On Wednesday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney announced would not run for re-election in 2024. At first glance, the electoral impact of Romney’s decision is minimal: his seat should remain safely in Republican hands. But it remains notable because it represents the departure of one of the few remaining Republican senators who had a moderate voting record and/or was openly opposed to former President Donald Trump.
The Senate, of course, was a second (or, actually, third) run for Romney. After a successful business career during which he co-founded Bain Capital, Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002, part of the Bay State’s long love affair with moderate Republican governors. He ran for president twice and won the Republican nomination in 2012, losing to then-President Barack Obama in the election. general election.
That was the last time the Republican Party chose a presidential candidate other than Trump. Since 2016, Republican voters have turned against Romney’s establishment-aligned brand of Republicanism and embraced Trump’s unabashed populism. In 2018, a year in which large numbers of moderate or anti-Trump Republicans left Congress, Romney bucked the general trend upon being elected to the Senate from Utah (where a large number of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Romney himself, have made the election). The local Republican Party is more skeptical about Trump than most). Since then, it has spoken vocally against the new leadership of the party. In particular, he voted to convict Trump in his two political trials.
Romney also developed a moderate voting record, breaking with his party’s right wing on votes ranging from confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to rescind Trump’s emergency declaration to finance the border wall. Romney’s DW-NOMINATE Score (a measure of ideology based on roll-call votes, where 1 represents most conservative and -1 represents most liberal) is 0.288, making him more moderate than all but three of the current Republican senators.
Both groups of Republicans (Trump opponents and ideological moderates) are now endangered species, and Romney’s departure will thin the herd even further. Of the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump in any of his impeachment trials, only six remain in Congress, including Romney. And the number of Senate Republicans with DW-NOMINATE scores below 0.300 is at its lowest point in at least 40 years.
Romney’s moderate and anti-Trump record may have indirectly contributed to his decision to retire, as it has made him relatively unpopular among Republican voters in Utah. According to a Survey from August 7 to 14 According to Dan Jones & Associates, only 56 percent of registered Republican voters in Utah approved of Romney’s job performance. That may not seem so bad, but among members of his own party, 56 percent is a pretty mediocre approval rating. (By contrast, 81 percent of registered Republican voters nationally have a favorable opinion of Trump, according to the latest poll from Quinnipiac University.)
Like a prominent Trump critic former senator Jeff Flake did it in 2018Romney may have declined to run for re-election because he feared losing in the Republican primary. The same poll asked about a hypothetical primary showdown, and Romney received 45 percent support among Republicans. That’s pretty anemic for an incumbent, who is used to waltzing toward renomination.
On the other hand, no other candidate in the survey got more than 7 percent, and only 27 percent said they would vote for another unnamed candidate. Additionally, the poll found that Romney’s approval rating among Republicans was rising; In May, only 40 percent had approved of his actions. So Romney’s path to the reappointment is probably clearer today than it has been in a long time, making the timing of the announcement curious. So maybe we should take Romney at his word when he cited his age as a factor in his retirement video. (Romney is 76 and would have been 83 at the end of a possible second term.)
So what’s next for Utah? Class I Senate seat? Romney’s retirement is unlikely to lead to a competitive general election next fall: Although Utah has turned to the Democrats In the Trump era, it’s still red enough to vote for him by more than 20 percentage points in 2020, and Democrats haven’t won a statewide election in the Beehive State. since 1996. (It’s true that anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin lost to Republican Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 by just 10.4 points after The Democrats stepped aside and nominated no one. to give McMullin a better chance to win. But on the other hand, anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin still lost to Republican Sen. Mike Lee in 2022 by 10.4 points, even after Democrats stayed away and didn’t nominate anyone to give McMullin a better run. chance to win.
So the race to watch will be the state’s June 25 Republican primary, specifically whether the party’s candidate will be more conservative and/or pro-Trump than Romney. So far, it seems the answer is yes; The field of candidates and potential candidates is missing someone as iconoclastic as Romney. House Speaker Brad Wilson, who has already formed an exploratory committee, presents himself as a “conservative champion”, and in 2020 he presented a legislative resolution paying tribute to Trump after his first impeachment. However, he may be the The most acceptable option for old-school Republicans.; a second candidate, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, has attacked Romney for his support of “woke” and for removing Trump. And Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who was co-chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign in the state and tried to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, it is a rumored candidate too.
But there is still plenty of time for a Romney-style candidate to intervene. Utah still has its fair share of Trump-skeptical Republicans; for example, former state representative Becky Edwards, a Republican who voted for President Biden and narrowly lost. to special primary election for Utah’s 2nd district. One may drop out of the Senate primary if the conservative/pro-Trump vote splits among several candidates. But of course, none of the alternatives have Romney’s name recognition or financial advantage. So there’s no doubt that his retirement is a gut punch to Republicans who don’t like what’s happening to their party.