpowitz, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, said the disputes between Mr. Romney and Mr. Trump illustrated two different visions about what it means to be a Republican.

“Sometimes they line up on policy,” Dr. Karpowitz added. “But in terms of style and rhetoric and commitment to what in previous years were thought of as core values, they couldn’t be more different.”

No state as heavily Republican has been so chilly to the president. Though active registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Utah by more than three to one, Mr. Trump won only 45 percent of the vote in Utah in 2016. Hillary Clinton and Evan McMullin, a former intelligence officer who ran as a third-party candidate, split up the rest of the vote.

Last week, national conservative activists promoted a “Recall Romney” effort online and shared stories about a proposal circulating in the legislature that aimed to give voters the ability to recall their United States senators.

Aimee Winder Newton, a Republican candidate for governor, said that such a move would have worrisome repercussions. “I get that many state legislators are disappointed,” she wrote on Twitter. “But creating a culture of censuring could come back their way.”

In reality, the recall bill was drafted months ago and has little support in Salt Lake City. Its sponsor has said that it has nothing to do with Mr. Romney or impeachment, and is instead meant to bolster the rights of Utahans to hold all senators accountable.

Lawmakers and constitutional experts said the measure would probably not survive a court challenge anyway.

“My strong impression,” said Edward Foley, the director of election law at Ohio State University, “is that this kind of recall would be clearly unconstitutional. After all, the Constitution itself specifies six-year terms for senators, and has no mechanism — other than expulsion by the Senate itself — for a state to end a U.S. senator’s service before the six years are up.”

Mr. Romney is by no means infallible among Utahans. And Mr. Trump is more popular here now than he was four years ago, thanks to a strong economy and his dedication to filling the courts with conservative judges.

Though Mr. Romney is often associated with Utah because of his role in leading Salt Lake City’s effort to prepare for the 2002 Winter Olympics, he had spent most of his life living elsewhere before deciding to run for Senate in 2018 — a liability in a state where many families can trace their lineage back to the mid-19th century, when Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. His campaign ran into trouble early on with activist Republicans when he lost to a little-known legislator at the state convention, which forced a primary he later won. In the general election he won with almost 63 percent of the vote statewide.

But the objections of grass-roots conservatives who have outsize influence in state conventions had little to do with Mr. Romney’s history of feuding with Mr. Trump. Instead, they bristled at an attempt by Mr. Romney to gather enough signatures to circumvent the convention.

Mr. Romney has worked diligently to cultivate relationships with Republicans in Salt Lake City. After he left Washington the day of his vote on the president, one of his first stops was at the State Capitol to meet Republican lawmakers to explain himself. He spoke at two different meetings, one with House members and another with the Senate leadership.

He delivered a version of the speech he gave on the Senate floor last Wednesday in which he said his oath to God and faith guided him toward “the most difficult decision I have ever faced.” Some legislators questioned his motives, asking why they should believe that he wasn’t just trying to get even with the president. Others worried about Utah suddenly finding itself in the president’s cross hairs and whether it would damage its relationship with the federal government, which controls about two-thirds of the state’s land.

“For a lot of us,” said Speaker Wilson, “the question was: ‘What does this decision mean for your effectiveness as our senator?”

The meeting was intended primarily for legislative leaders, but Mr. Lyman, the author of the censure resolution, was invited as well. In an interview, he said that Mr. Romney had earned his respect for showing up, but not for his vote.

He had only a few seconds to address Mr. Romney as the senator was leaving and used the opportunity to defend Mr. Trump for reducing the size of protected federal land in Utah so it could be used for commercial purposes.

“There’s a lot of talk in politics,” Mr. Lyman recalled telling the senator. “And President Trump actually came out here and did something.”

But even Mr. Lyman’s disappointment with Mr. Romney has its limits. Next to the bookcase in his office at the Capitol where he has his autographed MAGA hat stands another political memento he is proud of: a life-size cutout of Mr. Romney.

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Poll: Pierre Delecto’s approval rating in Utah now underwater at 46/51

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Boy, this “secret Twitter account” thing has hurt him more than I thought it would.

No, I kid. Obviously the backlash in this poll is to his frequent noisy criticism of Trump. It comes with caveats, of course. First, Romney’s not up for reelection until 2024 (and who knows if he’ll even run again). He’ll be there hounding the president to the bitter end even if Trump gets a second term no matter how low his polling in Utah goes. Second, I’m not sure Romney particularly cares about his polling. His attacks lately on Trump are clearly the work of a guy who’s thinking more about his legacy than his hold on his seat. If he ends up as Jeff Flake and has to retire because he can’t win a primary, on a scale of one to 100 I’d guess his anxiety about that is somewhere in the neighborhood of “one.” And third, although Mike Lee has been a loyal soldier for Trump in the Senate for the most part (even backing his Syria withdrawal recently), Lee’s job approval is no better than Mitt’s. He’s at 43/47 compared to Romney’s 46/51. If kissing Trump’s ass is the secret to popularity with Republicans in Utah, why isn’t Lee at 60/40 or whatever?

