President Trump visited Utah last week to announce that his administration was reducing the size of two major national parks, Bear Ears National Monument and Escalante National Monument, by more than 80% and 45% respectively.
As expected with every action by President Trump, his traditional critics took this chance to denounce his action, with a Guardian op-ed even calling it an “assault on our humanity,” while his supporters praised his work.
However the real elephant in the room during President Trump’s speech was that he was visiting Utah in-person, and focusing on Utah policy, at a critical period of time when it looks like Mitt Romney might be imminently running for the United States Senate.
President Trump has been encouraging Senator Orrin Hatch, Utah’s sitting Senator for over 30 years, to run again as Steve Bannon engages in the most shocking of personal character attacks against Mitt Romney, to the unified condemnation of Utah Republicans.
Amid all this political chess and behind-the-scenes drama, one can’t help but wonder what are Mitt Romney’s real chances of winning in Utah? And, perhaps more interestingly, what would ‘Senator Mitt Romney’ look like if he were elected next year?
In terms of political calculus, it is almost certain that Romney’s main competition would be in the primary, seemingly at the moment against Senator Orrin Hatch. A recent Utah Policy poll shows Mitt Romney would sweep the general election 72% to 21%, compared to Senator Orrin Hatch’s 50% to 35%.
Senator Orrin Hatch’s primary flank also does show significant weakness. While Senator Hatch has been a long-time and very respected conservative statesman, nonetheless only 9% of Utah voters definitely want him to run again compared to 56% said he should definitely not.
While polling of Romney against Hatch has been sporadic, due in part to manners as Senator Hatch has indicated he may step aside if Romney decides to run, nonetheless it has shown that Romney would likely fare well among Utah Republicans against Senator Hatch.
So, it looks like if Mitt Romney chose to run, he likely would win. How would he be as Senator?
Romney, as of the past two-years, has primarily been in the public eye for his statements and judgments on Donald Trump as a candidate and as President. Romney has always, in my opinion, made his public statements firmly based off his values and conservative philosophy.
Ranging from offering himself as President Trump’s potential Secretary of State and praising President Trump’s speech at the United Nations, to harshly condemning President Trump’s response to Charlottesville and denouncing Roy Moore as the President endorses him, Romney has been both a strong supporter and vicious critic of President Trump.
This is all in sharp contrast to Romney’s actions during the Presidential primary and general election. During that time, Romney was almost uniformly a fierce and unyielding denouncer of then-candidate Trump, calling him everything from a “fraud” to indicating he would severely cripple our democracy and commitment to freedom, equality, and justice.
As Senator, we can likely expect the Romney of the present to continue on – a critic of President Trump when he strays from traditional conservative values, and a strong supporter when he sticks to them. Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney would be no sycophant but rather a strong and vocal check on the President, perhaps even too much for the President’s liking.
Maybe far more meaningful than as a vote in the Senate, Romney would also become even more of a highly visible national figure and thought leader for conservatives seeking an alternative to Donald Trump as an “opposition within the majority.”
Not only might this inspire more Congressional pushback against President Trump, but also may have national ripple effects as well.
As Republicans and conservatives decide what kind of brand and platform to embrace over the upcoming few years, ranging from populist nationalism to traditional conservatism to a hybrid conservative populism, Romney would be a rekindling of traditional conservative values that seemingly have declined since the Bush years.
The big black swan in this election remains Romney’s own decision-making process. As with all those who had hoped he would enter the 2016 presidential primary as a cohesive unifying alternative to then-candidate Donald Trump, Mitt Romney’s own thoughts remains the biggest uncertainty.
Politically, Romney’s window of opportunity is rapidly closing as the 2018 election cycle timeline moves forward, and so he would need to make a move soon.
Nonetheless, if Romney does run and therefore likely win, what has already been an incredibly chaotic situation in Washington DC as well as the overall Republican Party might, unbelievably, become even more tumultuous.