The Twilight Zone of America today, where we potentially saw a Kid Rock senatorial bid and teenagers are eating Tide Pods, isn’t as unpredictable as things may seem when you begin to tap into the bloodstream of American culture.
While the recent announcement from former Governor of Massachusetts and two time presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who announced today his bid for the Republican Senate nomination in Utah, may seem strange, for political scientists and observers who paid close attention, this was far from a surprise.
Watch Romney’s campaign kick-off video below:
Run Mitt Run
Nostalgia is a toxic and often intoxicating thing, and for many Republicans, change is sometimes far too scary. Look back at the last three decades of men to run for the Republican nomination for president alone, and you see a lot of the same people running over and over again.
As the 2016 presidential race in the Republican primary was beginning to dwindle between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, (who even counted John Kasich except John Kasich?) many conservative pundits began to fear that nothing would be able to stop the Trump train that was pulling American Evangelicals from Cruz and the political opportunists from Rubio.
Calls for a independent third party candidate, or even the “white knight” Republican prince Paul Ryan (Romney’s 2012 VP pick) to jump in at the GOP convention, began to hit fever pitch right after Trump became the defacto nominee after the Indiana primary in May 2016. National Review writer David French, who was at one point wooed by Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol to run as an independent, was begging Romney publicly to run as an independent, especially after Romney called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Just to be clear, Romney gushed over Trump’s endorsement of his presidential bid in the Republican primary back in 2012, just four years prior.
While it was odd to have a former presidential candidate’s name floated around so often in a year such as 2016 (when it was pretty much agreed by many that his political career had ended), even Romney began to wonder why he didn’t get involved, according to a piece by Margaret Chadbourn at ABC, in which she wrote:
Mitt Romney today expressed disappointment in the state of the presidential race, joking that he often asks himself why he stayed out of the 2016 bid for the White House.
“I get asked on a regular basis, ‘Boy, why aren’t you running this year?’ I ask myself that a lot too. But I did that once,” Romney said.
He made self-deprecating jokes about his loss to President Barack Obama in 2012, borrowing a line from Democrat Walter Mondale, who lost to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election: “All my life I wanted to run for president in the worst way, and that’s what I did.”
While Romney ultimately didn’t run at the convention as a “white knight” candidate or as a independent, he still played a larger role in the GOP race than many gave him credit for, especially since it has for the most part been taboo for former candidates to try and make the power play in a race as an influencer as Romney did.
Let Gary and Bill Play Too
While Trump’s former Virginia head Corey Stewart was out calling Republicans who wanted to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson “traitors,” Romney appeared to not really care or get that memo. In September 2016, when the libertarians were historically close to the magic 15 percent polling number to get on the debate stage with Trump and Clinton, Romney tweeted “I hope voters get to see former GOP Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on the debate stages this fall,” without explicitly endorsing the former Republican governors who sat as the Libertarian nominees.
While many Libertarian Party members were head over heals for this support, many longtime observers wondered what changed Romney’s mind, especially since he ran against Gary Johnson in 2012 and had no interest in debating a opponent other than Barack Obama on the main stage. So had Mitt gone from right-leaning moderate to libertarian?
In an interview regarding his statement, Romney said he’d only be interested in voting for the Libertarians if Gary Johnson’ VP pick, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld (who endorsed Romney in 2008 and 2012) could potentially be switched as the presidential nominee instead of Gary Johnson, even after the LNC nominating convention in May of that year.
Romney went on to say Gary Johnson’s support of recreational marijuana would be “highly destructive for upcoming generations and the work ethic of this country” and “marijuana makes people stupid.” It seemed Romney only gave a unofficial blessing to the libertarians as more of a slight to Trump instead of a ideological turnover to more freedom and less government.
Soon after this incident, Independent-conservative Evan McMullin would announce his bid, but Romney remained silent regarding this Utahan and Mormon candidate who seemed to tap into Romney’s moderate base.
I’m Team Kasich/Rubio/Cruz
While Romney was openly exploring other political options, he still maintained he would vote for anyone but Trump who was a Republican, embarking on one of the strangest political road trips in electoral history where he campaigned for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, while they were all still running against each other for the same nomination.
