Might Mitt Romney save the nation and the world from Donald Trump?
Romney (the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee) is indeed telling people that he will run in this year’s election for the open Senate seat from Utah (although not yet saying it publicly). He hasn’t ever really lived in Utah, but does have a home there, and, as a Mormon, may feel like kin to many Utahans. It’s too far out to take this to the bank, but the punditocracy says he starts the race as the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination and the general election.
If all that turns out to be right, Romney will replace the retiring Orrin Hatch, who has been a loyal and obedient Trump man throughout 2017. Romney, on the other hand, offered himself late in the 2016 primary season as the leader or at least the chief cheerleader of a Stop Trump movement, not as the candidate to replace him on the ticket.
Here are a few of the things Romney said in his big March 2016 speech urging Republicans in the late primary states to vote strategically for whichever candidate or candidates was best positioned to deny Trump the Republican nomination. Romney disputed the notion Trump was any kind of big success in business, and said Trump doesn’t know what he is talking about:
Now Donald Trump tells us he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart. …
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony. A fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. … He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat. …
[Trump] has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. His personal qualities mean that if he were to become president, America would no longer be a shining city on a hill.”
If you’d like to read the full text of Romney’s big Anybody-But-Trump speech (delivered in Utah, by the way), they are here.
Trump, by the way, repaid Romney’s insults by describing the 2012 nominee as having “choked like a dog” in his race against President Barack Obama.
If Romney stuck with the views described above, and wins the Utah Senate race, he would immediately become the most anti-Trump Senate Republican. Even more substantively important, if he refused to go along with Trumpism, he could end up being a key swing vote in the Senate on many matters, large and small.
After the surprising victory by Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama special election, Republicans currently hold just a 51-49 Senate majority, although they also have Vice President Mike Pence on their team, empowered to cast the tie-breaking vote in case of 50-50 ties.
Although polls suggest that Democrats currently have the national political winds at their back, the lineup of Senate races that are up in 2018 overwhelmingly favors the GOP. (That’s because, of the 34 seats that will be on the ballot in 2018, 25 are already held by Democrats (or one of the two independents who caucus with them) which puts the Dems on defense in the 25 of the 34 races.
If Republicans emerge from November with a tiny majority, Trump’s chances of getting his bills passed in the Senate in 2019-20 will depend on getting cooperation from the least Trumpy members. You know the list (although other than Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, several of the most prominent Senate Republican Trump skeptics, like Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, are retiring and John McCain is fighting for his life against cancer).
Now, into that equation, if you add a prominent voice like Romney’s, replacing a Trump loyalist like Hatch, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which Romney will hold the balance on many votes and, if he were to continue expressing views similar to those quoted above, he might be the least Trump-friendly member of the caucus.
The last complicating factor is that Romney (crazy as this sounds given what’s written above) was under serious consideration, during the transition, to be Trump’s secretary of state. During that brief phase, he certainly stopped calling Trump a fraud and tried to make nice. One suspects that Trump enjoyed this phase of their relationship more than when Romney was calling him a phony.
Romney has mostly stayed out of the limelight during Trump’s first White House year. If the reports are true, he will soon announce his availability to join the Senate, and he will surely be asked, often, about his previously expressed Trump-bashing remarks. We’ll see how he plays it.