The decision by Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to forgo his 2024 re-election bid is a classic political Rorschach test. As the standard-bearer for conservatism during his 2012 White House bid against President Barack Obama, the otherwise affable and soft-edged former governor understandably became a lightning rod for Democrats fighting for progressive convictions on issues like health care, the economy and personal freedoms.
Today, the nation finds itself confronting the collapse of the Republican Party as an ideological coalition.
But today, the nation finds itself confronting the collapse of the Republican Party as an ideological coalition. The shared mission of even establishment conservatives is trending increasingly toward undermining our institutions and holding power by attacking basic suffrage and fundamental equal protections. No matter how you felt about his individual policies, Romney stood with dignity in opposition to this evolution. For those who have left the party in recent years or those who still hope for a return to a more traditional GOP, his move is a disappointment and a clear loss.
Romney’s respect is well-earned. At the height of Donald Trump’s momentum during the 2016 GOP primaries, Romney, coming off his leadership role as the party’s 2012 nominee, gave an unprecedented address about and scathing critique of the brash front-runner. The New York Times noted that Romney’s criticism at the time “was so savage that historians strained to find any precedent in America politics” of a previous nominee’s attacking a prospective one. Romney called Trump a fraud and argued that the candidate’s promises were worthless. Trump, Romney warned, viewed Americans as suckers.
Romney has continued to hold course, at least where Trump’s gravest mistakes are concerned. He flatly declared that Trump “incited the insurrection” and later voted to convict the 45th president at impeachment. For the former president’s allies and emerging leaders of the GOP, Romney has offered no safe harbor, having refused even to endorse his own Utah colleague, Sen. Mike Lee, in his hotly contested re-election effort.
Make no mistake: Romney’s view of the world is a conservative one, as is his ideology. But in the contest of ideas that once defined the relationship between our two major political parties, Romney has been respected both as an advocate and as an adversary. He has offered kindness amid vitriol, vision amid chaos and statesmanship amid pettiness.
And even in making his announcement, he showed the courage of his convictions, stepping into the difficult national conversation around aging politicians and volunteering that his own age in his next term may cause him to inadequately give voice to the priorities of younger generations. Whatever the merits of such personal belief, true to form, Romney didn’t equivocate.
But however noble his approach, Romney’s brand of Republicanism has now failed. And his decision to step down should serve as the latest wake-up call for those who still believe the GOP may one day return to traditional conservatism. It won’t. That Republican Party is gone forever. Mitt Romney knows that, and his announcement is simply one more nail in the coffin of a party that long ago passed away.
As we lose the voices of Romney and his like-minded peers, the partisan choice for voters becomes of greater and greater consequence.
Romney’s politics and policies will be fairly met with mixed reviews. But his departure should serve as a critical reminder that as a nation our democracy stands on the precipice of survival. As we lose the voices of Romney and his like-minded peers, the partisan choice for voters becomes of greater and greater consequence to our republic. Fading away are the ideological contests, and in their sunset emerges a contest over fundamental democratic and constitutional norms.
Some voters may choose to continue to wage this battle for democracy from within the Republican Party, though this strategy has thus far proven ineffective. Others will continue to empower or ally with today’s Democratic Party as the vessel most able to preserve democracy. Today, we take a moment to pause and reflect on Romney’s congressional retirement and offer our respects for his defense of democracy. But tomorrow we must each commit to continue our own.