- Republicans are speculating that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could use a Senate seat to launch himself into a much more powerful position.
- Some, including Utah’s governor, believe he could become the next Republican leader in the Senate.
- But others think he may challenge Donald Trump for the presidency in 2020, or making a third bid for the White House in 2024.
Mitt Romney just announced that he’s running for a Senate seat in Utah.
But what’s less clear to many observers, however, is why the man who was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and is now retired and occupying an elder-statesman role in a party torn into warring factions would want to serve as a junior senator.
Once elected, Romney would find himself embroiled in day-to-day congressional fights and less free to voice his criticisms of the White House, while losing some of the deference he’s been shown by members of his own party.
But listen to any number of Republicans and you’ll find many who believe Romney will use the Senate seat as a springboard to a much more powerful position. But they differ on what, exactly, that position would be.
Romney could make a beeline for Senate leadership
One Republican consultant connected to the White House told Business Insider he thinks Romney’s move after being elected is pretty clear: succeed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the GOP leader after 2020.
“If anything, it’s Romney setting himself up to replace Mitch McConnell,” the consultant said.
Romney would enter the body with much more clout than his Republican colleagues, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota, both possible contenders for the leadership position. And, he added, McConnell, who has the lowest approval rating in the Senate, may decide not to put himself through what would likely be a tough Republican primary.
Romney, he said, could “unite the caucus.”
That consultant is not alone in his thinking. Earlier this week, one of Romney’s biggest supporters, Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, suggested to reporters that, if elected to the Senate, Romney could become the Republican leader and run Congress with his 2012 running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Speaking to Business Insider, Herbert said he’s hopeful that Romney will publicly announce his Senate bid before the end of the month. His path to victory would be pretty clear: Romney enjoys overwhelming popularity in the state, which hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in decades.
A devout Mormon, Romney has deep religious and familial connections to the state and is beloved for rescuing Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal.
“He’ll enter as a freshman senator much different than the typical freshman senator,” Herbert said. “He will have a lot of cache, national exposure, he’s a personality in politics, he’s a leader in the Republican Party, and so he won’t be just your typical freshman senator. I expect that the leadership in the Senate will understand that and appreciate they have an opportunity to bring somebody into the leadership roles in the Senate that can help them get their agenda done.”
Herbert pointed to Romney’s past experience as governor of Massachusetts, a deeply blue state, as proof that he can work with Democrats to produce results, something Herbert said should be attractive to Republican leadership.
“That kind of skill set and talent is what’s needed in the Senate today and I think he’ll fit the bill,” Herbert said. “I think not only will be have an opportunity, but he’ll be encouraged by those in the leadership and those in the Senate to put him in some prominent roles, which could lead him into a leadership role, eventually, in the Senate.”
As Herbert noted, first thing’s first: Romney needs to announce. But he’s dropped breadcrumbs pointing to an upcoming run. On the day Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch announced he would not seek reelection, Romney changed the location on his Twitter account from Massachusetts to Holladay, Utah. And as The New York Times reported earlier this month, Romney recently texted a close friend and said “I’m running.”
Still, there are others who surmise that Romney’s aspirations are grander even than becoming party leader.
Roger Stone, a GOP operative and longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, thinks Romney wants to challenge Trump in a 2020 run for president.
“I have sources in the Utah Republican Party, I have sources relatively high up in the Church of Latter Day Saints, it also makes no sense why someone at Mitt Romney’s age, who has been an executive in every position he’s ever had, would want to be a freshman senator, and therefore I believe and my contacts in Utah are absolutely insistent that he will use the Senate seat as a launchpad for a challenge to Donald Trump,” Stone told Business Insider.
“He certainly has the financial network to do that. He certainly can generate the press coverage to do that. I don’t think he’ll win, but that’s a different question.”
Stone predicted that once Romney is sworn into the Senate, he’ll become the “replacement” for Republican Sen. John McCain, who has consistently spoken out against Trump’s policies and rhetoric, and become “a thorn in Donald Trump’s side.”
“And he’ll use it as a launchpad for another bid for president,” he said, adding that Trump could either “be unbeatable or he could be vulnerable” in 2020.
Others aren’t quite as confident in that theory as Stone is, but many don’t totally discount another Romney presidential bid. At times, Romney has expressed regret for not jumping into the 2016 race, and has often been disappointed with Trump, who he called a “fraud” during the campaign, though he did make a bid to be Trump’s secretary of state.
Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and another longtime confidant of Trump’s, said he doesn’t think Romney will mount a primary challenge against the president, but said he may run if Trump does not. In fact, he actually thinks that Romney “will be generally supportive” of Trump, even though “he will have disagreements.”
“If the president decides not to run again in 2020, I could see Mitt Romney taking a stab at it again,” Ruddy told Business Insider.
Other Republicans agreed there is little chance of Romney challenging Trump. Reed Galen, former deputy campaign manager to McCain during his 2008 presidential bid, told Business Insider that Romney would “almost certainly have to run as an independent,” as the GOP “as it’s currently constituted would not vote for Romney over Trump” in a primary.
Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide, said the establishment as a whole would have no chance of overtaking Trump if the economy continues to grow during his first term.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist, told Business Insider he sees Romney’s Senate bid as “less Machiavellian and more just patriotism,” but said that “all bets are off” if Trump does not seek reelection.
Meanwhile, Herbert isn’t ruling out the possibility that Romney will once again make a run for the White House.
Though he said the former governor will “focus” on his Senate bid and on advancing a number of Republican policy objectives, Herbert said “like any other politician, if the doors open up, if opportunities present themselves, he’ll certainly take a look at anything.”
“But after Trump there will be an opening for sure, and who knows, he might want to say after being a senator maybe he’d want to run for the presidency,” he said. “I have no idea that he would, he’d be a little older at that time, but I just think anybody talking about anything other than him being a senator is pure speculation and imaginative thinking and we ought to just focus on the task we have at hand.”
Herbert, who has been critical of Trump and refused to vote for him in the general election, said he doesn’t know of anybody who will challenge the incumbent president in 2020.
“But let’s just say that in politics, just like in going to the grocery store and picking up a loaf of bread, it’s all about choice,” he said. “What particular brand do you like and what are the options on the shelf. And so it depends on what the options are.”
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