Yesterday, former Massachusetts governor, former presidential candidate, and current Utah Senator Mitt Romney took the first step in staking out his turf as the successor of Jeff Flake in a Washington Post op-ed where he weighed President Trump in the balance and found him wanting:

… But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.

To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.

I’ll circle back to this later today, but as the first official act by an incoming US senator in the beginning of a presidential election cycle this is pretty strong stuff. It is also curious coming from a guy who interviewed to be secretary of state and who asked for President Trump’s endorsement in his Senate race:

When the op-ed hit, much of the political class bought popcorn to enjoy the nearly inevitable food-fight that was coming.

If you’ve followed President Trump’s twitter account since 2016 you know this is as close to “meh” as he gets.

I suspect that, from the White House’s point of view, Romney has made a long and difficult walkback from his opposition of Trump during the 2016 campaign to the point where he objects to Trump’s style but supports much of his program. In fact, he told a small gathering in June that Trump’s policies were good and he’d win reelection in 2020. This Mitt Romney is likely to suck it up and endorse Trump in 2020 and pull a lot of GOPe types with him, so it doesn’t make any sense to engage in this fight with this senator at this moment…right now.

We can equally expect things to get a little rougher if Romney begins going full-Flake and makes a regular habit of criticizing Trump.

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