On Sunday afternoon, Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson posted a video of a man saying, “I’m out here to end violence, and brutality, and to make sure people understand that Black lives matter.” The man wasn’t a liberal lawmaker or an activist but 2012 Republican presidential nominee and current Utah Senator Mitt Romney.
Romney was marching — with an N95 mask on — with thousands of other Christians on the way toward the White House, where the man Sen. Romney voted to convict in February resides until January 20, 2021, at noon unless he is re-elected.
Less than forty-eight hours before Sen. Romney marched he posted a photo on his social media of his father George Romney, Republican governor of Michigan in the 1960s. In the photo, George is seen marching with NAACP Detroit president Edward Turner and other civil rights leaders, in the Detroit suburbs. Somewhat like Romney today and Trumpism, his father rebuked the direction the national party was headed in the 1960s. He supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater opposed it, he refused to support Goldwater for president.
Since the New Deal era when Democrats dominated the whole country, Utah only voted to send one Democrat to the White House: Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Mitt Romney won the state 74%-22% in 2012. But the interesting thing about Utah is though it is a very conservative state, Donald Trump has never been well-liked there. Though he won the state, he only received 45% of the vote. Secretary Clinton did not perform much better than recent Democrats — but Trump was held back by Independent Evan McMullin, a Mormon who is from Utah, who earned 21% of the vote.
President Trump’s unpopularity has continued to present day. A poll taken in mid-May showed the president’s net approval at -4 and found only 48% approved of his job. Mormons, a large population in Utah, are much less enthralled with Trump than Evangelicals or Catholics are nationwide. Just 58% who said they are “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approve of the president, which is far less than the 75%-80% of white Evangelicals who typically approve of Trump in national polls.
Romney’s independence and criticism of Trump seems to be working for him. The same May poll found Sen. Romney had a net approval of +13 with 56% of likely voters approving of his job performance.
In spring 2018, he cast himself as a candidate who will support Trump’s agenda if it is good for Utah and said the administration’s policies in its first year were “better than expected.” But he also said he would denounce things the president says which are racist or divisive. Days before being sworn in as Utah’s junior Senator in January 2019, Romney wrote an extraordinary op-ed criticizing President Trump’s character and vowing to speak out “against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
He has done that as a candidate and as a Senator, and not in a lukewarm way, but often with force and sincerity. Usually other GOP Senators who have criticized Trump have done so tepidly. From them it typically sounds as though they’re walking a fine line between condemning him and not angering his base of voters.
The summer before Romney declared his Senate candidacy, white supremacists gathered in Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us” and a young woman, part of many counter-protestors, was murdered during the white nationalist rally. After President Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, Mr. Romney said his words “caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn.” He said if the president did not make up for his error with “unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.”
During President Trump’s impeachment trial, Senator Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict on either charge (he voted to convict him of abuse of power though he voted to acquit him on the obstruction of Congress charge). He told McKay Coppins of The Atlantic that throughout the trial he prayed and was guided by his father’s favorite verse from Mormon scripture.
“Corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution — and one’s oath — that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do,” Sen. Romney said of Mr. Trump. Romney became the first senator in American history to vote to remove a president of his own party in a Senate impeachment trial.
While the Trump Administration bragged about coronavirus testing numbers and many Republicans praised his efforts, Romney pushed back in a May hearing, saying, “I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever. We treaded water during February and March. And, as a result, by March 6 the U.S. had completed just 2,000 tests, whereas South Korea had conducted more than 140,000 tests.” In mid-April, 57% of Utah voters approved of President Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis and 40% disapproved. However, a poll taken over a week after that Senate hearing found 50 percent of registered voters in Utah approved President’s Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak but 47% disapproved. It is quite plausible Romney’s criticism changed some minds in Utah.
Liberals’ strong disdain for President Trump sometimes leads them to think anybody who criticizes Trump is on their team, but life is more complicated and less lack and white than that. Romney did not vote for Trump in 2016 — he wrote-in his wife Ann — but he is also not part of the #Resistance. He is a strong supporter of mainstream conservative policies like a fiscally conservative government, cutting taxes, deregulation, religious freedom, and confirming conservative judges.
But this is not a zero sum game. Liberals online should quit demanding Romney stop voting for Trump’s policies or judges or else he is a fraud. People need to accept the fact that he will always support conservative policies or nominees yet cannot vote for Trump and has often denounced Trump and criticized his administration. If Joe Biden is elected I hope he continues to do the same of Mr. Biden. Republicans should not be subservient to Trump and if Biden is elected, Democrats should not be subservient to him either.
Democrats and progressives should welcome him when he marches in a Black Lives Matter protest and not call him a poser or opportunist. He is not up for reelection until 2024, he is popular among his constituents, and he has already voted to convict Trump. It is clear he did not do it for political gain, but because he believes it is the morally right thing to do.
When Coppins interviewed Romney, now 73, about the impeachment vote, he asked him about a rumor that he might be positioning himself for a 2024 run. “Yes! That’s it! They caught me!” as Romney erupted with laughed. “Look at the base I have! It’s going to be at least 2 or 3 percent of the Republican Party. As goes Utah, so goes the nation!”