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Mitt Romney will have a long road to redemption with the GOP – at least as long as President Trump is in office.
For those closest to the president, the business titan who was the party standard-bearer just eight years ago may never be forgiven over his dramatic vote to convict Trump on abuse of power this week. He could face primary challenges on top of the sustained scorn of Trump backers in his own state. His own family has a beef with him. The U.S. Capitol will become an instantly more challenging labyrinth of relationships.
The Utah senator acknowledged as much in a Fox News interview, saying he expects “enormous” consequences for his impeachment trial decision.
“In a political sense, he is ostracized. He is excommunicated. He has lost all credibility. He should hire lots of security guards — I don’t wish him any physical harm, but people are furious!” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who already disinvited Romney from the popular CPAC convention this month. (Romney won the CPAC straw poll in 2012.)
As for whether Romney can be forgiven by Republicans, Schlapp had a terse answer: “Never.”
‘He has lost all credibility. He should hire lots of security guards — I don’t wish him any physical harm, but people are furious!’
— Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union
But in the more cordial halls of the Capitol, Romney may yet find his place once more. Lawmakers, even as they voiced disappointment in his decision to cast the lone defecting GOP vote against Trump at the close of his impeachment trial, took a less hostile view of Romney’s decision and role in the Republican Party.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, immediately dismissed the notion that Romney should be thrown out of the party, as Trump’s eldest son suggested: “Heavens no.”
“There’s a lot of anger there, but I think this too shall pass,” added fellow Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart.
An effort in Utah to allow voters to recall their senators suddenly picked up steam. Although the author of the legislation said the bill was never aimed at Romney specifically, the effort caught fire since Romney’s impeachment vote on Wednesday, the Deseret News reports.
The bill, sponsored by GOP Utah state Rep. Tim Quinn, would create a process by which a recall vote could go on the ballot after a petition by voters. Quinn said he’s been inundated this week with phone calls and emails that are “100 percent positive to the bill.”
The American Conservative Union is backing the recall legislation. But Schlapp said Romney should do Utah voters a favor and just resign.
“That would be the honorable thing [to do],” he told Fox News.
Romney isn’t up for reelection until 2024.
Other Trump loyalists said Romney will be paying the price at the ballot box.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who attended the impeachment vote, said Romney will be a “one-term senator.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., an outspoken Trump backer, said: “I don’t see punishment coming, other than from the voters of Utah.”
Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser, said that Romney’s actions will certainly invite a primary challenge.
“Romney has been waiting to thumb his nose at Trump in the highest-profile way since his arrival in the Senate,” Eberhart said. “Romney is now the first senator in history to convict a president of his own party. That’s going to have a lasting impact on how he’s seen within the Republican Party.”
But Eberhart, CEO of Canary LLC, an oilfield drilling company, reminded how Sen. Ted Cruz was once booed off the Republican National Convention stage for failing to endorse Trump in 2016, but still won reelection in Texas in 2018.
“I imagine it will die down as time marches on. [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s preference for a majority over purity will prevail as always,” he said.
Romney said he’s aware he’ll face serious political and personal consequences in Utah and Washington.
“Yeah, it’s going to get very lonely,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “And again, the consequences are significant. … They’re enough that it made this a very difficult process for me. There has not been a morning since this process began that I’ve slept beyond 4:00 a.m.”
Intense Trump supporters viewed Romney’s defection as the ultimate betrayal and the final chapter of a long and troubled relationship between the two powerful men. Romney was complimentary toward Trump when he needed his endorsement for president in 2012 and for Utah senator in 2018, but in between, he ripped Trump as a “fraud” and a “phony” and refused to back him as president — instead voting for his wife, Ann, whose name he wrote on his ballot.
On Wednesday, an emotional Romney cited his strong faith as the reason he had to follow his conviction and explained: “God demanded it of me.”
Trump tore into that rationale at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday. After brandishing newspapers with the headlines “ACQUITTED,” Trump told the crowd, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
Schlapp said Romney’s justification of faith was particularly galling.
“Him trotting out his faith and God was insulting to those of us who believe in God and believe differently than him on this vote,” Schlapp said. “I also think it’s strange that he puts God in the drawer and then pulls him back out … depending on the political circumstances that impact Mitt Romney.”
Several Republicans on the Hill Thursday declined to criticize Trump for making the veiled comments at Romney’s faith at the prayer breakfast, either saying they didn’t hear him or explaining coyly that Trump didn’t mention Romney’s name specifically.
But Curtis, the Utah lawmaker, said: “I know Mitt Romney to be a man of faith and I wouldn’t question his faith.”
Curtis said there was already a “troubled relationship” between Trump and Romney and dynamics between the Utah congressional delegation and White House won’t radically change. While tensions may run hot now, Utah has a culture of working well together.
“We don’t let things fester for very long,” he said.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Senator Romney, who’s been very helpful to me, this is something that we obviously saw very differently on,” Curtis said.
Romney’s vote put him at odds with the other GOP senator from Utah, Mike Lee, who said his colleague made the Democrats happy.
“I think Republicans are very upset about it. And I, for one, disagree with it and disagree with it strongly,” Lee told Shannon Bream on “Fox News @ Night.”
Outrage on social media against Romney was swift and fierce—with Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., posting a meme of Romney calling him a “p-ssy” and tweeting that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee should be expelled from the Republican Party. Others branded Romney a traitor or a sore loser who is still bitter that Trump won the presidency when he couldn’t.
President Trump tweeted out a video that accused Romney of being a “Democrat secret asset.”
The two places where Romney is being hailed as a hero are the Democratic Party and Hollywood.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano thanked Romney for his courage: “History will remember you as a decent, courageous, man among cowards and fools,” she tweeted.
Actor and comedian Ben Stiller said he has “a lot of respect for Mitt Romney following his conscience and doing what he feels is right.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Romney’s speech will go down as one of the most important in the Senate.
“There’s still honor in this place,” Murphy said. “There’s still individuals willing to put party aside when the country was on the line. I think a lot of people are going to read that speech for centuries.”
Even squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., defended Romney in the face of attacks from Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast. “It is completely sad to see the president behave that way.”
She regards the Utah senator’s vote as “very patriotic.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jerseyan who left the Democratic Party after refusing to impeach Trump and joined the GOP, said Romney was wrong for his vote. Van Drew’s pledge of support to Trump was rewarded with a big Trump rally on the Jersey Shore last month.
“I think it was counterproductive for him, and the Republican Party, and he was wrong,” Van Drew said of Romney. “In the end, he lost so he has to decide for himself if that was worthwhile.
“You make your bed.”