George Pyle: There are still many Mitts. But, in dealing with Trump, we see just enough.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt Romney in one of the meetings trying to put the 2002 Olympics back together again.

This is about the time the editorial page editor volunteered to take one for the team.

In the summer of 2012, the then-publisher of this newspaper was inclined to endorse Republican nominee Mitt Romney for president. Not because he was necessarily a better choice than the candidate we endorsed four years before — Barack Obama — but because Romney was Utah’s favorite son, savior of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the world’s most prominent LDS politician.

Publisher Dean Singleton often made editorial decisions looking to fit in with the local culture rather than try to lead it in a direction it wasn’t likely to go no matter what we said.

The remaining members of the editorial board weren’t happy with this direction, but we understood it. It was the publisher’s call to make.

To ease our discomfort, Vern Anderson, then the editorial page editor of The Tribune, assigned himself to write the Romney endorsement rather than force any of the other three editorial scribes the newspaper then carried to undertake the distasteful task.

Never order a person to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. Good for Vern, I thought.

Until the “47% speech” leaked.

In mid-September, Mother Jones uncovered the video of Romney speaking to a room of wealthy donors — a crowd George W. Bush referred to as the “haves and the have-mores” — explaining he needed their help because 47% of the American electorate are non-taxpaying freeloaders who will never vote for a Republican lest it disrupt their federal gravy train.

Singleton was appalled.

Never a big fan of redistributive government, the publisher still thought describing disabled or elderly Social Security recipients — including some of his own relatives — as too lazy and selfish to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” was a low blow ethically and really bad optics politically.

So, after further review, the call was reversed. We would back Obama again.

And the decision Anderson made to handle the piece himself instantly switched from being a burden to a plum.

It was still a rough task. Given all the reasons to expect Utah’s major newspaper to endorse Utah’s favorite politician, much of the piece was not so much why we were choosing Obama, but why we weren’t backing Romney.

We explained: “Where, we ask, is the pragmatic, inclusive Romney, the Massachusetts governor who left the state with a model health care plan in place, the Romney who led Utah to Olympic glory? That Romney skedaddled and is nowhere to be found.”

Vern’s editorial was a triumph. And not just because he worked in the word “skedaddled.”

Headlined, “Too Many Mitts,” it laid out our feeling that Romney, in moving from Wall Street to the moderate governor of Massachusetts to tacking hard right in order to get the nomination, had left us wondering, “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”

The editorial caught fire in the global media as editorials seldom do. It was picked up or written about by NPR, The Boston Globe, The Daily Beast, Politico, the BBC and many others that, not knowing about The Tribune’s position as the city’s more liberal rag, treated it as a man-bites-dog story.

Now Romney is poised to skedaddle once again, announcing that he won’t seek another term as a U.S. senator and burning innumerable bridges, culverts and stepping stones in McKay Coppins’ “Romney: A Reckoning.”

As he goes, Romney again leaves us asking, “Who is this guy, really?”

Some Utah Republicans feel Romney turned on them when he became the first U.S. senator in history to vote to convict an impeached president of his own party. They also mistrusted what they thought was his excessive eagerness to work with Democrats on infrastructure packages (no matter how much Utah might benefit).

The Tribune’s Bryan Schott recently quoted Utah state Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, as calling Romney a “liar” and saying “There are multiple Mitt Romneys.”

Sound familiar?

Romney fits into the American stereotype of the person who mostly looks out for himself but who, when the push really comes to the shove, finds a moral line he cannot cross.

Americans get that. In fiction, Rhett and Scarlett, Han and Lando, Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca.” In real life, snaky politicians like Lyndon Johnson, who transformed America for the better, at great political cost, with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And Richard Nixon, who gave us the EPA and the Clean Water Act.

This was Mitt Romney vs Donald Trump, from his excoriating speech at the University of Utah in 2016 to his votes for conviction to his continuing efforts to stop Trump from again becoming the Republican nominee.

There were always many Mitts. But Romney’s place in history will be an honorable one for what he has done, and what he still might do, to push the Orange Mussolini from the scene once and for all.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, notes that, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, The Tribune no longer makes editorial endorsements of political candidates. Sigh.

The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your contributions to do this. Find out how to share your opinion here, and email us at voices@sltrib.com.