Leave all that aside, though. This is a fantastic poll for Trump if only because it shows other Republicans in the Senate that not even Mitt Romney is immune from a backlash in Utah for criticizing him. If the first Mormon presidential nominee can be underwater in a state where Mormons are 60+ percent of the population simply because he’s anti-Trump, God help any GOP senator whose political position isn’t as secure in their own home state. See why I’m skeptical that Schumer will find even four Republicans to join with Democrats to give the pro-removal vote a majority of the Senate?

Although Romney’s and Lee’s overall approval numbers are nearly identical, the partisan coalitions that form their bases are starkly different. As you’d expect, right-wingers love Lee and then his popularity fades as you move further left. Romney, however, is disliked by both the very right-wing and very left-wing — and pretty popular among everyone in between.

— Romney’s approval rate among “strong Republicans” is actually underwater: Only 40 percent approve of him, while 59 percent disapprove of him.

That is rather amazing.

— But “strong Republicans” really like Lee, 72-19 percent.

Romney’s problem with the reddest of his party is no doubt because he has been critical of Trump, while Lee has mostly stood by the president.

Romney rebounds among those who said they are “not very strong Republicans.” He has a 71-23 percent approval rating among them.

Lee’s approval rating among that GOP group is 59-24 percent.

True political independents give Romney a 44-52 percent approval rating; Lee gets 36-53 percent approval from this group.

The most dramatic difference between them comes among Democrats. Lee is at single digits in approval among independent-leaning Dems, not-very-strong Dems, and strong Dems. By comparison, Romney is at 36 percent, 65 percent(!), and 32 percent among those groups, respectively. Obviously you’d rather have Lee’s coalition in a state as red as Utah than Mitt’s, since Mitt is more susceptible to a primary challenge and wouldn’t win most of those Democratic voters who approve of him right now in a general election. But these numbers do go to show that stalwart support for Trump is no guarantee of overall popularity even in a state as Republican as Utah. In fact, the same poll found that all three Republican members of Utah’s House delegation are *also* underwater in approval while the state’s lone Democrat in the House is in positive territory. That suggests that many voters aren’t thrilled with the GOP’s decision to stand by Trump on impeachment.

Elsewhere today, Tim Miller is urging Senator Delecto to take the final step in his political journey, a step made easier by the rising prospect of him not being reelected in Utah: It’s third-party time. No, no, not a third-party presidential candidacy. A new third party. To change the balance of power in the Senate.

First and foremost, it is electorally viable on a small scale. Mitt himself, thanks to his profile and the unique nature of the electorate in Utah, could survive without succumbing to the partisan poles that most politicians are slaves to. Secondly there are some obvious candidates for existing politicians who could join him to create a real organization. Moderate Republican governors Charlie Baker and Phil Scott from his erstwhile home in New England. Other anti-Trump electeds in Utah. Other Republicans in blue states or Democrats in red states who might need to shed their toxic party brand to survive. And most importantly a few fellow senators who might be interested in making a similar calculation: Namely Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin.

He has a point about GOP governors. Figures like Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan really do seem to belong to a separate party already. It’s not just that they’re moderate GOPers governing very blue states, it’s that they have no presence whatsoever in the right-wing media ecosystem. Surely they and other prominent but now out-of-office figures like John Kasich and Flake would be interested initially in the “Pierre Party,” let’s call it. And Miller’s also right that *if* the Senate shakes out a certain way next fall, even a small bloc of three like Romney, Murkowski, and Manchin could exert outsized influence over the body. If the Senate ends up as 51/49 in favor of the GOP and those three break away, they could effectively choose who the majority leader is, how the Senate operates, and so on.

It’d be almost hallucinatory to have the last 10 years of Republican politics end up with a third party led by Mitt Romney, of all people, brokering power in the Senate. The decade began with a populist righty backlash to ObamaCare that produced the tea party, a movement that wrestled with whether to try to take over the GOP or break away. It lost in 2012 with Romney, who was never a great fit for cultural reasons, but won its greatest victory with Trump, who was never a great fit for ideological reasons and who himself functioned as a sort of independent during the primaries. Under Miller’s plan this would culminate with Romney ceding the GOP to Trumpist forces and breaking away to form his own moderate outfit for centrist Republicans that could conceivably end up roadblocking the populists’ agenda in the Senate. Even the writers of the virtual reality we live in would consider it too far-fetched, I think, but it has an intriguing symmetry. Besides, if you believe today’s poll, Romney may well end up as a one-termer. Might as well make the most of his remaining time!

