As politicos speculate whether Sen. Mitt Romney will run for reelection, the Senate’s top Republican is saying he would back Utah’s junior senator, who is one of the party’s most prominent critics of former President Donald Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico in an interview that he is willing to support Romney against challengers from within the party, as he did for other anti-Trump Republican incumbents during the midterm election.
“He’s been a really important part of our conference,” McConnell told Politico. “People respect his intelligence, his assessment of the era we find ourselves in. And I think his running for reelection would be very important. It’s important for the Republican Party and the country that he runs again.”
Although he initially refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s electoral victory in 2020, then in an about-face congratulating him the day after the Electoral College vote in mid-December, McConnell has long been a Trump adversary. On Tuesday, he didn’t defend Trump after criminal referrals for Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day. Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations,” McConnell said in a statement after Tuesday’s Jan. 6 criminal referrals.
A spokesperson for Romney told The Salt Lake Tribune the senator has no additional comment on McConnell’s remarks or whether he will throw his hat in the ring for 2024.
In an interview with Politico, Romney said there’s “frankly, not a question in my mind” that he could win.
He continued, “I’ve faced long odds: Getting the nomination in 2012 was a long shot, becoming a Republican governor in one of the most liberal states in America, Massachusetts. ... So I’m convinced that if I run, I win. But that’s a decision I’ll make.”
After Romney’s votes to impeach Trump, breaking ranks with the Republican Party, Trump loyalists in Utah began using “Mitt Romney Republican” as a derogatory term to attack more moderate Republican politicians and candidates. That division among Utah Republicans precipitated by the rise of Trump has affected Romney’s standing in the party, said BYU political science professor Quin Monson, whose company Y2 Analytics conducted polling for Romney’s campaign in 2018 and will likely do so again if the senator runs.
But, according to Monson, Romney has two things in his favor if he decides he wants a second term — Trump’s popularity is declining, he said, pointing to a letter signed by nearly 100 Utah Republican elected officials urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to challenge the former president; and there is not yet a clear, formidable opponent for the senator.
“Both (Trump and Romney have) sort of epitomized the divide that exists within the party,” Monson said, “and that divide could be smoothed over with time and with and with the disappearance of Donald Trump from the national scene, if that were to happen.”
An endorsement from other notable Republicans who have stood against Trump, like McConnell, may not sway Utah voters, but the vast resources at the Senate minority leader’s command can help prop up a campaign, Monson noted.
During the midterm election, a McConnell-aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, spent millions on ads supporting Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who joined Romney as one of the few Republicans to vote to convict Trump of incitement of insurrection following his second impeachment trial in February 2021.
Murkowski, like Romney, faced blowback from Republicans in her home state after the vote. In November, she was reelected to her fourth term in the Senate, beating a Trump-backed conservative challenger in Alaska’s ranked choice voting system.
Politico reported that incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines, R-Montana, is also backing a Romney reelection run and has plans to meet with Romney soon to discuss the possibility.
Romney will likely not win the support of all Republicans if he runs. The senator declined to endorse his colleague from Utah, Sen. Mike Lee, over his friend Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative challenger, despite Lee pleading on national television for him to do so.
Following his victory, Lee used his alternative Twitter account, @basedmikelee, to respond to a congratulatory tweet from Romney with snark, saying “Thank you, @MittRomney. Will see you soon,” and tacking on the nail polish emoji.
Lee remained neutral during the 2018 Republican primary race for the Senate, saying he would support whoever secured the win in the general election. Politico reported that, according to a person familiar with Lee’s plans, he is expected to remain similarly neutral during the 2024 primary if Romney runs again.