Tribune Editorial: Republicans need Romney more than he needs them

Utah Republican Party would be foolish to censure Romney for his impeachment votes.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of Move-On staged a rally outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building to encourage Sen. Mitt Romney to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, Feb. 12, 2021.

Those who officially run Utah’s Republican Party know what it is like to win elections fair and square. So it makes sense that the party leadership is not giving any support to a move to attack one of the biggest vote-getters their ticket has ever seen, not to mention one of the few members of their party still widely recognized as an admirable statesman.

But the wing of the party that is less interested in winning votes than in taking power by any means necessary — including a violent invasion of the nation’s Capitol — is unimpressed by the stature of Sen. Mitt Romney. They are pushing the state party to issue some kind of official censure of Romney over his vote to convict former President Donald Trump for his clear role in fomenting the Jan. 6 revolt.

A similar effort, pushed when Romney voted to convict Trump the first time he was impeached, rightly came to nothing. Chances are good that will be the outcome of the most recent petition.

Party leaders in Utah should see that the stalwart patriotism Romney demonstrated during both impeachment trials represents the best of what their party used to be, and what it could be again if it doesn’t totally knuckle under to the QAnon caucus that is out to end democracy as we know it, even as it destroys a Republican Party that respects institutions and the voice of the people.

If pure principle isn’t enough, Utah Republican Party leaders should do the math.

In the 2012 presidential election, Romney carried 72% of the vote in Utah. And that’s when he didn’t officially live here.

Four years later in Utah, Trump only managed a 46% plurality. That was enough to gain Utah’s six electoral votes, but hardly a ringing endorsement.

In 2018, Romney ran for the U.S. Senate from Utah, and won with 62% of the vote. Romney achieved that win more in spite of the state Republican Party than because of it, as the party’s convention that year preferred someone else.

In 2020, this time with no credible third party candidate in the race, Trump managed 58% percent of the Utah vote. Better than 2016, but hardly the kind of margins Utah gave to Romney, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, all upwards of 70%.

The fact is that Trump is just not that popular, in Utah or nationally. He only won the White House in 2016 with narrow victories in a handful of Electoral College swing states. He never won a majority of the national popular vote and, last time around, was soundly thumped, even as Republicans made gains in the House and had a prayer of holding the Senate until Trump inserted himself into winnable runoff elections in Georgia.

Six senators who joined Romney in voting to convict and remove are also under attack from some in their state party membership. All of which suggests that the rot in the Republican structure, while a minority, is widespread and loud.

Like the other honorable Republicans, Romney is accused of being part of the establishment — something Republicans used to aspire to — and of representing some nefarious construct known to a vocal fringe of American politics as the deep state.

Establishment Romney certainly is. But there was nothing conspiratorial about his votes in both impeachment trials.

Romney literally came within a few yards of being consumed by the mob Trump sent to block the official count of the Electoral College votes, the final step in officially naming Joe Biden the new president and turning Trump out of office. So he would be forgiven if his vote to convict the author of that insurrection was a little bit emotional.

What is troubling, but not surprising, is that all the other Republican members of the Senate, also targets of the Trump riot, didn’t vote with Romney.

If Romney chooses to run for reelection in 2024, it will be obvious then, as it is now, that Romney doesn’t need the Republican Party to raise money and win votes.

But if the Republican Party wants to pull itself out from under the dead weight of Trumpism, it will need people like Mitt Romney to show them the way.