The post Poll: Pierre Delecto’s approval rating in Utah now underwater at 46/51 appeared first on Hot Air.

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John ‘Francois’ Kerry Voices Approval of Romney’s ‘Pierre Delecto’ Twitter Account (Because of Course He Does)

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Former US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press after the “Tech for Good” Summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Bonchie wrote this morning about how Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) acknowledged over the weekend that he was behind the “Pierre Delecto” Twitter account.

Romney was more or less forced into admitting it after Slate writer Ashley Feinberg did some Twitter sleuthing in the aftermath of an interview Romney did with the Atlantic’s McCay Coppins in which the senator stated he did have a separate Twitter account, but wouldn’t name it.

As Feinberg, Bonchie, Twitchy and others noted, screen grabs from the “Pierre Delecto” sockpuppet account show Romney was heavy-handed on liking and retweeting criticism of Trump from diehard Democrats and Never Trumpers alike. A few times he wrote tweets defending his positions (they were replies to other tweets).

Former U.S. Senator and Obama Sec. of State John Kerry got in on the action today on Twitter, tweeting support for the “Delecto” account … in French:

Donald Trump, Jr. was quick to note the obvious:

Kerry was mocked often by Republicans and conservatives during his 2004 run against President Bush for supposedly having more in common with so-called French “surrender monkeys” than people here in the U.S. One of the nicknames given to him by critics was “John Francois Kerry” (his real middle name is “Forbes”).

— Based in North Carolina, Sister Toldjah is a former liberal and a 16+ year veteran of blogging with an emphasis on media bias, social issues, and the culture wars. Read her Red State archives here. Connect with her on Twitter. –

The post John ‘Francois’ Kerry Voices Approval of Romney’s ‘Pierre Delecto’ Twitter Account (Because of Course He Does) appeared first on RedState.

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Mitt Romney Is Chock Full of Virtue and He’s the First Guy Who’d Admit It if You’d Let Him

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On Sunday, Mitt Romney was on the de rigueur “pivot to video” program, Axios on HBO. In an interview with Mike Allen, Romney was asked about why GOP senators and congressmen were closing ranks behind President Trump despite the efforts of the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, MSNBC, CNN, etc, etc. In particular, he addressed the phenomenon that infuriates the media which is that GOP politicians might criticize Trump off the record but no one will go on the record doing so.


  • “There’s no upside in going on out and attacking the leader of your party, ’cause that’s just gonna let someone come in and primary you on the right. So people want to hang onto their job.”
  • “But there’s another reason, which is more elevated. And that is people … genuinely believe, as I do, that conservative principles are better for our country and for the working people of our country than liberal principles and that if Elizabeth Warren were to become president, for instance, or if we were to lose the Senate, that it would not be good for the American people.”
  • “And they don’t want to do something which makes it more likely for Elizabeth Warren to become president or for us to lose the Senate. So they don’t want to go out and criticize the leader of our party because they feel that might have the consequence of hurting our country longer term.”

This is the kind of self-serving smarminess that has always infuriated me about Romney. He takes a completely justifiable impulse and tries to make it sound dirty and uses it to rationalize his own behavior and, in the process, signal that he’s not one of those gawdawful tribal Republicans. He’s the New Republican Man who can always find good in his political enemies and whose allies have an infinite number of motes in their eyes that he must remove using his Vise Grips.

The fact is that Elizabeth Warren is the most likely candidate. The Clinton wing of the Democrat part has lined up behind her and they are letting QuidProJoe twist in the howling gale of his own corruption. Warren is only getting manhandled by Tulsi Gabbard and because of that Gabbard has now become a target of the Clinton smear machine. Biden tried to attack Warren but, in the process, managed to make Warren look sympathetic and to highlight his own record of claiming credit for things he had little to do with.

READ: Watch As Joe Biden Loses His Crap And Yells At Elizabeth Warren While Trying To Take Credit For Creating An Illegal Agency

If you really feel that a Warren presidency, or worse yet, a Warren presidency accompanied by Democrat control of the Senate, would be a calamity for the nation and for its people, then only a moron or a pompous, self-righteous ass, or a staff writer a The Bulwark or The Dispatch would do anything to enable one or the other of those things to happen. This is not new. The idea that a movement cannot succeed if it spends time bickering among itself is quite old:

24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.27But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.

So what’s the big insight here?

