Mitt Romney is just not finished.
There really isn’t another explanation for the 71-year-old former corporate titan and presidential contender wanting to be just one of a hundred in a public body that has been debasing itself lately.
Can Romney — as a blue state governor turned red state senator — really find a way back for the U.S. Senate to be the august and productive chamber it was meant to be? Romney is aiming for nothing less.
He would arrive as not just another freshman. At a time when the very essence of Congress is in play, Romney has gravitas. His top two priorities — finally passing meaningful immigration reform and putting an end to budgeting by crisis — are both appropriate and realistic. They also will require help from Democrats, even in a Senate that is almost sure to keep its Republican majority.
The Salt Lake Tribune famously passed on Romney six years ago and endorsed Barack Obama for president. It was a shot heard round the world that the top newspaper in Utah would not choose a Latter-day Saints candidate who had made it that far.
It was the right call then. In 2012 Romney wanted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Now he knows that would be counterproductive. He also opposed citizenship for DACA recipients. Now he says we need to honor the deal the Obama administration made with them.
He told The Tribune editorial board recently that he thought military procurement should be turned over the military professionals instead of being a goody bag for politicians. In 2012, he was criticizing Obama for not building enough aircraft carriers.
This time we’re choosing Romney, and we’re expecting him to make good on his promise to reach across the aisle to broker major legislation.
To do that, he will have to stand up to a rogue president and his xenophobic agenda, and Romney’s history with that has been, well, waffly.
He’ll need more backbone. With moderate Republicans like Jeff Flake and John McCain gone, there will be even more pressure to meet Trump’s loyalty demands. If Romney fails, it will be because he chooses party over country.
Our choice is not a knock on Jenny Wilson, who has offered a credible alternative. Wilson entered the race more than a year ago when she thought she would be facing seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch, who wanted to keep rolling to an eighth term but faced public opinion polls that showed four-fifths of Utahns wanted him to quit. If Hatch had been her opponent, here’s betting we would be endorsing her.
In one area in particular, public lands, Wilson has the more seasoned view. There is no time when Romney seems more like Massachusetts Mitt than when he starts mimicking the lines of rural county commissioners about the feds killing their economy. He needs more time on the ground to talk to motel owners and tour operators and tribal leaders and other people who drive the growing parts of the rural economy. Instead he focuses on the parts that have been shriveled not by federal lands policy but by commodity prices. The commissioners are right about a lot, but they don’t tell the full story.
Romney is not finished, and it is open ended where this ends. He says he won’t run for president again, and there is no groundswell for that. But if he were to add successful bipartisan legislator to his legacy, he might get encouraged. Or he could get recruited into a Cabinet of a president of either party. Either way, this may very well be his only Senate election. If he did run for a second term, he would be 83 at the end of it, a year younger than Hatch is now.
We’re endorsing Romney because it’s a unique opportunity to replace Hatch’s seniority with Romney’s firepower. Utah voters should give him his shot.