Report: Romney refusing requests to primary Trump -- but could try to bring him down via impeachment

Report: Romney refusing requests to primary Trump -- but could try to bring him down via impeachment

Superb clickbait from Gabriel Sherman, although not for a moment do I believe there’s a war chest out there of half a billion dollars which establishment Republicans are prepared to immolate in the futile hope of successfully primarying Trump. Especially with Romney as the anti-Trump alternative. He’s beloved in Utah but last I checked he wasn’t popular within the GOP. No doubt he’s less popular today, now that he’s picked up his criticism of the president.

But a story doesn’t need to be true for it to be eminently readable. If you’re a left-winger or a Never Trump righty, rumors of Romney plotting some sort of GOP rebellion against Trump are irresistible fanfic. Whereas if you’re a Trump fan, rumors of Romney plotting some sort of GOP rebellion against Trump are irresistible hate-read material. “The adults in the room are going to finally stop Trump!” “The RINOs are plotting a coup against the president!”

For the record, Romney isn’t going to bring down the Trump presidency during a Senate impeachment trial. They won’t get close to 67 votes to remove. But he might be able to persuade three colleagues to vote that way, which would give the Senate a clear majority in favor. (Unless Joe Manchin gets cold feet, of course.)

“There’s been a real increase in nervousness over the past three or four weeks,” a prominent GOP member told me. “Everybody sees what Trump did as such a clear abuse of power,” said another prominent Republican. “Whether it’s criminal or not is another issue. But it’s so blatantly over the line.”…

In the Senate, Ben Sasse and Susan Collins have made their usual equivocal noises—but not surprisingly, its Mitt Romney, longtime Trump antagonist and sometime suck-up, who’s become the standard-bearer, leading to questions as to what his game is. According to sources, donors have in recent days called the Utah senator and encouraged him to run against Trump in the primary. “There is a half-billion dollars on the sidelines from guys who are fed up with Trump,” a GOP donor told me…

According to people close to Romney, he’s firmly decided against primarying Trump, an enterprise he believes to be a sure loser given Trump’s enduring GOP support. Romney has also told people that, as an unsuccessful two-time presidential candidate, he’s the wrong person to take on Trump. Instead, a Romney adviser told me, Romney believes he has more potential power as a senator who will decide Trump’s fate in an impeachment trial. “He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,” the adviser said. In recent days, Romney has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance, according to a person briefed on the conversations. “Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse. Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.”

Collins, Gardner, and Sasse? They’re all running for reelection next year! Voting with Democrats to remove Trump would lead to them either getting bounced in a primary or shellacked in the general election when pro-Trump Republicans stayed home in protest. If Romney really is targeting people to rebel, he’s better off with someone like Rubio, who’s stayed far away from confronting Trump thus far but who’s also pretty clearly miserable in the Senate and whose presidential prospects are long gone in a post-Trump GOP. He’s not up for reelection until 2022 either so he’d have a little time to either try to repair relations with the party later or to announcement his retirement long before the next primary starts shaping up. Remember, he was prepared to retire in 2016 before he got talked out of it.

If Romney’s looking for more nothing-to-lose votes, he could try fellow Utahn Mike Lee. Lee’s not up until 2022 either and anti-Trump Republicans are safer in Utah than they are in any other red state. Romney could even pledge to campaign for Lee to try to help him save his seat. One more possibility: Richard Burr, the senator from North Carolina who’s spent the duration of Trump’s presidency chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee. Importantly, Burr has said before that this would be his final term in the Senate. He has nothing to lose by crossing Trump, which may help explain why his committee’s investigation of Russiagate was more bipartisan and independent than its counterpart in the House.

Romney, Rubio, Lee, and Burr would mean 51 votes for impeachment, or 50 if Manchin balks. Plus, there’s always Murkowski!

Nah, I’m just kidding. Rubio wouldn’t have the nerve to vote to remove, even if he has little to lose at this point by doing so. Mike Lee circa 2016 would vote to remove but Mike Lee circa 2019 is pretty friendly with Trump and remains on the SCOTUS shortlist. Burr keeps a low profile and seems to like it that way, which makes an earth-shaking vote against Trump seem unlikely. I think Dems might get Romney and Murkowski and that’s probably it barring some explosive new evidence confirming Trump’s hand in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. The “remove” faction won’t even reach 50 votes, especially considering that the “bad but not impeachable” get-out-of-jail-free card is always available.

Exit question: What if the punchline to all this Trump/Romney drama is that Romney ends up voting against removal?

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023