The clear implication of Romney’s interview is that he’s not an outlier in criticizing Trump (probably true), but he, alone, is a man possessed of such courage and such amazing principles that he’d rather lose than besmirch those sacred principles and to show you just how amazingly courageous and principled he is, he’s willing to go on a center-left television program and announce them.

We so dodged the bullet in 2008 and 2012.

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The post Mitt Romney Is Chock Full of Virtue and He’s the First Guy Who’d Admit It if You’d Let Him appeared first on RedState.

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Mitt Romney’s Attack on President Trump’s Withdrawal From Syria Reeks of Political Opportunism

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, waits to participate in a mock swearing-in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Yesterday, Mitt Romney gave a floor speech in the Senate on the situation in Syria. Perhaps to the surprise of no one, Romney used the opportunity to lambaste President Trump.

(Read the full speech)

I’m going to take the key elements and address them.

Let me briefly recount what’s happened in the past seven days since the U.S. announced our withdrawal. The Kurds, suffering loss of life and property, have allied with Assad. Russia has assumed control of our previous military positions, and the U.S. has been forced in many cases to bomb some of our own facilities to prevent their appropriation by Russia and Turkey.

This misrepresents the entire situation. The Kurds in question, those affiliated with PKK/YPG, are not uniquely allied to the United States. They have been allied with Assad and Russia and Iran since the very beginning. Why? Because fighting ISIS lets them build up brownie points with the Damascus regime, whatever that ultimately ends up being, in attempting to gain some degree of autonomy within the borders of Syria. The people being lambasted in the media as “Turkish backed militias” are actually the Free Syrian Army who are also armed and supported by us. The bases we’re evacuating are not “our bases.” They aren’t covered by a Status of Forces Agreement or any kind of treaty or executive agreement. They are combat outposts in an area where, not very long ago, most of Congress agreed we had no legal authority to be.

Further, the ceasefire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally. Adding insult to dishonor, the Administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly—even as our ally has suffered death and casualty, their homes have been burned, and their families have been torn apart.

We know the truth about our Kurd allies. They lost 11,000 combatants in our joint effort to defeat ISIS. We dropped bombs from the air and provided intelligence and logistics behind the lines. The Kurds lost thousands of lives. Eighty-six brave Americans also lost their lives so tragically.

These Kurds voluntarily entered into the fight against ISIS on their own behalf. They are patriots in their own eyes, the are not American hirelings. The question that is begged here is why we decided to expend blood and treasure, but particularly blood, in a conflict that not only has no national interest but, arguably, is actually working against our national interests. No one will claim that ISIS were good guys but look at their enemies: Russia, Syria, Iran, al-Qaeda.

So, too, is the principle that we stand by our allies, that we do not abandon our friends. The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Turkey is actually our ally in this mess. We have a mutual defense pact with them. The Kurdish forces they are fighting are either PKK (a US-designated terrorist group) or their open allies. How was our honor upheld by agreeing to this in the first place? Why does honor demand that we throw more blood and treasure into an effort to prop up a group we are at the same time pledged to eradicate?

Some have argued that Syria is simply a mess, with warring groups and sub groups, friends and allies shifting from one side to the other, and thus we had to exit because there was no reasonable path for us to go forward. Are we incapable of understanding and shaping complex situations? Russia seems to have figured it out. Are we less adept than they? And are our principles to be jettisoned when we find things get messy?

Just a reminder that the Russians stood aside and let the Turks kick-ass on these same people in 2018 and were also accused of abandoning their allies…and now the Russians are strategic geniuses for doing what Romney thinks is dumb today. Romney should consider that we jettisoned our principles when we chose to ally ourselves with a terrorist organization against a NATO ally.

I simply do not understand why the Administration did not explain in advance to Erdogan that it is unacceptable for Turkey to attack an American ally. Could we not insist that together we develop a transition plan that protects the Kurds, secures the ISIS prisoners, and meets the legitimate concerns of Turkey as well? Was there no chance for diplomacy? Are we so weak, and so inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey?

Throughout this hogwash, Romney manages to ignore some salient facts. First, Turkey has legitimate interests in what happens in northern Syria because the PKK has used that area as a safe haven from which to run operations into Turkey. And they’ve done this with the assistance of Syrian intelligence. There are only about two thousand US troops in Syrian Kurdistan and they are resupplied from…Turkey. While it is hugely impressive to bloviate about telling Turkey what is unacceptable, one would think they also have the right to do the same. And we are weak in this particular situation because what is at stake is something that Turkey sees as critical to its national security where pan-Kurdish nationalism represents an existential threat to it. Our involvement there, on the other, hand is at best a double-edged sword and most likely it is a decided negative as it embroils us in what is becoming a regional civil war and makes us into allies of an international terrorist group. To further confuse matters, we are also “allies” of the Kurdistan Regional Government which considers the PKK/YPG as hostile.

