Any news story involving Romney running for any office is postworthy by definition for a veteran Romney trollblogger like me. But let’s be real: A freshman senator at age … 71, which is what he’d be on election day 2018? As good as he looks and as healthy as he seems, it’s rare — maybe even unprecedented — for a senator to be popularly elected to a first full term in his 70s. This list notes 12 who were 75 or older when they were first seated, but nine were appointed to fill vacancies and two more were chosen before the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified. The lone member of the list who was popularly elected was chosen in a special election to fill the seat for just a month.
But hey. If the Trump era stands for anything, it stands for disrupting traditions. And compared to the 82-year-old Orrin Hatch, who may or may not seek another term in 2018, Romney’s fresh as a daisy.
“I don’t have any predictions on what I might do. I’m not going to open a door and I’m not going to close a door. All doors are open,” Romney said after mentioning the 2018 Senate race.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, first elected in 1976, has not yet said whether he will run for re-election, but other potential candidates, including former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., have already surfaced.
One of Romney’s five sons, Josh, has also been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate, although Josh Romney has said he is “strongly considering” a run for Utah governor in 2020.
“I’m not looking forward to anything political at the national level,” Mitt Romney said. “We’ve got some races coming up here in Utah that are going to be interesting. We’ll see what happens on that front.”
One obvious possibility here is that he’s playing head games with his old frenemy, Jon Huntsman. Huntsman’s already admitted that he’s eyeing Hatch’s Senate seat; a poll taken two weeks ago had Huntsman crushing Hatch in a hypothetical primary, 62/21. Maybe Romney couldn’t resist throwing a scare into him, hinting that he might be prepared to bigfoot the election by throwing his own hat into the ring. His son Josh has also considered running for Senate in Utah before but passed on a primary challenge to Mike Lee in 2016. An open seat if Hatch retires would obviously be a different story — but as noted in the excerpt, he seems to have his mind on running for governor more so than for Senate. That’s what you would expect from an aspiring pol with a name brand and tons of political connections who might be thinking of a national run down the line. Build an executive resume. The only other serious contender for Hatch’s seat that I’m aware of is Evan McMullin, but McMullin would be no match for Romney or Huntsman in a primary. If being loudly anti-Trump were as attractive to Utahns as some polls last year suggested, McMullin would have done better than 21 percent on election day.
Question, though: What would Romney actually want to do in the Senate? If this is a simple matter of him having been bitten by the political bug again lately, perhaps due to the attention he got from Trump for the State job, I suppose that’s enough. Still, no true Romney fan wants to see him go to the Senate and end up being a rubber stamp for most of Trump’s agenda, which is the role the chamber is destined to play in most cases for the next four years. If he’s going there to be a voice for traditional conservative Republicanism, particularly on foreign policy and Russia, that’s well and good — but if that’s the plan, he’s playing it close to the vest. He made a point of praising Trump in the story excerpted above, saying “there are encouraging signs on a number of fronts” from the administration and emphasizing that the president’s “obviously gotten off to a very strong start in terms of making a series of executive orders and making the changes that he promised during the campaign.” I can imagine a Senator Romney gradually becoming an outspoken check on President Trump over time, but I think the olive branch Trump extended in the hunt for a Secretary of State bought him a long line of credit with Mitt. In which case, again, what’s the point of having a Senator Romney? Utah’s going to elect a Republican to fill the seat no matter what.
Worth noting, though: When asked by the Deseret News if his harsh views of Trump have changed after the State Department job interview, Romney declined to comment. Hmmm. Exit quotation from Bill Kristol:
A successful 2018 Romney run for Senate would lay the groundwork for a possible primary challenge to Trump in 2020.https://t.co/oMOIj3769b
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 5, 2017