The Departure of a Moderate Voice:
Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, co-founder of Bain Capital, and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, entered the Senate in 2018 as one of the few remaining moderate Republicans. Throughout his Senate tenure, he stood out for his willingness to voice opposition to former President Donald Trump. Romney’s moderate stance and occasional defiance of the party line earned him a unique place in today’s Republican landscape.
The Transformation of the Republican Party:
Since 2016, when Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, the party has undergone a significant transformation. Trump’s unapologetic populism and conservative approach have reshaped the GOP’s identity. The departure of many moderate and anti-Trump Republicans from Congress in 2018 further emphasized this shift. However, Romney’s election as a senator from Utah, a state with a significant population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, allowed him to maintain his moderate stance despite the national trend.
Romney’s Senate Voting Record:
Mitt Romney’s voting record in the Senate reflects his moderate position within the Republican Party. He frequently broke ranks with the party’s right-wing on important votes, including supporting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation and opposing Trump’s emergency declaration for border wall funding. Romney’s DW-NOMINATE Score, a measure of ideology based on roll-call votes, places him as one of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate, a stark contrast to the party’s overall shift towards conservatism.
The Shrinking Ranks of Moderates:
The departure of Mitt Romney from the Senate further diminishes the already dwindling number of moderates and Trump opponents within the Republican Party. Of the 17 Republican senators who voted to impeach or convict Trump in any of his impeachment trials, only six remain in Congress, including Romney. Additionally, the number of Senate Republicans with DW-NOMINATE scores below 0.300 is at its lowest point in over four decades.
Romney’s Unpopularity Among Utah Republicans:
Romney’s moderate and anti-Trump stance, while commendable for some, made him relatively unpopular among Utah’s Republican voters. Recent surveys have shown that only 56 percent of registered Republican voters in Utah approved of Romney’s job performance. This lukewarm approval rating, especially within his own party, likely played a role in his decision not to seek re-election.
The Primary Challenge:
Like former Senator Jeff Flake, another prominent Trump critic who chose not to seek re-election in 2018, Romney may have been concerned about facing a tough primary challenge. A hypothetical primary showdown poll indicated that Romney had 45 percent support among Republicans. Although not a strong show of support for an incumbent, it seemed clear that he had a path to re-nomination, especially with his approval rating among Republicans rising from 40 percent in May.
Utah’s Political Future:
Romney’s retirement is unlikely to lead to a competitive general election in Utah, a state that remains deeply Republican. Democrats have not won a statewide election in Utah since 1996, making it a reliably red state. The focus will be on the Republican primary, scheduled for June 2024, and whether the party’s nominee will be more conservative and pro-Trump than Romney.
As of now, it appears that potential Republican candidates in Utah are positioning themselves as more conservative and aligned with Trump’s policies. House Speaker Brad Wilson, who formed an exploratory committee, has presented himself as a “conservative champion” with a history of paying tribute to Trump. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs has criticized Romney for his stance on various issues. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who co-chaired Trump’s re-election campaign and contested the 2020 election results, is also rumored to be a candidate.
The Challenge for Moderate Alternatives:
Despite the shift towards more conservative candidates, there is still room for a moderate alternative in the Senate race. Utah has a history of Trump-skeptical Republicans, such as former state representative Becky Edwards, who voted for President Biden. However, the challenge for these alternatives lies in name recognition and financial resources, where Romney has a significant advantage.
Mitt Romney’s decision not to seek re-election underscores the changing dynamics within the Republican Party. The departure of a moderate voice further highlights the GOP’s shift towards conservatism and Trumpism. Utah’s Republican primary in 2024 will be a key battleground, with candidates positioning themselves to align with the party’s evolving identity. Romney’s retirement serves as a reminder of the ongoing transformation of the Republican Party and its impact on American politics.
The Impact on National Politics:
Mitt Romney’s retirement from the Senate carries implications beyond Utah’s borders. His willingness to challenge Trump’s leadership and his moderate voting record made him a symbol of resistance within the Republican Party. As the GOP continues to redefine itself in the post-Trump era, the absence of voices like Romney’s could further solidify the party’s shift to the right.
Regardless of one’s political stance, Mitt Romney’s legacy is one of principled decision-making. He consistently voted according to his beliefs, even when it meant opposing the majority of his party. This approach earned him respect from some quarters and criticism from others. As he exits the political stage, his legacy as a maverick within the GOP will be debated and analyzed for years to come.
The Changing Face of the GOP:
The Republican Party is at a crossroads. With the departure of moderates like Mitt Romney, the party must grapple with its identity and its future direction. Will it continue to embrace Trumpism and conservatism, or will it make room for a more diverse range of voices? The outcome of Utah’s 2024 Republican primary may offer some insights into the direction the party chooses to take.
Mitt Romney’s decision not to seek re-election in 2024 signifies a changing tide within the Republican Party. His retirement reflects the GOP’s ongoing shift towards conservatism and Trumpism, leaving fewer voices of moderation within the party. As Utah prepares for a closely watched Republican primary, the nation watches to see how the GOP’s evolving identity will shape its future. Mitt Romney’s legacy as a principled maverick will undoubtedly play a role in the ongoing debate about the direction of the Republican Party in the post-Trump era.