That Kurdish nationalism is a destabilizing influence in the region is not news. In fact, back in 2007 a candidate to be the GOP nominee for president made just that observation:

Today, the nation’s attention is focused on Iraq. All Americans want U.S. troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later would present grave risks to the United States and the world. Iran could seize the Shiite south, al Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west, and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey. A regional conflict could ensue, perhaps even requiring the return of U.S. troops under far worse circumstances.

The author was Mitt Romney.

It is really hard to take Romney’s speech as much more than an attempt to raise his own personal profile. To what end, I have no idea. But we have been told that Romney is trying to put together a donor network to fund a primary challenge to President Trump.

I’d be the last person to say the situation we face in the region is easy, it isn’t. President Trump inherited a foreign policy that for eight years had focused on granting political and territorial concessions to Iran as a way to try to create a regional counterweight to radical Sunni Islam. To that end, Iraq was abandoned. We also embarked on a program of trying to replace Arab dictators with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups. We did that in Libya and Egypt. We tried to do it in Syria and failed. The conflagration we set off on that misadventure is what has created the current mess. President Trump had the choice of doubling down on a policy that not only had failed but as to which no one could even describe what a success would look like…or washing his hands of it. He made the right decision. Mitt Romney, I think knows that. Because 2019 Mitt Romney knows that 2007 Mitt would never have allowed us to get involved in this crap.

The post Mitt Romney’s Attack on President Trump’s Withdrawal From Syria Reeks of Political Opportunism appeared first on RedState.

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Is Mitt Romney Eyeing a Primary Challenge Of President Trump

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Last week, in the aftermath of the release of the so-called whistleblower complaint alleging wadded panties in conjunction with a call between President Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky, one senator broke ranks with his colleagues and led the charge condemning President Trump. Mitt freakin Romney.

There are two parts that play into this.

We know that Bill Kristol is intelligent enough to realize that the low wattage, low energy, low appeal troika of Bill Weld, Mark Sanford, and Joe Walsh are much more of a laugh track than they are a challenge to Trump. Not only does no one know or care who Bill Weld is, his snooty, elitist New England version of the GOP took is last gasp some years ago. Mark Sanford, at one time, could have been a viable candidate but getting your butt kicked in a primary in a state where you have been governor and then not helping the GOP candidate simply underscores that fact that, at best, he’s a cynical opportunist who has been rejected by his own state. Joe Walsh probably needs some way to pay child support payments.

The second part is that Romney has made this statement:

The former GOP presidential nominee and current U.S. senator from Utah said Thursday ahead of the third Democratic debate that he does not intend to endorse anyone in 2020.

On Friday, this began circulating:

If you put the Kristol piece, the attack on Trump, and the declaration he won’t endorse in 2020 together with the rumor that Romney is touching base with his donor network you can see a possible Romney challenge to Trump in the nascent stages. I don’t consider this to be far fetched. No one thinks Romney and Trump exchange Christmas cards. Romney has never made any secret of his disdain for Trump and for Trump voters. With the Omidyar funded primary challenges looking more and more like the Three Stooges than an existential threat to Trump, it isn’t hard to see where at guy with Romney’s massive ego could convince himself that the he’s so beloved in the GOP that he’d be an instant front runner.

My theory would be that it was the Posobiec tweet rather than the Romney criticism that set off President Trump today:

Factually, most of what’s in the tweets are true, if inartfully worded. I mean, who can forget with the improbably named Candy Crowley pushed Barack Obama out of the way so she, as the debate moderator, could boatrace a hapless, befuddled Mitt Romney.

And the Vichy-cons are bewildered:

In 2012, I opposed him in the primary and focused on attacking Obama in the general because I was (an am) convinced that he’d leave the national GOP in the same shambles that he left the MA GOP. As John Nolte wrote at Bradbard (and this is the first time I’ve ever quoted him) says: “When he does run for president again, the same media that relentlessly tarred him as a sexist, racist, plutocrat, job-killing corporate raider who tortures dogs, bullies gays, and gives women cancer, will appreciate him this time.”

No. We’ve had our fill of Romney. I’ve never believed that he believed in anything much more substantial than his own self-aggrandizement. His actions over the past week only make that belief much more firm.

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Romney: I’m not endorsing anyone for president in 2020

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You didn’t think I’d deny you a thread to stomp on him for officially withholding his endorsement from Trump next year, did you?

