SALT LAKE CITY — Though Sen. Mitt Romney took issue with Donald Trump’s character and didn’t vote for him last fall, he often agreed with the former president on policy issues.
So, how does the Utah Republican see President Joe Biden’s first two months in office?
Hit and miss.
Romney said the appointment of Jeff Zients as White House coronavirus response coordinator has sped up distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country. He said the administration has been successful in reaching out to U.S. allies to “calm some nerves” and possibly pull together a summit to deal with shared concerns.
Yet Biden, he said, missed an opportunity to work with Republicans on bipartisan COVID-19 relief, passing his $1.9 trillion aid package with only Democratic votes.
“I would have thought the president would have been more aligned with his inauguration speech,” Romney told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday. “They just went ahead with their $1.9 trillion plan without any adjustment whatsoever. … I think that’s a real mistake on their part.”
Romney also criticized Biden rescinding some of Trump’s immigration policies, resulting in a “humanitarian crisis” at the U.S. border with Mexico. He also took issue with the president halting oil and gas leases on federal land, which he says just means the U.S. will have to now buy from foreign producers that are bigger polluters.
“I sometimes get frustrated with American politics where, on both sides of the aisle, look good politically but don’t help,” he said.
Would Romney, then, rather see Trump — whom he voted to convict in two impeachment trials — in the White House right now?
“I don’t speculate on things that are not possible,” the senator said.
Though he’s not a fan of the former president, Romney said he believes populism will be around for a long time among Republicans, even with Trump off the stage.
“I don’t think it will be going away in my party, even though I wish it were,” he said.
What is the future of the Republican Party?
Romney said Republicans lining up to run for president in 2024 will “become like President Trump as much as they can.” He said he doesn’t think they would adopt Trump’s “character flaws” or language or “personal features that were so difficult for many of us, for me in particular.”
But from a policy and rhetorical standpoint, there will be an effort to take on populist positions that might offer “more simplistic” answers the times otherwise would demand. Romney pointed to Ohio where Republican candidates looking to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman are “competing to be as much like Trump as they can.”
“I think he will continue to have a substantial influence,” Romney said of Trump.
Romney has said in the past that he doesn’t know where the Republican Party is headed and that he now represents a small slice of the party he once knew.
“I personally think our party is better at attracting the minorities and the young people we need to win and better at doing what’s right for all Americans if we hold to the principles that have been our basis for a long, long time,” he said, listing balancing the budget, equal opportunity, freedom over authoritarianism and good character.
“These kinds of principles, I think, are fundamental to our party and to America,” he said. “I hope that they are in ascendance in our party again, but I think it’s difficult to predict just what our party will do.”
Because of his vote in Trump’s first impeachment trial, Romney doubts he can have much influence in states like Ohio and others where sitting GOP senators aren’t running for reelection next year.
“I don’t get asked to help primary candidates in many states,” he said.
But as a national party, he said, the GOP is going to have to “wake up” and recognize that it has to adopt principles that are right for the country and “politically essential” for its future.
“We won’t have a future if we don’t have young people vote for us. We won’t have a future if we don’t have minorities vote for us, and any image that we somehow are trying to suppress votes, what a terrible image that is,” he said. “To suggest that we don’t want everybody to vote, we just want a few to vote. That’s a terrible image, and hopefully not accurate.”
Romney said while he probably won’t be on the campaign trial in states with vacancies, he can speak up on issues that help the Republican Party do better with young people, minorities and suburban women.
Trump, he said, did well in bringing Democrats to the GOP, but he also lost a lot of Republicans, and “I want to bring them back.”
Romney said he wants to see Republican policies predominate, but he favors the 60-vote rule to pass most bills in the Senate because it requires compromise that leads to better legislation. He said he’d rather see bills passed that way than having the president drive them through on a majority basis, regardless of which party is in power.
Doing away with the filibuster as some Democrats are pushing for would dramatically restructure government and imperil how Congress has legislated from the beginning, he said. The country, he said, would “swing from corner to corner” as parties tried to appeal to their extreme wings.
“I’m absolutely convinced that blowing up the filibuster, the so-called 60-vote rule, would have a very serious impact on the long-term future of our country,” Romney said.