Speaking a day after officially entering the race to become Utah’s next U.S. senator, Mitt Romney was the keynote speaker of the Utah County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner.
In his nearly 40-minute address, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee answered a host of written questions, going into greater detail about his roots in the state and why he is best suited to succeed the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Notably, Romney touched on his back-and-forth relationship with President Donald Trump. Although fellow Republicans, Romney has publicly sparred with Trump since the real estate mogul entered the political scene in 2015.
Romney said that — at least in terms of policy and smaller government — he sees eye to eye with the president.
“I’m with the president’s domestic policy agenda: low taxes and low regulation, and smaller government, pushing back against the bureaucrats,” Romney said Friday in Provo, Utah. “By and large, by the way, his policies are very similar to those I campaigned for. I wanted to bring the corporate (tax) rate down to 25 (percent), he got it down to 21.”
“So on policies, we’re pretty much in the same place.”
The newly minted candidate, however, did mention that he would stand up to Trump when he sees fit, adding that he does not always condone his rhetoric and actions.
“Now, I’m not always with the president on what he might say or do, and if that happens I will call them like I see them. That way I have in the past, but we can certainly work together and our agenda will be for the best interest of the people of Utah and the people of our country,” he explained, according to Fox13.
Romney’s comments come as all eyes are watching how his seemingly unstoppable entry into the upper chamber of Congress will factor into Trump’s presidency. Many view the former standard bearer of the Republican Party as someone who may lead conservative opposition to the current administration.
During Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the former Massachusetts governor derided his candidacy in a speech at the University of Utah, calling the leading Republican contender a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Trump responded in kind, saying that he owns a store that is worth more than him, “choked like a dog” when he lost the 2012 contest to then-President Obama, and suggested that the walks “like a penguin.”
There did appear to be a detente in the relationship immediately following the election. Then President-elect Trump actively considered Romney for the Secretary of State position. The two dined together at the Trump International Hotel in New York to discuss the possibility.
However, the former Massachusetts governor was ultimately passed over to lead the State Department in favor of Rex Tillerson. Romney has since gone on to criticize Trump at times, including his response to the Charlottesville riots that led to the death of one individual, and for allegedly referring to some third-world counties as “sh–hole” countries.
The ongoing feud is likely why the Trump administration led a charm offensive to convince Hatch, a Trump ally in the Senate, to run for another term.
Back in 2012, while running for a seventh consecutive term, Hatch had vowed that the election would be his last. The longtime Republican lawmaker did briefly reconsider as Trump, publicly and privately, nudged him to run again. The 83-year-old ultimately decided it was time to hang up the gloves, paving the way for Romney to succeed him.
In his campaign launch video last week, Romney did appear to take subtle jabs a the president.
The two-and-a-half minute video featured Romney saying, “Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion,” an apparent swipe at Trump’s immigration policy. Romney also criticized Washington’s latest funding bill that adds to the deficit, pointing out that Utah lawmakers consistently pass balanced budgets.
Despite what Trump may think of the Senate candidate, there now appears nothing much he can do. Although a former governor of Massachusetts, Romney holds so much in common with the average Utah voter.
A longtime Republican bastion, the Beehive State has not voted for a Democratic senator since 1970. And as the country’s most famous member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is adored in this Mormon-majority state. During the 2012 election, he won Utah by a 48-point margin.
According to recent polling, his popularity has not waned since that time.
Virtually no one appears to be mounting a primary challenge against him, and a survey conducted by the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics shows the Republican politician besting his likely Democrat opponent, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, by a jaw-dropping 45 points. The survey revealed that 85 percent of Utah Republicans support his candidacy, along with 55 percent of unaffiliated voters and even 18 percent of Democrats.
Romney has been steadily garnering support from all corners of the state, moves that have not shocked many local political movers and shakers.
“Mitt Romney’s entry into the race wasn’t a huge surprise. When he bought a house in Holiday a few years ago, we suspected he was positioning himself to run,” said Weber County GOP chairwoman Lynda Pipkin in a statement to The Western Journal.
Despite no clause in her county party’s bylaws forcing her to remain neutral, Pipkin has decided to not endorse any candidate during the primary given her stature as a county chairwoman.
Her actions are a far cry from Utah GOP chairman Rob Anderson, who unlike most Republicans in the state, expressed frustration over Romney’s candidacy in an interview. Comparing him to Hillary Clinton, who moved to New York to run for Senate, Anderson suggested Romney was not a Utah native and was scaring off better candidates with an outsized influence.
“Our state party officers are required by our state party bylaws to remain neutral, so what Chairman Anderson said to the press was a violation of our bylaws,” Pipkin pointed out.
Anderson immediately issued a mea culpa after his remarks, apologizing to Romney personally, and stating that his critiques were not what he meant. Anderson’s public retraction likely serve as a testament to Romney’s invincibility in the state.
There is still question as to how exactly Romney will choose to earn his party’s nomination. He can do this by way of state convention — which is how Utah Sen. Mike Lee did it 2010 — or he can rest his fate at the hands of Utah voters, where he will need to collect thousands of signatures to be placed on the ballot.
“I am a strong caucus supporter and our county central committee is comprised of a super majority of caucus supporters, so we will be giving extra support to our convention-only candidates,” Pipkin added.
No matter how he chooses to go about it, Romney’s election into the U.S. Senate appears all but certain. There is greater wonder as to how he will legislate in conjunction with a not-so-friendly White House.
In his Friday speech, Romney touched on a array of subjects. He said he is open to greater background checks in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, but said he would want to see action done at the state and local level — not the federal level. The former Republican governor also touted his experience as governor of a blue state. Despite working with a Democratic super-majority in the state legislature, Romney said he was able to lower taxes 19 times.
“They keep on sending from Massachusetts liberals to Washington, but when it comes to their own homes and their own livelihood, they tend to want Republicans.”
Jason Hopkins is The Western Journal’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.
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