"Smile, Mitt." Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Donald Trump is humiliating one of his fiercest critics by making Mitt Romney grovel in public in order to be named secretary of state. And he could easily humiliate Romney completely by not naming him.

That’s the thesis of John Cassidy’s latest New Yorker piece, and I think it’s obviously true. But let’s do a little unpacking.

When you’re Romney’s age—69—dignity is precious. Relevance is even more precious. Romney’s gambling both to have both. Why not? There is no deep, nourishing satisfaction in not mattering.

Cassidy reminds us that once upon a time Romney really let Trump have it. For instance, reacting to the Access Hollywood tape, Romney tweeted:
“Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”

Romney said what millions of us thought. But it turned out there weren’t quite as many of us as we thought there were.

Cassidy says he hopes Romney’s wife and sons—”and his former campaign strategist Stuart Stevens, who was even more critical of Trump during the campaign than his boss was”—have been spared Romney’s “abject display of cant, falsehoods, and self-abnegation.”

Months ago I heard Stevens speak at the University of Chicago. Yes, Trump disgusted Stevens, and he predicted that if Trump won the Republican nomination, respectable Republicans would form a third party. They didn’t. Trump was just as repugnant as Stevens (and Romney) believed, but the national tolerance for the character traits that made respectable Republicans gag turned out to be greater than they ever imagined. A ne’er-do-well swaggered into town and wooed away the party right out from under its respectable leaders.

So what does Romney do now? More to the point, what do we want Romney to do?

Well, we certainly don’t want Trump and Rudy Giuliani—completely out of their depth—blowing up the world together. Putting the most charitable spin he can think of on Romney’s position, Cassidy writes that Romney might simply be volunteering to save us all from disaster: “With an inexperienced, thin-skinned narcissist and ranter heading for the Oval Office, it would obviously be reassuring to have someone with a calm demeanor and a reality-based view of things with him in the Situation Room when bad things happen, as they inevitably will.”

But Cassidy suspects otherwise. He goes on: “The cynical explanation is that Romney is in it for himself. He’s sixty-nine, and this is almost certainly his last chance to hold high government office. ‘Romney critics—and those are the people pushing this theory—point to his past flip-flops on such issues as abortion and gay marriage as evidence that when a deeply held belief comes up against Romney’s ambition, ambition always wins,’ the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted on Wednesday. ‘So, Romney wants to be secretary of state more than he hates Trump. It’s that simple a calculation.'”

Is it? What if this is true: the more Romney hates Trump, the more he wants to be secretary of state? It’s true of me—the more I despise Trump the less I want a bozo like Giuliani riding shotgun across the world with him and the more I want someone who isn’t a hysteric. Why shouldn’t Romney be as frightened of the alternatives to him as I am?

Besides, Romney accomplishes nothing by taking himself out of contention. Then he’s forgotten, and whatever he has to say about Trump will matter even less than it mattered during the campaign. But once he’s appointed—if he’s appointed—he’s armed with the power to resign. And as he resigns—surrounded by the world’s microphones—he conceivably could make a case of incompetence and self-dealing that would get Trump impeached. Getting rid of Trump through impeachment is the last refuge of our magical thinking.