Lets take a moment to go down memory lane…
In a March 2016 article at CNN:
“This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz,” he wrote, saying that no candidate besides Trump can win before a convention — which Cruz himself disagrees with. “The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.”Romney, perhaps the country’s most prominent Mormon politician, could give Cruz a boost in Utah’s caucuses, where Mormons form a majority of the state’s population and the candidate is scheduled to campaign this weekend. On Friday, Cruz told a local radio host that he had a “significant lead” over Trump.
Romney maintained that he had respect for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the only other remaining GOP candidate and with whom he has campaigned. Cruz’s Utah state chairman, Phill Wright, said after Romney’s backing early Friday morning that Cruz had no plans to campaign with Romney in the state.
McMullin and the “Mormoncaust”
While not entirely connected to Romney, the short lived presidential campaign of former CIA agent Evan McMullin did make a large enough impact in Utah to change the mindset of the predominantly Mormon state. During the GOP primary, Trump came in dead last among Republican voters (even losing to John Kasich). Because of this massively embarrassing loss despite his massive delegate lead, Trump and the Trump campaign held a massive grudge against Utah.
On Election Day 2016, the results for Utah were 45 percent for Donald Trump, 27 percent for Hillary Clinton, 21 percent for Evan McMullin, and 3 percent for Gary Johnson, who had stronger support in the state before McMullin’s run.
What spurred many potential Trump voters to turn to McMullin were a series of anti-Mormon remarks. In an article at the Federalist:
Yet last week Trump running mate Mike Pence made an appearance to shore up support. Trump himself has taken aim at McMullin as well, claiming the former undercover CIA agent is a “puppet” of fellow Mormon politician Mitt Romney. Trump supporter Lou Dobbs also used the description “puppet” while deeming McMullin a member of the “Mormon mafia.”
Things didn’t stop there, Trump researcher and alt-right figure Pax Dickinson tweeted out as a response to McMullin’s growth in Utah polls:
America hasn’t boasted a popular movement favoring genocide of Mormons for well over a century but @Evan_McMullin is working to change that.
— Pax Dickinson (@paxdickinson) October 30, 2016
Mormons have been perhaps the most persecuted religious sect in American history, and Utah history alone shows to take threats like that rather seriously. McMullin voters may not have been necessarily as pro-third party as they were anti-Trump.
From GOP to LP
2016 showed a large number of Republican state legislators convert to the Libertarian Party. One of those members was senior Republican representative Mark Madsen who became Utah’s first sitting Libertarian in July of 2016.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
The move wasn’t spurred by the GOP’s nomination of Trump, he said — though he did cite concerns about the New York billionaire’s inexperience. Madsen previously voted for Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President George W. Bush, he said, even though they weren’t his preferred candidates.
Still, moderates and libertarians celebrated this and other switches the same way they took Ted Cruz’s remarks at the Cleveland convention where he stated “vote your conscious” allowing McMullin and Johnson to capitalize on it.
Everyone could have easily ignored Romney after 2016 (Romney wouldn’t say who he voted for either, confirming though that it wasn’t Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton) but it just didn’t happen. Almost immediately as President-Elect Trump was assembling his cabinet, Romney was the odd front runner for Secretary of State, giving the internet the gift of the infamous “Sad Mitt” picture of his dinner with the President-Elect several weeks after the election.
What many assumed was just a way for Trump to rib at and humiliate Romney, he ultimately didn’t become Secretary of State but he did potentially secure a degree of political clout. With RNC Chair Reince Priebus stepping down in order to go work as Chief of Staff at the White House, the spot was filled by Romney’s niece Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Democrats Are Progressive, Republicans Are [Insert Here]
There is no way to define the Republican Party for what it is these days, but rather what it is against- Democrats, Communists, and Secularism. Romney may not represent the broad spectrum of Republicans in the Trump era, but he is perhaps the best representative of Utah today.
Romney is expected an almost boring race, since his name recognition alone and clout amongst the Rockefeller Republican wing of the GOP combined with his status as Utah’s favorite son after his save of the Salt Lake City Olympics, will essentially give him the seat. Romney is Romney, the only question now is what will Senator Romney do in office.
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