SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney says he doesn’t know where the Republican Party is headed as the president cozies up to dictators, and character doesn’t seem to matter in leaders anymore.
The Utah Republican also said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast Tuesday that the U.S. response to COVID-19 has hurt its role as a world leader.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen with my party. I represent a very small slice of my party. The party has taken a different course. My party was very strong anti-dictators, anti-authoritarian leaders, anti people like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, and now the party seems to be more comfortable with people like that,” he said.
Romney talked about the GOP, coronavirus and America’s place on the world stage in response to questions from moderator Nina Easton at the end of an hourlong discussion that focused mostly on the U.S.-China relationship.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington, D.C., was among the think tanks and advisers on Romney’s foreign policy and national security advisory team when he ran for president in 2012.
Though he didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name Wednesday, it was clear his remarks were directed at the current administration.
Romney has expressed dismay about the direction of the Republican Party since at least 2016 when Trump became the GOP presidential nominee. At his annual political retreat in Deer Valley that year, Romney’s voice quavered with emotion as he talked about his heart breaking for the party with Trump at the top of the ticket.
Since being elected to the Senate in 2018, Romney has often criticized the president, including calling Trump’s recent decision to commute the sentence of Roger Stone “unprecedented, historic corruption.” Romney was the only Republican to vote in favor of one of two articles of impeachment earlier this year.
Romney’s impeachment vote prompted Donald Trump Jr. to call for his expulsion from the Republican Party.
And on Tuesday, Trump Jr. compared Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., to Romney after she clashed with conservative lawmakers in a closed-door GOP conference meeting. Cheney, as did Romney, also recently criticized the president for promoting a false story that “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough killed a congressional aide.
“We already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another,“ the president’s son tweeted.
Romney said Republicans were once insistent on reducing the national debt, but that doesn’t seem to be a priority anymore. Character, he said, used to be a critical element in selecting leaders but isn’t talked about in clear ways these days.
“I don’t know where my party goes,” Romney said. “I have to be honest with you in that regard.”
Romney said he tries to abide by the principles of the party that he grew up in and fights for those things. He said ultimately those principles will rise again because they work.
“You can’t keep on spending massively more than you take in. ... You can’t cozy up to the world’s worst actors and expect the world’s best actors to consider you the leader of the world anymore, so I think we’ll wake up to that but it may take a while before we get there,” he said.
Romney said it’s “pretty obvious” that U.S. management of the coronavirus pandemic has not been a great success in the eyes of the world.
He pointed to the June 6 cover of Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, depicting Trump holding a match in the Oval Office while America burns through the window behind him. The headline reads, “Der Feuerteufel,” which means fire starter or firebug, while the subhead, “Ein Präsident setzt sein Land in Brand,” translates to “A president sets fire to his country.”
“The world perception is the authoritarian regimes have dealt with COVID far more effectively than we have and that other democracies have dealt with COVID far more effectively than we have,” Romney said.
“Obviously, that’s dented our leadership role. But I do believe that the world still recognizes that we are really the only nation that can convene other great nations of the world to come together and work collaboratively.”
Romney last week denounced Trump’s plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany, calling it a slap in the face of a key ally needed to help keep China from taking over the world.
Despite its flaws and “weakness” in managing COVID-19, the U.S. can still convene other countries to deal with China and issues like global warming, Romney said.
“If they see leadership from the White House that is anxious to do that, they will welcome it and they will tsk, tsk our management of COVID-19, as well they should,” he said. “But the world wants American leadership. It is crying out for America to lead on the great issues of our time.”
On Wednesday, Romney said the U.S. approach to China isn’t working and he introduced legislation for a comprehensive strategy. He also called for a summit of major world leaders and the laying out of a process to deal with China.
“Unless we link arms in a very dramatic and aggressive way and lay out rules of the road that they must follow or they will find themselves disconnected ... from the economy of the rest of the world. And we’re not doing that,” he said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
“Instead, we’re saying ‘America first — everybody go off and do their own thing. Great for Brexit. Let’s blow up Europe. Everybody pursue your own interests.’ And America looks like we don’t care about bringing the world together in a dramatic way.”