He *is* showing some loyalty to Trump here. Kind of. There are now three different primary challengers to the president; Romney happens to be buddies with one of them, Bill Weld, and would doubtless heartily agree with another, Mark Sanford, that the Trump administration needs to take America’s looming fiscal crisis more seriously. And no one in the race this year sounds as much like Romney did in his (in)famous 2016 speech lambasting Trump as Joe Walsh, who lashes the president every day in media appearances for his character deficiencies. Instead of backing one, Mitt’s staying neutral.

You may remember that Trump endorsed Romney in 2012 in one of the more awkward joint photo ops in recent political history, when he was still mainly known in politics as the Birther-in-chief. Romney returned the favor four years later by writing in his wife’s name on his presidential ballot. Weld, of course, ran against Trump in 2016 as the Libertarian Party’s VP nominee before endorsing Hillary Clinton shortly before Election Day. Can’t any of these dudes pick a winner?

“I’m not planning on endorsing in the presidential race,” Romney, who has periodically sparred with Trump, told CNN in the Capitol. “At this stage, I’m not planning on endorsing in the primary or in the general.”…

On Thursday, Romney told CNN that he has concerns with the move by several states to cancel their primary contests in a bid to help Trump as he faces challenges from Weld, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh and former South Carolina congressman and Gov. Mark Sanford.

“I would far prefer having an open primary, caucus, convention process … where people can be heard,” said Romney, who reiterated that he’s not running himself.

Should we read anything into him saying “at this stage”? I don’t think so. He’d gain nothing by endorsing Weld and would lose what little influence he has with Trump. He’s better off staying neutral and keeping up his mix of sporadic lacerating criticism of the president tempered by occasional praise.

A more interesting question than what Mitt will do is how many of the people on this list of former Never Trumpers will end up endorsing Trump for reelection. There were a lot of prominent Republicans who held out on backing the nominee in 2016, way more than I remember. People with some sort of personal grudge against Trump, like the Bushes or Carly Fiorina, will likely continue to hold out, I assume. But as an incumbent president, he’s likely to improve dramatically among Republican senators: Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee will definitely back him this time and Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Rob Portman are likely to. Trump may even flip the two Alaskans, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. As for Ben Sasse, what choice does he have but to return the favor after Trump endorsed him earlier this week? The president may have saved his Senate seat for him by discouraging a primary insurrection among Trump fans in Nebraska. If Sasse were to insult him by withholding his support again, who knows how Trump — and Trumpers — would react.

We can safely say that if Sasse is planning to stay neutral, he won’t make that fact plain until after his primary.

I think ex-Never-Trumpers could actually be a useful campaign tool for Trump next year. Many swing voters will be wary of giving him a second term; an ad featuring someone like Mike Lee discussing Trump’s accomplishments and how he came to be more comfortable with the idea of Trump as president should be more relatable to those voters than someone doing the full Lou Dobbs “WE HAVE ENTERED A GOLDEN AGE” pitch for POTUS. Lee’s reluctance in 2016 would prove to skeptics that he understands their concerns about Trump, making his decision to back Trump this time that much more powerful.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s Dobbs last night sounding exceedingly Dobbs-ish.

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Romney: I’m voting against this garbage budget deal

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He *did* once say that he was “severely conservative,” remember. Who could have guessed at the time that he was telling the truth?

“Utah balances its budget every year, and while it may not be in fashion in Washington, we still care deeply about fiscal responsibility. The federal government, however, has followed a very different course, and our national debt now totals over $22 trillion,” Romney said in a statement to The Hill.

“This deal unfortunately perpetuates fiscal recklessness by adding another $2 trillion to the debt, and I cannot support it. We must repair our fiscal foundation and set a course to a balanced budget now so that we avoid a future debt crisis that would pose grave hardships for our children and grandchildren.”

Romney joins Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in opposing the deal. Other Republicans, including Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John Kennedy (La.), are still undecided.

This is a rare instance in which it’s low-risk for a Republican in Congress to be on the wrong side of an issue from Trump:

It’s always low-risk for Romney to be on the wrong side of Trump because, unlike most senators, he’s more popular in his red home state than Trump is. POTUS couldn’t give him the Jeff Flake treatment even if he wanted to. And since Romney got elected to a six-year term just last year, the soonest he’d need to worry about Trump backing a primary challenger to him is 2024, when Trump will be in the final year of his presidency (assuming he wins next fall, of course) and his influence over the party will be waning. This was, then, a safe vote for Mitt. But it’s also relatively safe for Johnson, Braun, Lankford, and Paul simply because the deal is all but guaranteed to pass both chambers of Congress with Democratic support. It’s an unusual case of Trump not needing (many) votes from his own party to get something done, in which case the logical thing for congressional Republicans to do is maintain the pretense that they’re interested in shrinking government and vote no. That’ll keep fiscal conservatives back home happy. And Trumpers who might otherwise be unhappy at their defiance of King Donald won’t care since the bill will pass anyway.

