Romney Running for Utah Senate
By Sun Woo Park | March 27, 2018
Anticipated by numerous political analysts, former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney announced in February his intentions to run to succeed retiring incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Less than 24 hours after his declaration, his first campaign advertisement garnered more than one million views and widespread support from Utah’s political heavyweights.
Among those backing Romney’s campaign are Senator Hatch and former CIA agent Evan McMullin. Both have thrown their support behind him, contributing to the view of Romney as the overwhelming favorite against a scattered, disorganized primary opposition. Hatch is the longest-serving Republican Senator in American history, holding his Utah Senate seat since 1977. Meanwhile, McMullin represents the anti-Trump Republican Party in Utah. During the 2016 Presidential Election, McMullin spearheaded the effort to deny President Trump the state of Utah, receiving over 200,000 votes and accumulating 21 percent of the popular vote. McMullin is a favorite among moderate Republicans and Mormons that are disturbed by Trump’s perceived xenophobia and religious bigotry. With the support of Hatch and McMullin, consensus is that Romney virtually cannot lose.
Romney’s re-entrance into politics is interesting given the current landscape of his party and the country writ-large . Romney was a key leader in the #NeverTrump movement, which sought to deny Trump the nomination during the 2016 Republican National Convention. He was among the numerous Republicans who strongly criticized Trump during the election, going as far as to say that Trump’s election would cause “trickle-down racism” in American culture. Even after the Republican Primaries, Romney refused to endorse Trump despite backlash and criticism from his own party. However, characterizing Romney as completely opposed from Trump is not accurate. After the election, Trump briefly flirted with the idea of Romney as his Secretary of State. According to CNN, Romney, at the urging of numerous former Secretaries of State such as Hillary Clinton, tried to gain the job but was eventually passed over for Rex Tillerson. Romney, therefore, is not entirely opposed to working with the President if need be. Furthermore, Romney is known for his economically libertarian views and would most likely have supported the President’s tax bill and push to repeal Obamacare.
Still, Romney is a vocal critic of the Trump administration and he has the political backing and reputation to challenge Trump in the Senate. Romney is currently the most well liked Republican in Utah; according to Utah Policy, Romney has a 71% approval rating while Trump is at 47%. Should Romney choose to oppose the administration on key issues such as immigration or gun control, where he is politically moderate, he would most likely succeed. He would face minimal backlash as Trump’s unpopularity in the state makes Romney well-prepared to defeat pro-Trump Republicans who might challenge him. Romney would likely be insulated from the fates of Senators Flake (R-AZ) and Corker (R-TN) whose opposition to the president sparked outrage from their Republican bases’, triggered their retirements.
The most important question is not how Romney will oppose Trump but rather what his role will be in the post-Trump Republican Party. When President Trump leaves office, the Republican Party will face an identity crisis as the Establishment, Evangelical, Libertarian and Populist-Nationalist wings of the Party grapple with Trump’s legacy. Romney’s biggest impact as an Establishment Republican may be in a future effort to retake the party from the populist-nationalists in the 2020s. National Review writer Kevin Williamson captures this perfectly. He states that although the Republican Party controls all three branches of the federal government and managed to pull off their best electoral performance since 1988, it is far too divided and angry to pass legislation that benefits Americans. As Williamson put it in his article, “What the Republican Party needs saving from is the Republican Party”.
While President Trump has two more years to turn his low polling numbers around, time is running out for many Congressional Republicans. While the Republicans will most likely hold the Senate, the Democrats are poised to retake the House in 2018. Should Trump and his colleagues be defeated in the 2020 Presidential Election, it will be up to men like Romney to rebuild a kinder, gentler Republican Party that emphasizes traditional conservative conceptions of justice, integrity and security instead of the brazen populism currently characterizing the White House.