By Jackson Richman
With the upcoming retirement of Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), both outspoken critics of President Donald Trump, the Trump coalition led by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sees an opportunity to replace them with candidates in lockstep with Trump. Some, like Axios‘s Mike Allen, have essentially said that every Republican sold their soul to Trump.
“Republicans in private cringe at the thought of President Trump,” Allen wrote. “But it’s meaningless if they publicly bow to him, routinely vote for him and never condemn him.”
Despite propping up candidates like Arizona’s Kelli Ward, the Bannonites are likely in for a rude awakening.
Insert Utah senator Mitt Romney.
With reports of Utah senator Orrin Hatch leaning toward not seeking an eighth term in office, Romney, who has been outspokenly critical of Trump as a candidate and president, appears increasingly likely to launch a campaign if Hatch retires.
On Monday, Boyd Matheson, a former chief of staff to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), announced he would not run next year for the Senate, a move that only opens the door wider for Romney if Hatch calls it quits.
During Trump’s campaign, Romney denounced him. “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” he said.
“There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake. Mr. Trump has changed his positions not just over the years, but over the course of the campaign,” Romney added.
In addition, Romney attacked Trump’s personality. “Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” he said.
He added, “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities: The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics.”
As the Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake wrote, the strong possibility of a Romney run for Senate should scare Trump, who is backed by Bannon, now back at Breitbart after being ousted from the White House last August. “Romney would come in to the Senate with almost unimpeachable power to say whatever he wanted about Trump, should he choose to do so,” Blake said. “And in our highly partisan era, it would be a completely unusual and potentially must-see political dynamic.”
Despite giving Trump credit at the start of his presidency, Romney, who was a finalist to be the president’s Secretary of State, has come out against Trump’s actions like his response to the violence in Charlottesville last August. Trump blamed “both sides” for what transpired in the Virginia neighborhood.
“No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry,” Romney posted on Facebook. “Morally different universes.”
In another Facebook post, Romney added to his criticism of Trump’s Charlottesville response. “Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn,” he wrote. “His apologists strain to explain that he didn’t mean what we heard.”
Moreover, the Trump enabler Bannon has feuded with Romney. In 2012, Bannon blasted Romney’s sons for not serving in the military, although the person Bannon once served under evaded conscription during the Vietnam War. “This is a guy who avoided military duty in Vietnam; who has five sons who look like movie stars who have not served their country one day,” Bannon said. “Oh, but by the way all of them did their two years of Mormon missionary work — every one of them.”
During the war, Romney received four deferments, three academic ones and one for his service to the Mormon Church.
Finally, Utah’s voter demographics are not Bannon-esque. “Recent changes to the state’s primary process have deemphasized the convention system that’s long empowered right-wing activists,” The Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins wrote. “And even in that crowd, the dominant ideology tends more toward social conservatism and small-government libertarianism than Bannon-style populism.”
While Bannon may want to rid the GOP establishment of Trump critics, it is likely he will come up short. With Trump critics, like Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), and Ben Sasse (R-NE), in Congress for the foreseeable future, a Senator Romney would only makes Bannon’s nightmare worse.