Barring an almost unthinkable Democratic upset, Mitt Romney looks bound for the US Senate.
The former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate easily beat his Republican challenger, state lawmaker Mike Kennedy, in Utah’s primary elections Tuesday night, winning the GOP nomination for the November midterm elections.
Sitting Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch all but appointed Romney to be his successor last year, saying he’d only retire if Romney said he’d run. In a deep-red state, Romney is expected to easily win the general election against Democrat Jenny Wilson, a former US congressional aide who is on the Salt Lake County Council.
Romney, a Mormon political leader, has ties to Utah; he’s known for salvaging the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. He’s considered political “royalty” by many in the state, Utah’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told Vox.
Still, Romney didn’t have a straight shot to the Senate. Utah has a weird system in which candidates are first voted on in a state party convention; Kennedy, who tried to paint Romney as a Massachusetts “carpetbagger,” actually beat Romney in two rounds of voting among delegates at the Utah Republican Party’s state convention. But that line of attack wasn’t enough in the primary.
Utah is unique ideologically. It has both an anti-establishment streak that elected Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and strong establishment ties, which Hatch and Romney largely represent. The heavily Mormon voter base has no patience for Trump’s Twitter antics or “locker room talk” — there was even a slight decline in Mormons affiliating with the Republican Party during Trump’s candidacy. Trump received less than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. But it’s still a solidly conservative state.
Romney, however, once a fierce Trump critic, has notably softened his approach to Trump, which some observers say foreshadows how he will try and deal with Trump in office.
“Mitt Romney understands something about President Trump: Trump is 100 percent transactional and not relational. ... As a business person, he understands the nature of being transactional,” Boyd Matheson, who was formerly Lee’s chief of staff, told Vox ahead of Romney’s campaign announcement.
“People shouldn’t expect a “Romney/Trump cage match,” he added.
Matheson was right. After calling Trump a “con man” and a “phony” on national television during the 2016 presidential election, Romney now says Trump’s policies have “exceeded” expectations, adding he will only call out Trump if it is a matter of “substantial significance.”
Romney is adopting the same mindset many traditional congressional Republicans and conservatives have settled in under Trump. As long as Trump promotes conservative policies like tax cuts and an aggressive deregulatory agenda, and nominates conservative judges, all the other stuff — the explicit racism, demagoguery, and destruction of democratic norms — can fall to the wayside.