No wonder, then, that the Trump cheering squad known as the Freedom Caucus decided to go their own way on this vote. In fact, a majority of House Republicans voted no today as the bill passed the lower chamber, 284-149. Pelosi had the votes she needed from her own party so Kevin McCarthy’s crew was free to engage in a bit of harmless tea-party nostalgia.

As for Trump’s own spending priorities, a former senior administration official (Bannon? Scaramucci? Kelly?) told Politico that “He doesn’t care about the cost. Wall Street is happy. The defense folks are happy. That’s good enough.” Trump allegedly told Senate Republicans in a meeting a few days ago how pleased he was at the complacency from Fox News and the rest of conservative media about the deal. Part of that complacency is due to the reality of the new Congress: Pelosi gets a say here, and as she proved with the standoff over funding for the wall this past winter, she’s not prone to blink in a staredown. Why force another standoff that’s destined to end in compromise, if not capitulation? But partly too it’s a matter of recognizing that the central fraud of the tea-party era, the idea that rank-and-file Republicans care meaningfully about limiting government, is now so transparent that it would be pathetic to have another big fight about it, particularly with the debt ceiling in the middle. Let’s just acknowledge reality. Trump has drained the swamp, says Philip Klein — of the tea party:

There are many ways in which the Trump presidency has been disruptive to the status quo. But when it comes to spending and deficits, he has restored Washington to a much more conventional place in which both parties agree to ignore warnings of fiscal disaster, and resolve their differences by simply agreeing to spend more money…

Should investors eventually demand higher interest rates [as a condition of purchasing U.S. treasuries], or should the economy falter — making Americans more dependent on public assistance, leading to federal stimulus, and reducing revenues — deficits will only get much deeper. This is especially true given the tacit agreement of both parties to do nothing to address the crisis facing Medicare and Social Security…

The Freedom Caucus, founded to supposedly represent the Tea Party values of limited government in Congress, has devolved into a PR shop for Trump. Mick Mulvaney, one of the founders of the group, has discounted the importance of deficits as the president’s budget man and chief of staff. And even Rush Limbaugh recently declared that, “Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”

One of the few lasting spending successes of the tea-party era, notes Klein, was the Budget Control Act passed in 2011, which placed caps on discretionary spending. The new Trump-backed budget deal repeals the final two years of that statute. “There’s stories being written that this is the final nail in the coffin of what used to be the tea party movement. That’s sad. But maybe true,” said Rand Paul. But don’t worry. He’ll be cheerleading again for Trump tomorrow.

Exit quotation from Patterico, attempting to answer the question “What is the point of the Republican Party?”: “This party stands for owning the libs and for nothing else.” Indeed.

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ICE Used Facial Recognition to Mine State Driver’s License Databases

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WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have mined state driver’s license databases using facial recognition technology, analyzing millions of motorists’ photos without their knowledge.

In at least three states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, ICE officials have requested to comb through state repositories of license photos, according to newly released documents. At least two of those states, Utah and Vermont, complied, searching their photos for matches, those records show.

In the third state, Washington, agents authorized administrative subpoenas of the Department of Licensing to conduct a facial recognition scan of all photos of license applicants, though it was unclear whether the state carried out the searches. In Vermont, agents only had to file a paper request that was later approved by Department of Motor Vehicles employees.

The documents, obtained through public records requests by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology and first reported on by The Washington Post, mark the first known instance of ICE using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases, including photos of legal residents and citizens.

Privacy experts like Harrison Rudolph, an associate at the center, which released the documents to The New York Times, said the records painted a new picture of a practice that should be shut down.

“This is a scandal,” Mr. Rudolph said. “States have never passed laws authorizing ICE to dive into driver’s license databases using facial recognition to look for folks.”

He continued: “These states have never told undocumented people that when they apply for a driver’s license they are also turning over their face to ICE. That is a huge bait and switch.”

The use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement is far from new or rare. Over two dozen states allow law enforcement officials to request such searches against their databases of driver’s licenses, a practice that has drawn criticism from lawmakers and advocates who say that running facial recognition searches against millions of photos of unwitting, law-abiding citizens is a major privacy violation.

The F.B.I., for example, has tapped state law enforcement’s troves of photos — primarily those for driver’s licenses and visa applications — for nearly a decade, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The bureau has run over 390,000 searches through databases that collectively hold over 640 million photos, F.B.I. officials said.

