You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
Yes, yes, I’ve written about this possibility at least twice before. There’s no redundancy protocol for “Romney might run!” stories, though. Besides, there’s real news in McKay Coppins’s piece: Although Orrin Hatch is being standoffish about whether he really would stand aside for Romney if he got in the race, as Hatch hinted in an interview last week, Romney himself is sufficiently interested in the job to have discussed the idea with Mitch McConnell.
For his part, Romney, who owns a house outside Salt Lake City, appears to be taking the potential Senate bid seriously. In addition to discussing it with Hatch and other party leaders in Utah, sources said Romney has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to two people with knowledge of the conversation, McConnell encouraged Romney to run if Hatch’s seat opens up, and sought to assure the former GOP presidential nominee that he would have more influence in the chamber than a typical junior senator…
Though his anti-Trump credentials were tarnished by his post-election pursuit of the secretary of state post, sources who have discussed it with Romney say his views on Trump have not changed—and if he did enter the Senate, he would not be a reliable ally to the White House. “It would be an opportunity for Mitt to represent the Utah style of Republicanism … and present a strong challenge to the president,” said one senior Republican.
Another factor is Romney’s Mormon faith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Utah, has long relied on Hatch to serve as a representative and ambassador in Washington—a role that Romney views as important, and necessary. Many of the Mormon Romney-backers I spoke to talked about his call to public service in spiritual terms—with some even making half-joking references to “White Horse Prophecy,” a bit of apocryphal LDS folk doctrine that predicts the U.S. Constitution will one day “hang by a thread” and Mormons will have to save it. “If [Romney] does this … he gets to ride around on a white horse for a while,” said one Utah Republican. “Maybe it really is hanging by a thread. We thought Obama was the threat all this time—maybe it turns out it’s Trump.”
One source told Coppins that Romney’s interest in the race didn’t perk up until his old frenemy, Jon Huntsman, had his name tossed around as a possible primary challenger to Hatch. I speculated as much at the time. Ah well. The interesting thing about the Hatch/Romney dynamic is that it’s a rare case of a longtime incumbent looking like a weaker candidate than the man who would seek to replace him. Reelection should be a breeze for a household name like Hatch whose been in the Senate since the Carter administration, but Hatch’s polling against Huntsman was dismal. I doubt Evan McMullin poses any serious threat to him given how McMullin has alienated Trump supporters, but some populist upstart might. And so the question for Utah Republicans becomes: With whom would you rather take your chances? The elderly dinosaur with weak numbers whom everyone thinks should retire or the first Mormon presidential nominee in American history, who’d probably pull 70 percent of the vote? Romney, not Hatch, may own the true “incumbency advantage” here.
This makes me wonder, though, about why Trump has reportedly been pushing Hatch to run for reelection. Initially I thought that was because he was worried about McMullin stealing the seat if Hatch retired, giving one of his harshest Republican critics a perch in the Senate to attack him. Maybe, though, word got back to Trump that Romney was interested in the seat. McMullin is beatable in a Utah Republican primary with the right opponent; Romney is not. The only man who can keep him out of the Senate might be Hatch, so go figure that Trump would want Hatch running again. I tend to think that Romney would be more amenable to working with the White House after his detente with Trump over the State Department than Coppins’s source suggests, but no doubt Romney would enjoy opposing Trump from the right on things like health care and infrastructure after the grassroots Republicans who sneered at him for being a RINO in 2012 turned around and voted for a big-government Republican from New York in 2016. It’s not out of the question, in other words, that Mitt Romney really would be “severely conservative” in the Senate. And on foreign policy, he’d probably be a Russia hawk in the McCain/Graham mold, holding Trump in check just in case the rapprochement with Moscow gets going again.
Exit question: How fun would it be to see Romney jump in and then McMullin primary him for having “sold out” by making nice with Trump over the State job? Heh.