Mitt Romney announces he won’t seek Senate re-election in Utah

When Mitt Romney launched a Republican U.S. Senate campaign in Utah in 2018, the question wasn’t whether the former governor would win, it was how big a landslide his victory would be. As the dust settled, the results were predictably lopsided: Romney won by nearly 32 points.

Between Utah’s partisan leanings and Romney’s wealth and stature, it was easy to imagine that the newly elected GOP senator would hold that seat for as long as he wanted it. As of this afternoon, however, he no longer wants it. NBC News reported:

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump, will not run for re-election next year, he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Utahan is the fifth incumbent senator to announce his retirement ahead of the 2024 cycle, following similar news from four Democrats: Maryland’s Ben Cardin, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, California’s Dianne Feinstein, and Delaware’s Tom Carper.

There is no realistic doubt that Romney will be succeeded by another Republican, and neither party is likely to give the open-seat contest much attention over the next year.

As regular readers know, I’ve followed Romney’s career with considerable interest — raise your hand if you remember the Mitt’s Mendacity franchise from 11 years ago — and I occasionally find it extraordinary to appreciate how he’s now positioned in Republican politics.

In 2012, for example, the then-presidential candidate boasted about his status as a “severely conservative“ Republican, as part of a candidacy rooted in a “self-deportation” proposal and jokes about his birth certificate.

A decade later, his name effectively became an epithet in GOP circles. This Associated Press report from June 2022 comes to mind:

Mitt Romney isn’t up for reelection this year. But Trump-aligned Republicans hostile toward the Utah senator have made his name a recurring theme in this year’s primaries, using him as a foil and derisively branding their rivals “Mitt Romney Republicans.” Republicans have used the concept to frame their primary opponents as enemies of the Trump-era GOP in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The anti-tax group Club For Growth, among the most active super PACs in this year’s primaries, used “Mitt Romney Republican” as the central premise of an attack ad in North Carolina’s Senate primary.

The same AP report added that, even in his adopted home state of Utah, GOP candidates were deploying “Mitt Romney Republican” as a campaign trail attack in primary races.

Romney had made the transition from hero to zero in an amazingly short period of time. Had he run for re-election, the incumbent was very likely to face at least one primary rival, and his odds of success were far from great. Today’s retirement announcement allows him to exit the stage on his own terms, saves him the embarrassment of becoming the latest incumbent GOP senator to lose in a primary election for being insufficiently right-wing.

The perception that Romney — the only Republican who voted to convict Donald Trump in both of his impeachment trials — moderated as he aged has never rung true. It’s more accurate to say that Romney stayed more or less the same as GOP politics radicalized in ways that left the senator behind.

Looking ahead, there are a vanishingly small number of Senate Republicans that Democratic members will turn to as responsible partners willing to at least consider compromise deals. Romney was part of this tiny contingent. As he exits the stage, it seems all but inevitable that the chamber’s GOP conference is poised to get even worse.

Leave a Reply