So much for the GOP civil war, eh? Oh, it’s still on, but it appears that Mitt Romney will not lead the opposition to Donald Trump, as some imagined when the former Republican nominee began expressing interest in succeeding Orrin Hatch in the Senate. At least, that’s not how Trump sees it. Last night, Trump took the extraordinary step of endorsing Romney ahead of the primary, signaling to his Utah supporters not to challenge Romney for the nomination:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018
Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney offered a signal of his own thirty-five minutes later:
Thank you Mr. President for the support. I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 20, 2018
Oddly enough, it’s Romney who’s getting ratioed in this exchange. Both tweets got plenty of negative responses, but Trump’s tweet has over 38,000 likes to 16,000 replies. Romney’s gracious but formal reply has 6400 likes but over 13,000 replies. The embrace of Trump — distant as it might be in this instance, especially in contrast to the effusive endorsement — does not appear to have pleased many people.
Should anyone be surprised at either development? The Salt Lake Tribune reported at the beginning of the year that Trump personally recruited Romney for the job of replacing Orrin Hatch:
President Donald Trump called Mitt Romney on Thursday night to encourage him to run for the soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Utah, a source close to the White House confirmed Friday, as all eyes are on the former presidential candidate who has been a sharp critic of Trump.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private call, said the two had a short conversation but that the president wanted Romney to run after Sen. Orrin Hatch announced he would retire early next year.
Romney had called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” during the 2016 Republican presidential primary and has used social media to castigate some of Trump’s actions. But the two had a cordial call Thursday, the source said.
The two men have buried the hatchet, it seems, although Romney’s opening declaration last week contained hints of reproach over the rhetoric in Washington, on immigration especially. That seemed aimed at Trump, enough of a signal that it appeared to those opposed to Trump that Romney might act as a rally leader for a Republican counterpoint to the president. At least in last night’s exchange, it doesn’t appear that either man has that kind of internecine fight in mind.
The presidential endorsement ahead of the primary makes it clear that Trump wants Romney in the Senate. Before last night, other Utah Republicans were still considering a primary fight for the seat, with conservatives worried that Romney would be too moderate. This takes the wind out of those sails, right? Granted, Utah conservatives tend to be less populist and more traditional and the state was never on fire for Trump, but a presidential endorsement for Romney makes a challenge almost impossible to succeed.
Between Romney’s graciousness and Trump’s enthusiasm, there won’t be much room to stage an upset. In fact, it seems that there isn’t much room at all between them for anything, let alone a GOP civil war.