“I will make that decision down the road,” Romney, who is running for US Senate, said in an interview with CNN as he waited for his turn to speak at the Utah GOP convention where he was vying for his party’s nomination. “As a person of political experience, if I endorse someone, I’ll want to know what’s in it for Utah and what help would he provide for us on key priorities in Utah.”
“So I’m not a cheap date,” he said.
He’s not going to waste his endorsement on a no-shot like Jeff Flake even if he’s marginally better on “key priorities for Utah” than Trump is. And he’s not going to challenge Trump in the primary himself. I see that idea floated now and then and always come away wondering just how much of a glutton for punishment people think Romney is. He lost the primary badly in 2008, lost the general election badly in 2012, and would undoubtedly lose a primary against Trump badly in 2020. If he’s sincere about putting Utah’s priorities first, a futile primary challenge against Trump would be about the worst thing he could do. If Trump went on to win the presidency again, he’d hold a grudge against Romney and Utah would get short shrift from the White House. If he lost the presidency to the Democratic nominee, Romney would be blamed for weakening him with a primary run.
I think he and other Senate Republicans are playing coy about 2020 for only one reason, namely, they don’t know if Trump will turn around tomorrow and do something nutty that would make an early endorsement of him look bad. If the convention were held today, they’d all bite their lips and back him for reelection. But just in case he’s planning to fire Mueller or slap a 40 percent global tariff on foreign goods or arrest Maggie Haberman for treason or whatever (or all three), being officially noncommittal on his reelection is a better position to be in than all in favor. And it’s probably good for Romney’s brand too, since the GOP’s anti-Trumpers are looking to him, fairly or not, to be a counterweight of old-school Republicanism against Trumpism in the Senate.
Even so, I’m surprised to see Mitt hesitate as much as he did given that Trump already endorsed him for Senate. You would think Romney would want to wait until after the primary, when Republican voters in Utah are stuck with him, to risk picking any fights with POTUS that might result in some presidential tweets about him and his candidacy. Romney is probably unbeatable but a renewed Trump feud could only hurt him, even in Utah.
Another fun Romney quote from this past weekend’s Utah GOP convention, by the way: “This is not the beginning of my career. My career was in business. I’m not in this race because I have some political career I’m trying to foster. My political career is over. I’m going to Washington because I can make a difference.” Philip Klein wonders exactly how many races Romney will need to run before he drops the pretense that politics is just something he does on the side amid his business career. He ran for office for the first time nearly 25 years ago; this year’s Senate campaign is his fourth race in the past 16 years. (His father ran three races himself, helping to make the Romney name well known nationwide in politics.) Not only has he become, for all intents and purposes, a career politician but it’s his status as a career politician that’s among the attractive things about him to Utah voters. He’s a name brand, a man who’ll exert influence in the Senate and over the wider party from the moment he’s elected. Own it, Mitt!
Exit question: Realistically, which Republican senators really might not endorse Trump in 2020? Mike Lee, maybe? Anyone else? I’m not counting Flake and Corker since they’ll be long gone by then.