Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) with reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Opinion writer

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told CNN: “I’m not planning on endorsing in the presidential race. At this stage, I’m not planning on endorsing in the primary or in the general.” In response to the decision by several states to cancel their primaries, he would only say, “I would far prefer having an open primary, caucus, convention process . . . where people can be heard.” Prefer?

Really, he can do better than that. He’s not on the ballot for another five years, and this is a simple issue: Does the Republican Party believe in democracy or not? That is not a question of “preference” but of fundamental principle, one that the sheep in the GOP have kicked to the curb in the interest of staying on President Trump’s good side.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has occasionally broken with Trump. For example, he was in favor of nixing the emergency declaration to build Trump’s wall; he voted against a judicial appointee who slurred President Barack Obama; and let it be known that he opposed Herman Cain’s appointment to the Federal Reserve Board. When Trump told four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to the countries from which they came, Romney tweeted, “People can disagree over politics and policy, but telling American citizens to go back to where they came from is over the line.” At least he said something.

However, Romney has neither forcefully nor consistently condemned the president’s racist outbursts — or his lying, his erratic foreign policy, or his aggregation of executive power. The senator bemoaned the firing of national security adviser John Bolton but did not condemn the Camp David invitation to the Taliban. And, worst of all, he has not deplored the president’s self-dealing or receipt of emoluments.

Romney would seem to be in the perfect position to defend the most basic principles of government. Do not use your office to make money. Do not tell government officials to lie. Do not gleefully accept money from foreign states. It is here that Romney, could, if he wanted to, push his party to stop turning a blind eye to Trump’s corruption.

Unfortunately, when presented with robust evidence of wrongdoing, Romney has not been inclined to stand up to Trump. When presented with the Mueller report, Romney pronounced himself “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.” He also declared he was “appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.” And yet, with all that, he would not declare Trump unfit for office and insisted there was no evidence of obstruction of justice, despite 10 categories of obstruction detailed in the special counsel’s report.

If he is hoarding his political capital, it is difficult to tell when and on what he might spend some of it. If he cannot tell the American people that it is unacceptable for a president to steer business toward his own businesses, welcome foreign money, allow his children to feather their own businesses and to lie incessantly, it’s hard to figure out why he ran for the Senate in the first place. Any old Republican could have filled Orrin Hatch’s seat. Romney didn’t need to leave his large family and disturb his retirement only to go to Washington to see Trump turn the presidency into a tin-pot dictator’s personal piggy bank.

Read more:

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Jennifer Rubin: Mark Sanford might be Republicans’ last chance

Catherine Rampell: What are Republicans afraid of?

Dana Milbank: Will Republicans finally stop cowering before Trump?