Mitt Romney, Your Team Needs You
There is no love between Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, the two Republican senators from Utah. Lee, a conservative stalwart, has always sort of marched to his own drumbeat of conservative conviction. Lee, a personal friend, knows the constitution perhaps better than anyone in Congress. But also, sometimes lets his lawyerly sense of things trip up political instincts, as anyone who read his post 2020 election text messages with the Trump team could see.
Romney, the one time GOP nominee for President, went into the Senate having to find some way to contain Trump’s ire. But Romney, because of his own power base, did not really need Trump and, because of Utah politics, could be independent of Trump. Lee, embraced by the conservative movement, had to navigate a man about whom he has regularly been critical. Romney never had to do that and undoubtedly disagrees with some of Lee’s navigation of the same issue.
Right now, a very vocal group that would not pee on Romney were he on fire, is enthusiastically praising Romney for refusing to get behind Lee’s re-election campaign in Utah. Here, though, is the frank and stark reality. Without Romney, Republicans may lose that seat. In the last forty-eight hours, conversations with people familiar with credible polling in Utah tell me Evan McMullin’s attacks are having a significant impact on Lee and Republican voters who have a strong preference for Romney might vote for McMullin.
Ben Sasse is a case study here that Mitt Romney should ponder. Sasse is one of the nicest people to walk the planet, possesses a brilliant mind, and has been absolutely willing to speak up against Trump and vote against Trump. Sasse joined Romney to vote for impeachment in 2021. But the same people loudly praising Romney for his refusal to endorse Lee are condemning Sasse for not voting for impeachment in 2020.
Sasse was on the ballot in 2020. He handily won re-election and probably would have lost had he voted to impeach. The loud voices now praising Romney wanted a political suicide from Sasse and now they want Romney to help the Democrats. Because Sasse was unwilling to be the sole Republican to commit political suicide, they are even now loudly condemning the man they loved as Sasse exits the Senate.
I am sure, like me, Romney has concerns about Mike Lee’s text messages to the Trump team after 2020. I am sure, like me, Romney would have made different decisions. But I also hope, like me, Romney is willing to show others grace for arriving at different conclusions in uncharted, turbulent times and understanding not everyone could escape Romney’s level of disentanglement from the conservative movement. A Senate with Mike Lee is better than a Senate with Evan McMullin. And the gracelessness of those who now condemn Sasse because he refused to lose in 2020 is something I hope Romney won’t embrace.
As I have said repeatedly, we should not go through these uncharted, turbulent times of political realignment and condemn those who arrive at different conclusions or navigate their way through it in ways we would not. Yes, that includes me looking at a silent Romney, but it includes Romney looking at Lee.
Again, McMullin will keep the Democrats in leadership. They are funding his campaign. Lee’s win would ensure a Senate Republican majority, including Romney in that majority.
Republicans, myself included, have largely dismissed McMullin who is now surrounded by Democrat staff, Democrat consultants, and Democrat donors. McMullin has embraced Democrat positions, including abortion. He has embraced Democrat judicial picks, including Biden’s Supreme Court pick. Though McMullin is running as an independent, he will undoubtedly caucus with the Democrats who have funded and run his campaign.
While I understand the lack of love between Romney and Lee, Romney’s Republican colleagues might still be in the minority if Romney does not endorse Lee. Pollsters who I find very credible tell me Romney-oriented Republican voters in Utah have largely been persuaded McMullin is not the Democrat he undoubtedly is and that Romney silence is a factor in voters leaning to McMullin.
For his part, Lee needs to start educating voters about McMullin’s Democrat ties and make the case that given McMullin’s ties, donors, operatives, and staff McMullin will owe the Democrats, perpetuate Biden’s agenda, and potentially keep the Democrats in control of the Senate. Lee’s campaign needs to ramp up immediately and take this seriously.
Romney, for his part, will hopefully be mindful that those praising him now are not his friends. Likewise, Romney in the majority has a real chance of passing meaningful reforms for family policy he has long advocated and conservatives largely support. It looks increasingly likely the Republicans could take the Senate by one seat, but a Utah upset would not just be the turd in the punch bowl for Republicans on election night, it could be what keeps the GOP from the majority.
Sometimes the statesman also has to be the team player and now would be a good time for Romney to do it. The act could not just generate some good will with his Senate colleague and perhaps thaw that relationship, it could also save the GOP from a surprise upset.
Nationally as well, Republicans need to remember Evan McMullin is all but a Democrat now. Democrats in Nevada set their candidates aside to rally to him. McMullin is funded by not just a contingent of anti-Trump consultants, but explicitly Democrat consultants. He has framed himself as an independent, but is no more an independent than Angus King or Bernie Sanders, all of whom use Democrat consultants too.
Lee most likely wins re-election as Republican voters come home and more learn how Democrats have propped up and fund McMullin. But Lee’s efforts to hold his seat become ever easier if Romney supports him. That, from the polling I have seen, would be enough to get Romney’s own voters back into the Republican camp. That would also free up resources to spend in other close states instead of spending defensively in Utah. It could also finally be that act of statesmanship that fosters a better working relationship for Utah between its two senators, both of whom could be in the majority in a few months