During an interview with Gov. Bill Weld early in his first term, the topic of who might challenge Sen. Ted Kennedy for re-election in 1994 came up. Weld rattled off a few names, including Mitt Romney’s.

We laughed. “Who’s that?” we asked, half-expecting Weld to admit he made the name up.

But Mitt Romney turned out to not be a joke. Not that he couldn’t make one once in awhile. As governor, during a ceremony swearing in a former deputy cabinet secretary to the top job, Romney said he could relate to the appointee’s journey. “I know what it’s like to be treated like number two,” he quipped.

That’s about as raunchy as Romney ever got, at least publicly. But his little joke has in time turned out to be prophetic.

Since the Republican Party’s 2016 hostile takeover by imbeciles, Romney has been treated like number two by his party. His patriotic desire to help the new administration was exploited for cheap payback by the classless president-elect. His efforts to push back against the GOP’s reflexive racism have been met with vitriolic heckling and threats. Romney’s anachronistic suggestions that his colleagues at least pretend to be statesmen have been laughed off by cheap grandstanders who deface the Constitution the way the January 6 mob did the corridors of Congress.

In a less-ugly time – hard to believe the 1960s now seems that way – Mitt’s father George was chased out of politics by a party gagging on the idea of social tolerance. And the father’s fate has now befallen the son.

As governor here, Romney modeled many attributes of successful leadership. He was alert to new ideas, making Massachusetts one of the first states to aggressively pursue “smart growth” development around transit hubs. He built relationships with Democratic leaders that yielded real results like Romneycare, and didn’t object when they took the credit. And unlike Charlie Baker, he didn’t shy away from confronting cronyism and incompetence, demanding Bill Bulger’s resignation as UMass President after he refused to cooperate with the search for his mass-murderer brother and all-but-frog-marching hapless Big Dig overseer Matt Amorello to the exit after the infamous tunnel collapse.

But competence and integrity are not only devalued in today’s GOP, they’re aggressively resented. And while it’s too much to hope that the dim bulbs leading the mob might pause to reflect on the end result of their colicky politics, others with lingering brain matter should do so.

What happens when all thoughtful public officials are driven out and others who might have otherwise considered serving shy away in horror?

What will it take for all the well-documented public despair over our unappealing ballot choices and revolting political discourse to be converted into backlash against the purges of Romney and other honorables?

Or are we ready to turn things over to the deplorables, and retreat to our sports-betting apps as they drown democracy and fairness in their drool?

You might not miss Mitt Romney when he’s gone. But you might change your mind when you realize there’s no one half as decent stepping up to take his place.

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Jon Keller has been reporting and commenting on local politics since 1978. A graduate of Brandeis University, he worked in radio as a producer and talk-show host before moving into print journalism at The Tab newspapers and the Boston Phoenix. Freelance credits include the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, the New Republic and the Washington Post. Since 1991 his "Keller At Large" commentaries and interviews have been a fixture on Boston TV, first on WLVI-TV and, since 2005, on WBZ-TV. He is a 12-time Emmy Award winner for political reporting and commentary. He began his Massterlist column in March 2020.