The Georgetown researchers’ documents covered 2014 to 2017, and it was not immediately clear if those states still comply with the ICE requests. Representatives for the states’ motor vehicles departments could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday night.

Matt Bourke, an ICE spokesman, said the agency would not comment on “investigative techniques, tactics or tools” because of “law-enforcement sensitivities.”

But he added: “During the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution. This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies.”

The researchers sent public records requests to each state, searching for documents related to law enforcement’s relationship with state motor vehicles departments. They received varying degrees of responsiveness but discovered the ICE requests in Utah, Washington and Vermont, which have come under fire before for sharing driver’s license information with the agency.

The Seattle Times reported last year that Washington State’s Department of Licensing turned over undocumented immigrants’ driver’s license applications to ICE officials, a practice its governor, Jay Inslee, pledged to stop. And a lawsuit in Vermont filed by an activist group cited documents obtained under public records law that showed that the state Department of Motor Vehicles forwarded names, photos, car registrations and other information on migrant workers to ICE, Vermont Public Radio reported this year.

The relationship between Washington’s Department of Licensing and ICE officials may prove to be particularly interesting to privacy experts because of a law the State Legislature passed in 2012 stipulating that the department could use a facial recognition matching system for driver’s licenses only when authorized by a court order, something ICE did not provide.

Facial recognition technology has faced criticism from experts who point to studies that show that recognition algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color — and in particular, women of color. At least 25 prominent artificial-intelligence researchers, including experts at Google, Facebook and Microsoft, signed a letter in April calling on Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and racial minorities.

The use of the technology has also come under fire from a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The House Homeland Security Committee, led by Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, will hold a hearing on Wednesday grilling Department of Homeland Security officials about their use of facial recognition. The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, has pledged to investigate the use of the rapidly expanding technology in the public and private sectors.

“This technology is evolving extremely rapidly, without any, really, safeguards, whether we are talking about commercial use or government use,” Mr. Cummings said at a hearing on the issue last month. “There are real concerns about the risks that this technology poses to our civil rights and liberties, and our right to privacy.”

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The only way to save the west is to burn the west

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The President has complained on various occasions that western states, California in particular, aren’t managing their forests properly, leading to the spates of destructive wildfires breaking out. There’s probably some blame to be shared at every level, but it seems fair to say that the federal government (at the direction of the President) could be doing more. The LA Times highlights a new study this week showing that controlled burns in western states haven’t been conducted at the rates required to minimize the chances of such massive blazes. There’s money available to do it, but the agencies responsible for such decisions aren’t spending nearly all of it to get the job done.

Despite years of scientific research pointing to prescribed or “controlled” burns as a successful method of clearing brush and restoring ecosystems, intentional fire-setting by federal agencies has declined in much of the West over the last 20 years, the study found.

“This suggests that the best available science is not being adopted into management practices, thereby further compounding the fire deficit in the western U.S. and the potential for more wildfire disasters,” the report warns.

Published Wednesday in the journal Fire, the study by University of Idaho researcher Crystal Kolden analyzed prescribed burns set between 1998 and 2018 by a handful of federal land management agencies, most of which are under the Interior Department, as well as state fire agencies.

Over this period, the amount of land burned each year nationwide increased by about 5%. But almost all of that uptick took place in the southeastern U.S.

So we’re doing more controlled burns in the southeast (where perhaps not coincidentally we have far fewer wildfires), but fewer out west in the places that continue to go up in flames. Who is responsible for these decisions and what’s holding them back?

Going by the conclusions in this report, the first question is a bit complicated to answer. At the federal level, there are a number of organizations that receive funding specifically to manage controlled burns. These include the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and even the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are other agencies at the state and even county level in most states who are authorized to do such work. And yet it’s not getting done out west at anywhere near the required volume.

As to why the western states are reportedly far more skeptical about setting controlled fires, that’s complicated as well. The vast open expanses of forest lands out there are nearly inaccessible in many cases, making management a logistical challenge. There are also very valid concerns over liability. Nobody wants to be the person responsible for starting a burn that gets out of control when the wind shifts and winds up turning into another Camp Fire situation. There would be endless lawsuits and if God forbid, anyone died, that would be the end of someone’s career.

But going by the conclusions in this report, such controlled burns can be done safely enough if we’re smart about it. You need to do it at the right time of year have sufficient containment resources in place. The other choice is to do what we’re doing now and just let increasingly large wildfires take care of the job for us. That’s how Mother Nature took care of it before we arrived and it’s a proven winner. But it’s also rather messy and occasionally deadly, so perhaps the controlled burns are worth the risk.

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