One of President Donald Trump’s chief political foils in the Republican Party — a party that increasingly resembles a Trump fan club more than a group of partisan but independent thinkers — is about to storm the national scene and send a jolt of energy to the dwindling and listless #NeverTrump movement.
Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and wealthy businessman, is reportedly preparing to announce his formal campaign to be the next US Senator from Utah. And with no serious Republican in the heavily-Mormon state willing to throw a hat in the ring to challenge Romney, it is a virtual assurance that he will win the election.
The fact that Romney will be returning to the political business is not the story. Rumours were swirling in Utah political circles and among the former governor’s friends and aides that Romney was tired of playing the presidential also-ran — the GOP’s answer to Walter Mondale, the former Democratic Vice President who was trounced by the late Ronald Reagan in 1984 by 512 electoral votes. While Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama in 2012 wasn’t nearly as lopsided as Reagan’s blowout over Mondale, his loss came as a deep disappointment to the Republican Party and caused a tremendous amount of soul-searching among the party’s establishment. Romney is all about legacy and ambition; so to allow a national defeat to be his last act as a politician is not the way Romney rolls. When the New York Times reported last month that Romney texted 'I’m running' to a friend, it was simply confirmation of what many political pundits inside Washington were already expecting.
The news won’t come at a surprise to Trump either, but that doesn’t mean the president is especially happy about the development. Trump and Romney have a rocky and adversarial personal relationship, exhibited most clearly during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Romney, the polished, reserved politician with the wispy hair of Kennedy, loudly protested the way Trump was running his campaign, the lack of humility of his personality, and the dangerous and divisive agenda he was promoting. The 2012 Republican nominee could have stayed silent and fed anonymous, anti-Trump quotes to the press like many party establishment veterans were doing, but he instead held a press conference and threw punches to Trump’s gut on national television. Trump, a man whose blood pressure rises with every sign of criticism, threw a punch back. To Romney, Trump was 'a phoney' and 'a fraud'; to Trump, Romney was 'a dog' who choked against Obama and couldn’t close the deal.
The relationship between the two men thawed slightly after the election. Trump asked Romney to come down to his Florida estate to interview for the position of Secretary of State, and the two men dined together at a fancy New York City restaurant. Nothing came of the meetings, and the personal chemistry largely returned to its pre-summit days. Mitt Romney is clearly somebody President Trump doesn’t want in the U.S. Senate — indeed, he wouldn’t have asked 83-year old Sen. Orrin Hatch to run for an eighth term in Utah if he didn’t believe Romney would be a problem for him in the future.
How will Mitt Romney act as a senator? What will his priorities be? How forceful will he push back if Trump says or does something outside the bounds of normal political and social discourse? Will he use the Senate floor as a platform to denounce Trump’s assault on the free press, his character assassination of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or his attacks on fellow Republicans whom the president blandishes as disloyal? Nobody knows for sure until Romney is sworn in and gets acclimated to life on Capitol Hill, assuming of course he wins the election in November.
But you can bet that the small but passionate camp of #NeverTrump Republicans will be heartened by the news that a potential ally will very likely become a member of the elite senatorial club.