Mitt Romney changed his Twitter profile location from “Massachusetts” to “Holladay, UT” as soon as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced his retirement on Tuesday.
It is clear that Romney intends to run for the open seat, and pundits agree that he is likely to win. But in all the speculation about whether Romney would run in Utah, no one has asked whether he should, or what broader purpose his victory there would serve, beyond his own ambitions.
First screenshot: 3:12 PM EST today
Second screenshot: 5:45 PM EST today
Romney has roots in Michigan as well as Massachusetts, and both have Democratic incumbents up for re-eleciton in 2018. In Michigan, a state Donald Trump won in 2016, incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow only has a 45% approval rating. A strong Republican opponent could help the GOP slip the seat and preserve, or boost, its slender Senate majority.
In Massachusetts, where Romney has won before, Republican Governor Charlie Baker is the most popular governor in the country. He has proven that Republicans can still win statewide, and he will have coattails as he runs for re-election in 2018. Though incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is popular, she is not invincible, and, Republicans would benefit if she faced a strong opponent in 2018, because it would limit her ability to fundraise and campaign for other candidates, and could dent her budding presidential prospects.
In contrast, it would make no difference for Republicans if Romney won in Utah. The state is a lock for the party. Arguably, Romney would actually be hurting the GOP by running there, because the party has more negotiating leverage against Democrats when Senators from conservative states can be relied upon to take conservative positions in policy debates. Romney, a moderate, would allow Democrats to frame policy debates in their favor.
Moreover, the issues on which Romney is strongest, like lowering taxes and cutting regulations, are issues on which the GOP has already won important victories. The party needs reinforcements on immigration, not on tax cuts.
There is only one broader purpose that a Romney candidacy would fulfill: namely, providing Trump’s Republican opponents with fresh leadership as Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Bob Corker (R-TN), and John McCain (R-AZ) fade from the scene, leaving only the sanctimonious Ben Sasse (R-ND).
If there is one thing Romney proved in the March 2016 speech when he blasted Trump without backing an alternative, it is that he is not above selfish gestures.
By winning in Utah, Romney would help weaken Trump without helping the party. Effectively, he is campaigning for Senate Minority Leader, in the event Republicans lose the Senate.
No wonder the media are excited.