Oh, there’s no place like Holladay for the home … Now that Orrin Hatch has announced his retirement, will Mitt Romney run for the Senate in Utah? CBS says “several GOP sources” tell them the Romney campaign is a go, but most media outlets are looking at the T leaves — T as in Twitter, that is. Romney is coming home to the Holladay, apparently:
2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, one of President Trump's critics, is eyeing a new political opportunity in Utah. The longest-serving Senate Republican, Orrin Hatch, says he'll retire after 42 years in Washington https://t.co/NHxu9doMzV pic.twitter.com/O9Uxoxvepa
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 3, 2018
One of the president’s Republican critics, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is eyeing a new political opportunity in Utah. The longest-serving Senate Republican, Orrin Hatch, says he’ll retire after 42 years in Washington and several GOP sources tell CBS News that Romney has been quietly preparing for Hatch’s retirement, reports CBS News’ Nancy Cordes.
Romney has not said anything publicly about his plans to run, but on Tuesday afternoon offered a clue. Following Sen. Hatch’s announcement he changed his home base on his Twitter profile from “Massachusetts” to “Holladay, UT.”
He hasn’t said anything about his plans because he doesn’t need to do so. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Romney’s sotto voce signaling has all but frozen the field for the GOP primary, and Romney will likely get the nod by acclamation once he announces. For one thing, Romney would carry a lot more national clout than a normal freshman in the Senate:
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who carried Utah in the 2012 presidential election by nearly 50 points over President Barack Obama, is the highest-profile and most well-liked of the potential candidates for the seat.
“If Governor Romney throws his name in the hat, I think he’ll keep a lot of people out,” Rob Anderson, Utah Republican Party chairman, said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for one encourages the calls for Romney to run for the seat. He’ll be an “instant celebrity” in the Senate, the governor believes, and “that’s a good thing for Utah.”
“I think he will start not at square one like most freshman senators,” he added, saying Romney has “more cachet than virtually anybody else” and strong “national prominence.”
That’s more or less the nightmare scenario for the White House — or so everyone assumes. Romney has not shied away from criticizing Donald Trump at times, and a new platform in the Senate will have the media constantly looking for more internecine shots between the party’s 2012 nominee and its 2016 winner. Supposedly Trump was so sensitive to Romney’s status as an elder statesman that he asked RNC chair and Mitt niece Ronna Romney McDaniel to drop her maiden name for party business. If Mitt lands in the Senate — and that’s all but assured if he chooses to run in deep-red Utah — the media will only add to Romney’s “cachet” and “national prominence.” Daily, if possible.
However, McDaniel tells Fox’s Maria Bartiromo that her uncle would look forward to working with Trump, just as he did while Trump considered him for the Secretary of State post that went to Rex Tillerson instead:
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 3, 2018
McDaniel told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that she thinks Romney would support the Republican tax cuts and that he has “every interest” in working with Trump.
“I don’t think he’s a never Trumper. Listen, Mitt seriously considered taking the secretary of State position,” McDaniel said.
“He wants to see President Trump do well. He wants to see our country to do well and I think that’s going to be the overriding issue for him if he ends up becoming the next senator from Utah.”
Fact check: Almost certainly true. Romney tends toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological, a point made by Philip Klein last night at the Washington Examiner. Philip didn’t mean it entirely as a compliment, either:
Though abortion is among his most famous reversals, it was just one of many issues on which he radically shifted his positions. Effectively, he remade his entire political orientation from race to race, declaring days before the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial election “I think people recognize that I’m not a partisan Republican — that I’m someone who is moderate and that my views are progressive…” while telling a CPAC audience in 2012 while in a dogfight with Rick Santorum that he was “severely conservative.”
Even when it’s come to Trump, where Romney has developed a reputation as a leading critic, Romney hasn’t been totally consistent. In 2012, he embraced Trump, appearing with him to accept his endorsement, back when Trump was already publicly promoting the birther conspiracy theory. In March 2016, Romney delivered a blistering speech, calling Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.” But he was much more conciliatory in November, when he had dinner with President-elect Trump, who had considered him for secretary of state. He has, however, been more critical of Trump as president than most Republicans.
One thing that can be said about Romney is that in his previous career, a lot of his shifts in positions were a function of seeking office in drastically different electorates — liberal Massachusetts and conservative presidential primaries. Also, previously he had demonstrated aspirations to higher office.
In this case, things are a bit different. Were he to run, he’d be doing so in a conservative state where he’s very popular and he wouldn’t have to shift from where he’s been since his last presidential run. Also, at nearly 70, it’s unlikely he’s realistically gunning for higher office. He ran, lost, and was humbled. If elected, he’d likely be in a safe seat for as long as he wants it. So he doesn’t have to come across as that guy who tries too hard — he has the luxury of being much more comfortable in his own skin.
In the long run, Trump might need pragmatists as he turns to populist issues such as infrastructure and health care reform. Hatch was pretty willing to go along with Trump’s agenda too, but an ideologue might make bipartisan cooperation more difficult. Even if Romney occasionally turns into a gadfly, his “cachet” could draw some help from red-state Senate Democrats in the 2019-2020 session, assuming enough of them survive 2018 to matter — and that Republicans can hold the House. As long as Trump takes the pragmatic route, Romney will be on board where it counts.
There are worse outcomes … like what happened in Alabama, for instance, when the party chose an ideologue over a pragmatist aligned completely with Trump. At least Romney’s oppo research has been entirely exhausted.