Forget 2012! Press embraces Mitt Romney for Trump detractor-in-chief

The press is developing a strange new respect for Mitt Romney.

You know, the guy who drew such derision and ridicule when he ran for president in 2012.

That guy was widely depicted as an out-of-touch plutocrat who had a house with a car elevator, babbled about binders full of women, and strapped his dog to the roof of the family car.

Ah, but as Romney gears up to run for the Senate in the wake of Orrin Hatch's retirement, many pundits have found something to love about the man:

He's a fierce critic of President Trump.

And that's why the press has been in a run-Mitt-run mode.

Romney is considered the heavy favorite in Utah now that Hatch, at 83, says he’s hanging it up. And there is media excitement at the prospect of having a nationally known Trump detractor in Washington.

CNN says it all in the lead: "The Republican opposition to President Donald Trump is poised to get a new champion: Mitt Romney."

MSNBC ran this on-screen banner: "HATCH RETIREMENT OPENS DOOR TO TRUMP NIGHTMARE: ROMNEY SENATE RUN."

Politico delights in "the fraught relationship between the Republican heavyweights — one that will now take center stage as Romney prepares a Senate bid."

Center stage! That didn't take long.

Now it's obviously true that Trump and Romney don't exactly think highly of each other. The president, who backed the former Massachusetts governor six years ago, later accused him of choking like a dog. And Romney ripped the president last year, despite the little dance they had when Trump was ostensibly considering him for secretary of State—which never seemed like a serious prospect.

"While laying the groundwork for a prospective bid," Politico says, "Romney has made little secret that he will be unafraid of taking on the president. The 2012 GOP nominee has informed a series of Republican Party donors, senators and power brokers in recent weeks that, while he isn't looking to pick a fight with Trump, he is more than willing to speak out against him. During the 2016 campaign, Romney derided Trump as a 'phony' and 'fraud' and implored the party to nominate someone else ...

"Romney is also guided by frustration with the president ... The president and his top advisers remain suspicious of Romney, who criticized Trump over the course of his first year in office."

The New York Times says "Romney’s potential ascent is particularly alarming to the White House because the former presidential candidate has an extensive political network and could use the Senate seat as a platform to again seek the nomination. Even if he were not to run again for president, a Senator Romney could prove a pivotal swing vote, impervious to the entreaties of a president he has scorned and able to rally other Trump skeptics in the chamber."

Now some of this may be wishful thinking. Liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent says the expectation is "that Romney will vote for Trump’s policy agenda 99.9999 percent of the time." But since the president is "catastrophically unfit to serve," in his view, left-wingers "should hope that Romney does become at least a serious voice of opposition to Trump."

Obviously, a presidential candidate draws far tougher media scrutiny than someone running for one of 100 Senate seats. And candidate Romney made more than his share of mistakes. But most of the media back then were wedded to a portrait of Romney as a wealthy 1950s sitcom dad who liked firing poor people.

Now that he’s poised to take on Donald Trump rather than running against Barack Obama, Romney is getting a far warmer media reception.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.