I never expected to write these words, but I miss Mitt Romney.
Last Wednesday, the day the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was in New Hampshire alleging that Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives may actually be clandestine terrorists, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was in Washington, talking sense.
“Donald Trump will not be the nominee,” Romney told a group of business-school students at Georgetown University. And why won’t Trump, who when he isn’t besmirching Syrian refugees as terrorists is maligning Mexican immigrants as rapists, get the nod? Because, Romney said, “when all is said and done, the American people usually do the right thing.”
The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker recorded Romney’s categorical prediction, and his rationale. “I know there’s some skunks in any endeavor – business, politics – and they get most of the visibility, but there are also some really good people,” Romney said. “The American people are a very good people and by and large find people of similar character to elect to the highest office in the land.”
Never miss a local story.
Romney is right. In fact, I’m so certain Trump won’t win the nomination that I’ll eat my words if he does. Literally: The day Trump clinches the nomination, I will eat the page on which this column is printed. I have this confidence for the same reason Romney does: Americans are better than Trump.
The Post’s media critic, Paul Farhi, took me to task last week for expressing such a sentiment. I was one of the pundits he named as being “consistently wrong” in predicting Trump’s demise, one who “declared his candidacy dead or mortally wounded” while Trump instead “maintained his leading position in opinion polls.”
But my prediction that Trump will ultimately fail isn’t about punditry or polling. It comes from faith that American voters are more sensible than many poll-obsessed journalists and commentators give them credit for. Trump (and Muslim-baiting Ben Carson) won’t prevail in the Republican primary because voters, in the end, tend to get it right.
Republican primary voters may be angry at the political establishment, but they are not irrational: They don’t wish to nominate a sure loser. And Trump is that. Americans, in a general election, will never choose a candidate who expresses the bigotry and misogyny that Trump has, regardless of his attributes. (Similarly, liberals love Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race, but ultimately Democrats won’t choose Sanders, because, regardless of their personal preferences, they know a socialist won’t be elected president.)
Consider what Trump said in Keene, N.H., last week about the largest refugee crisis since World War II: “This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time,” he said of the desperate masses fleeing Syria’s civil war. “A 200,000-man army, maybe. … I don’t know that it is, but it could be possible.”
And what would happen to the refugees under President Trump? “They’re going back,” he said.
To their deaths, presumably.
The same day Trump posited this paranoia, Romney was at Georgetown, telling students about an 1814 letter John Adams wrote to the political philosopher John Taylor. “Remember,” the nation’s second president wrote, “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Ours hasn’t – yet. “We’ve beaten the odds,” Romney said, “in part because we’ve had, I think, people of real character who have led our country as presidents … and the American people have risen to the occasion time and again and have in fact then elected good people.”
I second Romney’s analysis. No matter what 2015 polls say, 2016 won’t be the year American democracy murders itself.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.