Hardball game of politics, by Clarence Page

9/21/2023, 6 p.m.
Like numerous other folks who did not support Mitt Romney’s election when he was challenging then-President Barack Obama in 2012, …

Like numerous other folks who did not support Mitt Romney’s election when he was challenging then-President Barack Obama in 2012, I think he looks a lot better to me now than he did then — and not just because he decided to retire from the Senate.

Compared with what came after his candidacy — Donald Trump’s victory for the GOP in 2016 — Sen. Romney’s failed bid looks like the last days of polite politics.

But, as more than a few hardball politicians have said over the years, what good does politeness get you?

These days in Washington, it’s tit-for-tat time, often in brutal ways.

One prize target these days is Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who has been charged by federal prosecutors with lying about his drug use on a government form he was required to complete when he purchased a handgun in 2018, which he also is charged with possessing illegally.

And his case potentially could come to trial during the president’s re-election campaign.

Coincidence? I think not.

Before his indictment, House Republicans already were ramping up their efforts to use the younger Mr. Biden’s work abroad to build a case for the impeachment of his dad, whom the right wing media have hyped relentlessly as boss of the “Biden crime family.”

As scandals go, Hunter Biden’s sad saga hardly matches the scope of the four indictments lodged against Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden publicly has acknowledged struggles with addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol, along with trips in and out of rehab at the time of the gun purchase.

Yet, any negative headlines are grist for the political mill, especially when they coincide with the Biden Justice Department’s prosecution of the president’s predecessor, Donald Trump. When confronted with Mr. Trump’s scandals, his defenders easily can retort, “Well, what about Hunter Biden?”

But when you ask for the evidence of the president’s alleged wrongdoing, you get a standard Washington answer: Deflect, deflect, deflect.

Still, some of us are waiting for such old-fashioned niceties as facts and evidence.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s dramatic announcement of an impeachment inquiry against President Biden contained more drama than evidence.

Meanwhile, it is reassuring to note that many mainstream Republicans have resisted the glittering lure of Huntergate when Congress appears to be approaching another shutdown over federal spending. But those mainstream Republicans are not enough.

Unfortunately, as Sen. Romney laments, sensible voices have largely been drowned out by the MAGA mob, which Romney prudently avoided mentioning by name. He didn’t have to, since members of the MAGA mob seem to have no trouble at all with making themselves heard.

Even as Speaker McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, for example, two MAGA stars, Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, had a hissy fit and a fight on X (formerly known as Twitter) over who deserved credit for Speaker McCarthy’s decision.

Did I mention that no evidence has been released to date that backs up the Republicans’ allegations against the president? I can’t say that enough. Until they prove me wrong.

And there are darker signs on the horizon. For a new biography by journalist McKay Coppins, with Sen. Romney’s cooperation, the departing senator confided that he wanted to vote for Mr. Trump’s second impeachment but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety

“A very large portion of my party,” Sen. Romney tells Coppins of The Atlantic, “really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”

That’s why he spends $5,000 a day since the insurrection on private security for his family, Sen. Romney said.

Now, that’s a real scandal. Something very dangerous has happened to our politics, as Sen. Romney notes. We may need, as he suggests, to look to the next generation to dig us out.

The writer is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.