Republicans are so terrified of Romney's op-ed they are considering changing primary rules to protect Trump
On Tuesday, Utah Senator-elect and former 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney penned an op-ed criticizing President Donald Trump. In it, Romney stated that Trump "has not risen to the mantle of the office," noted that U.S. allies have lost confidence in our leadership, and urged both parties to embrace "policies that strengthen us rather than promote tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment."
All things considered, Romney's op-ed wasn't a terribly strong rebuke. While it is not common for a senator, especially a senator-elect, to criticize the leader of their own party, Romney also signaled he fully supported Trump's agenda of tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and his far-right takeover of the federal judiciary — a clear hint that he will essentially behave in office like Sens. Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, tut-tutting about Trump's personal behavior while giving him free votes for his every policy whim.
Nonetheless, even this relatively mild jab at the president gave Republicans a virtual aneurysm — to the point where they are now weighing a change to primary rules in case Romney tries to run against Trump in 2020.
According to the conservative Washington Examiner, as Romney's op-ed went out, the Republican National Committee official representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jevon O. A. Williams, emailed party leaders urging them to consider rules shutting out intraparty challengers to Trump. "Unfortunately, loopholes in the rules governing the 2020 re-nomination campaign are enabling these so-called Republicans to flirt with the possibility of contested primaries and caucuses," he wrote. "While President Trump would win re-nomination it wouldn't come quick and it wouldn't be inexpensive. Any contested re-nomination campaign—even a forlorn hope—would only help Democrats."
Williams specifically suggested that the RNC tighten Rule 40, the rule that candidates need a plurality of delegates in five states to be on the ballot on the convention floor. In 2012, Republicans upped this requirement to a majority of delegates in eight states, to prevent then-Texas Congressman Ron Paul from challenging Romney at the convention, but restored the original plurality-in-five threshold in 2016 after the tougher rules shut out Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Now, ironically, if the RNC restores the 2012 rules when they convene in New Mexico this year, it would be to punish Romney, not to help him.
There has been movement in the GOP to lock down the nomination for Trump even before Romney's op-ed. The South Carolina Republican Party, for example, is toying with the idea of canceling their primary altogether so no one can run against Trump there.
Whether or not Romney's disapproval of the president amounts to anything, the GOP sees the danger signs down the road. And they are preparing to circle the wagons.