Romney’s Trump feud looms over Utah Senate race

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Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Pawlenty departing Wall Street group as campaign rumors swirl Trump ambassador nominee spread conspiracy theories about Cruz, Kasich MORE will soon make his long-awaited announcement about running for Utah’s Senate seat, marking a comeback for Romney’s political career after his failed 2012 presidential bid.

Romney had originally planned to make the announcement on Thursday, but delayed the event after the Parkland, Fla. shooting. 

Romney, who is reportedly running for the seat left open by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Tech: Uber exec says ‘no justification’ for covering up hack | Apple considers battery rebates | Regulators talk bitcoin | SpaceX launches world’s most powerful rocket Overnight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says ‘no justification’ for covering up breach Hatch introduces bipartisan bill to clarify cross-border data policies MORE’s (R) retirement, will likely easily win both the GOP primary and the general election in the deep-red state. But the campaign will also thrust Romney back into the spotlight in a party that’s changed drastically under President TrumpDonald John TrumpTillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms Dems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Speier on Trump’s desire for military parade: ‘We have a Napoleon in the making’ MORE.

Former Romney campaign hands have made it clear that those expecting a “Never Trump” candidate and senator will be disappointed. But they expect that Romney, a fierce Trump critic during the 2016 campaign, won’t be reluctant to speak out when he disagrees with the president.

“He’s not running as a protest candidate against the president. He’s running to get things done,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist who worked on Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.

“The governor understands that the president is the leader of the political party, the Republican Party,” Williams said. “The president shapes the party. When the governor was the nominee in 2012, he was the de facto leader of the party, but now President Trump is. But that doesn’t mean that will affect his views.”

Trump briefly considered Romney to be secretary of State during a post-election detente between the two men, but Romney has criticized Trump since that brief thaw.

Romney slammed Trump for sticking by Alabama Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreDNC vice chairman to RNC spokeswoman: ‘You endorsed an alleged pedophile’ Doug Jones hoping Trump delivers ‘presidential address’ instead of campaign speech Rep. Joe Kennedy looks to raise profile with Trump response MORE after allegations against him of sexual misconduct with minors were reported, and Romney raised concerns about recent reports that Trump referred to certain places as “shithole countries.” And the former GOP presidential nominee condemned Trump’s equivocating response to fatal violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The tension between the two Republicans dates back to the 2016 presidential election, when Romney blasted Trump as a “fraud” and “phony” who had hijacked the GOP. Romney went on to support an attempt to block Trump’s nomination at the GOP convention.  

The feud hasn’t been one-sided. Trump has repeatedly mocked Romney for losing the 2012 election, telling supporters during an April 2016 rally in New York that Romney “choked like a dog” in the race against former President Obama.

When Hatch began musing about a potential retirement, clearing the path for a Romney bid, Trump tried to keep Hatch in the seat. But ultimately, the 83-year-old Hatch announced he’d step aside.

While Romney and Trump aren’t expected to be close allies if the former governor joins the Senate, former Romney aides believe the two politicians will find issues to agree on.

Kevin Madden, a former senior adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign, said the two politicians have been “cordial” when they’ve found common ground. He added that Romney would have supported the GOP tax-reform bill if he had been in the upper chamber, and that he’d be well positioned to make an immediate impact because of his high profile and connections within the party.

“The one thing that makes Romney somewhat different from other senators is he was the standard-bearer for the party in the [2012] presidential election,” Madden said. “He has a national profile — as a result his voice will carry a lot of weight, but he’d still be [one] voice of 100.”

Despite a cleared primary field, Romney’s Senate bid hasn’t been met with unanimous Republican support in Utah.

Rob Anderson, the Utah Republican Party chairman, called Romney a carpetbagger in an interview on Wednesday, one day before his expected announcement. 

“I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah, because, let’s face it: Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I have two questions for Mitt. First of all, why? And how do you expect to represent Utah when you don’t live here?”

Romney could be more identified with Massachusetts, where he served as governor, or Michigan, where he was born and where his father served as governor. After Hatch announced his retirement, Romney changed the location on his Twitter profile from Massachusetts to Utah.

Still, Romney lived in Utah before his bid for governor, played a key role in running the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and bought a home in the state after his 2012 presidential defeat.

He is expected to cruise through the GOP primary, where Republican voters are less aligned with Trump than their counterparts in other states.

Just 14 percent of Utah Republican caucusgoers picked Trump in 2016, even though Trump was the clear frontrunner by that point. Trump won Utah in the presidential race with just 45 percent of the vote after independent candidate Evan McMullin, who framed himself as the conservative alternative to Trump, won 21 percent.

A September poll by UtahPolicy.com found Romney ahead of Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, the likely Democratic nominee, by 38 points.

But Wilson has vowed to keep pressing, criticizing Romney in a statement on Wednesday ahead of his announcement.

“Utah needs an independent voice for our communities that are struggling, not a hand-picked candidate of the Washington establishment,” Wilson said in a statement. 

“I don’t need binders full of policy papers about the state of Utah, because I live in Utah, I raise my family in Utah, and I serve the community in Utah,” Wilson added, referencing Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe from a 2012 presidential debate.

Even though Romney’s Senate bid will be his first return to electoral politics since his presidential defeat, his return to office has raised the prospect that he could challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020.

Williams brushed aside any speculation about the 70-year-old Romney eyeing the White House.

“I do not, under any circumstances, expect that Gov. Romney would run for president again,” his former aide said.

“He’s impervious to political pressure at this point. He’s run for president twice, tens of millions of people have voted for him … there’s a great liberation that comes from not needing a political job. He’s doing this because he cares about the country.”





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