What Mitt Romney not seeking re-election means and who might run in his place

Departure of 76-year-old may make room for further Trumpism in the Republican Party

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 13 September 2023 20:52 BST
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney won’t seek 2nd term

Mitt Romney has announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2024 and that he’ll leave the Senate after a single term.

The Utah Republican’s departure will likely further diminish the ranks of the already-shrinking anti-Trump coalition within the GOP when the seat opens up in the safe red state.

Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was the only member of the GOP to vote to convict Mr Trump in both of his impeachment trials.

In an exit interview with The Washington Post, Mr Romney, 76, called for a new generation to “step up” and “shape the world they’re going to live in,” in a not-so-veiled dig at President Joe Biden, 80, and former President Donald Trump, 77.

Mr Romney told the paper that he’s leaving the Senate because he believes a second term would not be as productive and as satisfying as his first. He put the blame on House Republicans as well as the leadership of Mr Biden and Mr Trump. In a video announcing his decision, he noted that a second term would end in his mid-eighties.

‘The anti-Trump caucus will likely lose a member’

His departure likely means further entrenchment of Trumpism in the Republican Party. Mr Romney told The Post that would have liked to help someone other than Mr Trump become the Republican nominee in 2024, but “that apparently isn’t going to happen”.

“I doubt my support will mean anything positive to any of the candidates at the finish line. I’m not looking to get involved in that,” he said.

“It’s pretty clear that the party is inclined to a populist demagogue message,” he added.

Election analyst Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Mr Romney’s seat is “safely Republican, but the anti-Trump caucus will likely lose a member”.

Mr Romney noted that the party is very different now from when he won the 2012 nomination and that his wing of the GOP is “very, very small” compared to the one headed by Mr Trump.

But he added that “if it can change in the direction of a populist, it can change back in the direction of my wing of the Republican Party”.

“I think we have the leverage of being right, and in the final analysis, right will prevail,” he told the paper.

The decline of traditional Republican foreign policy

Mr Romney’s departure may also lead to the further decline of traditional Republican foreign policy, including the exit of a strong voice in support of Ukraine in the party.

“I listen to some of the people in the Trump wing … talk about how we should be ready to, you know, to just push against China in the Taiwan Strait, and I ask, ‘Are you really willing to go to war with China’” even while blocking further aid to Ukraine.

“Our posture relative to China has been significantly strengthened by Russia’s weakness in Ukraine and the support we’ve given Ukraine and also by strengthening of NATO,” he told The Post.

He said to push China off its current path, the US must be united with other countries. Mr Romney is one of few Republicans who hasn’t specifically criticised the Biden administration’s recent engagement with China.

“I have a lot of confidence in [Secretary of State] Tony Blinken. I believe he understands that and is endeavouring to do that,” Mr Romney said.

Possible strengthening of election denialism within GOP

The Utah Senator leaving the Senate may also make room for further election denialism within the GOP.

“I think it’s of paramount importance to maintain our commitment to the Constitution and the liberal constitutional order,” he told The Post. “And I know that there are some in MAGA world who would like Republican rule, or authoritarian rule by Donald Trump. But I think they may be forgetting that the majority of people in America would not be voting for Donald J Trump. The majority would probably be voting for the Democrats.”

“A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” Mr Romney told McKay Coppins of The Atlantic.

Mr Romney shared his blunt opinion of Republican Ohio Senator JD Vance, who went from Trump critic to strong ally as he run for the seat in 2022.

“I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than JD Vance,” he told Coppins.

He also slammed Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Texas Senator Ted Cruz for spreading doubts about democracy to benefit themselves politically.

“They know better!” Mr Romney told Coppins about their election denialism. “Josh Hawley is one of the smartest people in the Senate, if not the smartest, and Ted Cruz could give him a run for his money.”

They “were making a calculation that put politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution”.

“I doubt I will work with Josh Hawley on anything,” he added.

The possible replacements

Utah Republican Representative Blake Moore was asked if he was set to run for a Mr Romney’s seat. He said he liked Mr Romney’s message about a new generation taking over but added: “I’m in a good spot right now.”

“It’s all still early. So we’ll see … I’m not ruling anything out, and I’m not planning anything,” he said, according to Axios.

Joe Szymanski of Elections Daily tweeted that Mr Romney’s departure “opens up big time Senate race in Utah, which [Republican] will get the nod. The big question will likely surround popular Governor Spencer Cox and whether he wants the job. Once that’s decided, then we see where this goes”.

He added that other possible candidates include Utah House Speaker Brian Wilson who has formed a speculative committee, the state’s Attorney General Sean Reyes, former Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, former Utah State Representative Becky Edwards, and Utah Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson.

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