By Michael Smerconish | January 4, 2018
“I’m not a partisan Republican, I’m someone who is moderate, and . . . my views are progressive.”
“I was a severely conservative Republican governor."
Both of those statements were made by the presumed future Republican U.S. Senator from the great state of Utah, Willard Mitt Romney. So which Mitt will emerge in Washington?
With Senator Orin Hatch announcing he will retire at the end of his term, the path is now open for Romney to join the nation’s most select club. His criticisms of President Trump – and Trump’s attempt to convince Hatch not to retire – raise the prospect of Romney being a Jeff Flake-like thorn in the president’s side. But personal rivalries aside, whether Romney embraces Republican colleagues or makes their search for a consistent majority even harder depends on whether Massachusetts Mitt or Presidential-candidate Romney shows up.
The differences between Romney’s platforms as Massachusetts Governor and as a GOP standard bearer remain as startling now as they were when he sought the highest office in 2012. As Governor from 2003-2007, he was the godfather of Obamacare, signing into law a policy that would inspire the Affordable Care Act. Of course, that was in the day when it was the product of thinking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, not yet the “socialist” offspring of Barack Hussein Obama. After Republicans made the ACA their primary political bogeyman, Romney vowed to dismantle the law while running for president. With a 51-49 majority, and continued resistance from several members of their own caucus, Republicans can’t afford another supporter of Obamacare to take a seat in the Senate if they want any chance of fully repealing it. How ironic if the fate of the ACA should rest with Romney, without whom the law would arguably not exist.
On climate change, Romney’s stance is somehow even harder to discern. As Massachusetts governor, he said or did little to address the matter. In his 2012 nomination speech, he mocked global warming. But in 2015, he said that the changing climate was a “major issue.”
Even in recent times, it’s not clear if Romney is an extreme right-winger, Trump-ally with manners, or a critic of his own party and the President. As recently as December of 2016, Romney was rubbing shoulders with and offering his fealties to Trump in an effort to become Secretary of State. But since then, he has called Trump a “phony and a fraud” and implicitly slammed the GOP and Trump in his rightful criticisms of Roy Moore.
The catalyst for his change of heart might well be the Russia investigation. As a presidential candidate in 2012, Romney said Russia was the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. Does he still feel that way? Who knows. But Trump should be particularly nervous about Romney’s rabble-rousing if this a rare issue on which Romney hasn’t flip-flopped.
Personally, I’m hoping we get Massachusetts Mitt, the man from impeccably Republican lineage who nevertheless was elected by, and popularly governed, a Blue state. Romney’s a smart guy. He has a proven ability to reach across the aisle, as he once did working with his state’s senior senator, Ted Kennedy. The Senate desperately needs people whose ideas don’t fall in a clear partisan direction. And with Bob Corker and Jeff Flake retiring, someone on the right needs to be willing to stand up to the President. He has a chance to encourage bipartisan policies and, maybe more importantly, serve as a voice that’s respected on both the left and right. One can hope.