Newly single Jonathan Van Ness, the affable apple of the Queer Eye quintet, shot off a head-scratching tweet on Wednesday morning that read: "Mitt's op-ed is like for sure primary challenger coming." He followed up this string of words with a blue heart and rainbow flag emoji, seeming to imply that Romney would somehow be either a good candidate and/or good for LGBTQ+ rights.
But Romney would be neither of those things. The "op-ed" in question -- which we refer to as "bullshit" -- first appeared in the Washington Post on New Year's Day. In it, Romney writes that President Trump "has not risen to the mantle of the office." NPR called it an "attack." CNN called it "scathing." I found it Captain Obvious-esque. But not Van Ness, who is seeming to set a very low bar for "anyone but Trump" as we softly approach the starting line of the ultra-marathon that will be the 2020 election cycle, which will already include a one Elizabeth Warren, among many other prospective candidates.
"We love you JVN, but there's nothing about Mitt that warrants a heart or, especially, a rainbow flag beside his name," wrote one Twitter user in response. "Jonathan Van Ness kinda endorses Mitt Romney's presidential bid" is a pretty bleak way to start the new year," wrote another.
It is not, in fact, Van Ness's first time throwing his support behind a man whose stance on LGBTQ+ issues can, at best, be described as "complicated." (Romney has famously flip-flopped on issues including gay marriage and employment nondiscrimination.) In a July episode of his podcast Getting Curious, Van Ness called the politician, "that sexy Mitt Romney." He continued, adding: "He is such like a silver fox. Hold me. Your silver foxy daddy wig.... I will help you sign that fuckin' treaty, Mitt." He also led into these statements by saying "We need more Jeff Flake-y Republicans."
Jeff Flake, for the record, was one of the Senators approached by survivors of sexual assault during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings for a position on the Supreme Court. After hearing the women's stories and witnessing their cries for help, Flake voted in favor of Kavanaugh.
Van Ness has long waded into politics publicly, usually in opposition to right wing politicians. "He is ugly and stupid," JVN wrote of Trump in a 2015 tweet. "I love how all these rabid republicans are screaming anticipatory voter fraud when they straight up stole 2000 in a full coup d'etat," he wrote in 2016. (There is, conversely, this 2015 tweet from when he live-tweeted the Republican debate: "#RandPaul had a good night. Totes followed him.")
But perhaps his biggest political brouhaha to date was on August 2018, a day after the primaries, when he tweeted his plea to Democrats to "not go too left or we are done." He doubled down when a follower pointed out what happened when centrist democrats were elected in 2006, responding: "Because 2006 circumstance & 2018 are so similar, smh. Govt healthcare for paves the way for a red wave. Abolish ICE sure of course, free healthcare however is a price tag people will not go for, it's clear plain and simple. Universal healthcare won't happen [without] compromise."
Noticing the swift backlash, he tweeted once again, writing, "if you're upset at a tweet I made leave gurl bai! Being able to compromise is what's missing from both sides of the American political situation & the sooner we all get to a place of mutual understanding the sooner we will get out of this mess." When a follower responded by saying we should not be compromising with racists, Van Ness went in once again, adding: "Not all republicans are racist. Just like not all [democrats] are evil, we have to stop demonizing [each other]. Unless you're actually racist then you suck, Trump is Racist - not all his voters are necessarily we gotta remember we are all in this together."
The point Van Ness is perhaps missing is that when it comes to extremism, there is no "both sides" if one of those sides is dispensing racism or hate speech. His plea to err on the non-side of centrism is part of a larger problem that Romney himself is guilty of. In his op-ed, Romney may have condemned Trump for being less than a mensch, but he did not condemn the racism behind his immigration policies or his history with sexual assault -- amongst a myriad of other atrocities worth calling out. It was a tame plea for Trump to be "civil" which is frankly not enough for this political moment we are in.
With suspicion around a Romney 2020 campaign growing, we will have to wait and see if Van Ness has other emoji-fueled tweets in store for Romney. Might we suggest the "face with rolling eyes" emoji.