Burgess Owens, now the Republican nominee in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, said in March, shortly after the impeachment trial vote, that Sen. Mitt Romney should leave the GOP and join the Democratic Party.
Owens appeared on a right-wing Christian podcast to discuss his candidacy when he was asked about Romney’s vote to remove President Donald Trump from office on charges he abused his power.
“So I think you would probably agree with me that maybe Mitt Romney should be kicked out of the Republican Party,” one of the hosts asked.
Owens replied, “I think he should go be the Democrat he is.” And then added, “To me, that is a betrayal of not only our values, our country, but our state of Utah.”
While many Republicans in Utah were upset at Romney, Owens’ comments go much further than those of the state party, other elected leaders or other prominent GOP candidates. And it is the latest indication that Owens has created an unusually deep record for a candidate who hasn’t held office before. Instead of votes and traditional positions statements, Owens has an extensive history of media appearances.
Just go to YouTube and enter his name in the search bar and you will find hundreds of his guest appearances on conservative podcasts or broadcasts, which is how The Salt Lake Tribune found this clip. A search for Owens in a podcast search engine, like Listen Notes, returns nearly 400 results.
The call to kick Romney out of the GOP was a cause célèbre in pro-Trump circles after his vote. Donald Trump Jr. helped lead the charge, tweeting that the senator was “forever bitter” that he will not be president (a favorite insult used by Romney critics) and he should be “expelled from the GOP” as he was “officially a member of the resistance.”
Utah Republicans were upset with Romney’s vote but none went as far as Owens’ call for him to leave the Republican Party. State Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, filed a bill to censure Romney, but Utah lawmakers rebuffed that effort, instead opting to send a letter of support to Trump that didn’t mention Romney. The Utah GOP’s Central Committee also considered a censure of Romney but decided against that course of action.
His fellow Utah Republicans in Congress were unwilling to go as far as Owens’ call for him to leave the GOP. Sen. Mike Lee, who voted to acquit Trump during impeachment, said he disagreed with Romney’s vote.
Romney has become a pariah in some parts of the party. He was “uninvited” from the annual CPAC conference this year over fears for his safety. It is not clear whether he was originally invited by organizers, but that is a niggling detail that might get in the way of a good story.
Outside of Utah, Romney’s name has become a slur in primary election fights, which is a shocking development, given he was the party’s presidential nominee just eight years ago. Georgia Republican Doug Collins, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler for a U.S. Senate seat, painted his opponent as someone “cut from the same cloth” as Romney, and slammed her for donating to his 2012 presidential campaign. Tennessee Republican Bill Haggerty, who was running to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, was relentlessly attacked by his primary opponents for his longtime ties to Romney. Haggerty won the GOP nomination.
Trump was impeached by the House in December 2019 for pressuring Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly elected president of Ukraine, to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. A whistleblower raised concerns about a phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate discredited allegations against the Bidens in exchange for millions of dollars in military aid.
Trump repeatedly railed against the allegations raised by the whistleblower, calling his conversation with Zelensky a “perfect phone call,” one of several GOP talking points Owens parroted during the podcast interview.
“What I don’t appreciate is a politician who can see what’s going on the last few years, being totally treated unfairly by a deep state, an evil ideology. Then to say, because of a phone call. It was very obvious it was a very fair phone call,” Owens said. “Mitt should go ahead and be a Democrat. Unfortunately, the Democrat Party, I’ll be honest to God, those guys are not loyal. If you stray off that plantation a step, they will come after you.”
The CrossPolitic podcast is described on its website as “a community of Christians who desire to see the Lordship of Christ in every corner of our culture, reigning over every politician, and changing every individual for our good and His glory.” That language is typical of organizations on the Christian right that follow what is known as “dominion theology,” which argues that Christians have a biblical mandate to occupy secular positions, particularly political offices, in order to control American society.
Romney’s office declined to comment on Owens’ remarks. Romney has not said anything about Owens during this campaign cycle.
Owens’ campaign did not respond to a request to comment.
Other obscure media appearances have resulted in some controversy for Owens. In May, he was a guest on an internet-based program dedicated to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, although Owens did not discuss QAnon during his appearance.
In June 2019, Owens was a guest on a program that raised money for Steve Bannon’s allegedly fraudulent organization that aimed to build a privately funded wall on the southern border. Bannon has been charged with fraud.
Owens’ race to unseat Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress is expected to be fiercely contested. McAdams is widely seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents due to his narrow victory in 2018 and the Republican registration advantage in the district. The Cook Political Report gives the 4th District an R+13 rating, meaning a typical Republican candidate would perform 13 points better than the national average.
The contest is rated by several political handicappers as either a “toss-up” or a slight lean toward McAdams given his position as the incumbent.
Correction: 2:50 p.m., Sept. 3 • An earlier version of this story misstated Sen. Mitt Romney's vote in the Senate impeachment trial. He voted for the abuse of office charge and against the obstruction of justice charge.