If you’re looking to understand the devolution of the Republican Party, nationally and in Utah, look no further than Mitt Romney as a case study.
In 2012, he was beloved, clinching the party’s presidential nomination and, unsurprisingly, dominating among Utah Republicans, winning 93% of the vote in the state’s GOP primary and 73% of the overall vote in the general election.
He won every county in the state, including the typical Democratic strongholds of Salt Lake, Grand and Summit counties.
Now, a little over a decade later, the Utah Republican Party belongs to Donald Trump and Romney no longer has a home.
A new poll from OH Predictive Insights tells us what, on a gut level, we already knew: Romney’s party has largely abandoned him.
While Romney has a lukewarm favorability rating of 51% statewide, his real problem is with the Republicans who, until not all that long ago, adored him. Among Republican voters, 47% view him unfavorably and a quarter of GOP voters have a very negative impression of him.
More importantly, as the senator weighs whether to seek another term next year, more than half of Republicans say he should not run.
The reality he is facing, then, is pretty straightforward. There is no way a Democrat will pose a threat to him if he can get the GOP nomination. In fact, Democrats and independents have a better impression of him overall and are more supportive of another run than Republicans.
But that doesn’t matter if Romney can’t get the nomination. Only 36% of Utah Republicans say he should run again.
“Romney has seemed to age backward throughout his political career,” Mike Noble, chief of research for OH Predictive Insights, said in a news release announcing the results. “Ten years ago, he was the nominee for President and the standard-bearer of the GOP; now, he can barely muster a third of his own party’s support for a re-election bid.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Republicans have left him. Romney has been a vocal critic of Trump since the former president first ran for the White House, famously giving a speech in 2016 where he called Trump “a phony, a fraud.”
“His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney said. “He’s playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
He voted to impeach Trump twice, once for his Ukraine phone call and once for his role in attempting to usurp the election and inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Surprising to no one, 70% of Trump supporters now say Romney shouldn’t run again. In a state where, according to an OH Predictive poll, Trump — despite facing criminal charges, fending off several additional criminal investigations and almost relishing his involvement in an attempted coup — remains the most popular among Utah Republicans in the 2024 presidential field, by a considerable margin.
Romney, I am told, has not yet decided if he will seek reelection, and appears in no hurry to do so.
“The question for me is, what can I get done? I have a list of things I’m working on. I’ll make that assessment over the coming months, and sometime in the spring or summer, I’ll make that decision. I’m confident that I would win if I decide to run. I’ll have the resources, and I believe the people of Utah would be with me,” Romney told reporters at the Utah Capitol in February.
Still, there are enough rumblings from potential challengers — Attorney General Sean Reyes, former congressman Jason Chaffetz and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson among them — that it measures on the Richter scale.
And it was announced this week, however, that one of his top staffers, Kelsey Berg, was leaving Romney’s Senate office for another job. Is it a harbinger that Mitt sees the writing on the wall and is hanging it up? I’m not convinced, but who could blame him, frankly, if he decided to fade away rather than face the fate of those like Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming?
There are two things that are crystal clear.
The first: If a potential candidate has a majority of support from all of the voters in Utah, and still might simply bow out because they can’t pass a purity test administered by those devoted to Trump, our political system is broken.
The second, and sadder really, is that in today’s environment, you can have the adulation of your political party or you can have your integrity. You can’t have both.