What will be Mitt Romney’s legacy? Robert Gehrke sums it up in one word: courage.

In the face of political and personal peril, the Utah senator stood up to Donald Trump when so many others in his party refused to do so.

(Haiyun Jiang | The New York Times) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters after announcing he would not seek reelection, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. 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.”

Mitt Romney, in a March 2016 speech at the University of Utah.

That excerpt from Mitt Romney’s meticulous and merciless dismantling of then-candidate Donald Trump was a prologue of sorts that would define the third act of a political career that included being elected governor of Massachusetts, a U.S. senator from Utah and a historic nominee for the presidency.

Aside from being photographed at a dinner with then-President-elect Trump, the Utah Republican would spend the ensuing seven years as Trump’s most visible foil and the most vocal critic of all Trumpism entailed. That role will largely define Romney’s legacy in the wake of his announcement Wednesday against seeking a second Senate term.

Twice he voted to convict the impeached president: once over Ukraine, the first time a senator had cast a guilty vote against a president of his own party; the second after the Capitol insurrection, where security cameras showed Romney fleeing from raging rioters.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

“If there were no cost to doing what’s right,” Romney told The Washington Post, “there’d be no such thing as courage.”

University of Utah political science professor James Curry said Romney’s legacy “became defined by his opposition to Trump in the defense of more traditional, if you can call it that, Republicanism of the late 20th century.”

That would not have been the case, Curry told me Wednesday, “had he not reemerged in 2016 as a vocal Trump critic and then as a candidate and eventual winner of a Senate term from Utah.”

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks as the Senate reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College Vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

More recently, Romney has tried to rally Republicans to unify behind a candidate who might be able to prevent Trump from recapturing the GOP nomination and the dire consequences that would come if he returned to the White House, even though the Utahn seemed resigned to the likelihood that Trump would again prevail in the Republican field.

“It’s a long shot,” Curry told me last month. “I think Donald Trump almost certainly is the nominee.”

Putting himself out front in the defense of old guard Republicanism came with a cost. In the Beehive State, constituents booed him. For Team Trump, having driven other enemies like former Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming from office, taking down Romney would be their biggest trophy.

Romney remained steadfast, though, even when others, like his Senate colleague from Utah, Mike Lee, evolved (to use the kindest possible term) from Never Trumpers to Forever Trumpers. In 2020, Lee even compared the then-president to Captain Moroni, a Book of Mormon hero in the signature scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the faith both senators share.

Curry said Romney was uniquely situated to be an outspoken Trump adversary.

There are a number of reasons for that: He wasn’t angling for the next run for higher office; his name recognition and reputation in the state insulated him; and he had made his fortune years earlier and didn’t need the job — which likely made it easier for him to walk away.

In an excerpt published Wednesday in The Atlantic, reporter McKay Coppins, a Brigham Young University alum who was granted extraordinary access to the senator for a biography due out next month, said Romney had confided to him earlier this year that he would not run for reelection in 2024.

Romney kept everyone hanging, playing coy while rumors swirled around Utah for months that he was going to hang it up. Talking to the senator last month, though, as he rattled off a list of accomplishments in his first term, I got the sense there might be some unfinished business.

In a video announcing his decision to retire, he suggested there was more to do: Tackle debt, address climate change, improve foreign policy and more. But now, at age 76, Romney noted that he would be in his mid-80s when his second term would end.

“Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders,” Romney said. “They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.”

While it is a viewpoint that stands in stark contrast to both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, he’s not wrong about that.

(Greg Nash | Pool via AP)Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget on Capitol Hill Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Washington. Romney isn't seeking reelection but says the U.S. needs to improve its foreign relations.

So, now Romney bows out, ending a career in elected office that spanned more than two decades. Perhaps, when he leaves the Senate, he will gain an “elder statesman” status allowing him to maintain a profile and possibly be even more outspoken on the issues he cares about, including his distaste and disdain for Trump.

However it plays out and however you view his politics, Mitt Romney should be remembered as a man who recognized a clear threat to our nation’s democracy and, despite the political and personal pain it caused him, demonstrated the courage to hold the line against it.

Honestly, that’s not a bad legacy.