Is Trump Waging A Hidden Campaign Against Mitt Romney? When the president went to Utah on Monday, he may have been working to keep Romney from having a path through that state to the Senate — and a perch as the top non-Trump Republican in Washington.
NPR logo

Is Trump Waging A Hidden Campaign Against Mitt Romney?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/568419731/568439679" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Is Trump Waging A Hidden Campaign Against Mitt Romney?

Is Trump Waging A Hidden Campaign Against Mitt Romney?

President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., shortly after Election Day. Romney was under consideration for secretary of state at the time. Now, he's eyeing a Senate race in Utah. Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Carolyn Kaster/AP

President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., shortly after Election Day. Romney was under consideration for secretary of state at the time. Now, he's eyeing a Senate race in Utah.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

President Trump went to Utah on Monday. The official purpose of his trip was to announce the reduction of two national monuments in the state, though he could have signed those orders in the Oval Office.

But the journey west may have served a political purpose for the president — to keep a political rival out of Washington.

Trump said on Monday that he hopes seven-term Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch stays in the Senate "for a very long time to come." Hatch is 83 years old, and according to someone familiar with his thinking he would indeed like to retire. Hatch's wife wants him to retire. But Donald Trump does not want him to retire because of the person who would most likely replace him: Mitt Romney.

Trump had hours to persuade Hatch to run again while on Air Force One flying back and forth from Washington. Trump also made time to lavish praise on Hatch. "You are a true fighter, Orrin," he said at the beginning of a speech on the national monuments.

Utah polls show that big majorities of voters want Hatch to retire and that Romney would easily win the seat. If that happened, Romney would immediately become the most prominent elder statesman of the GOP. Dignified and disciplined, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee would become the center of gravity for those in the party who are uncomfortable with Trump's behavior.

Now that Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are retiring, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is gravely ill, Romney would also become the de facto head of the non-Trump Republicans — although not necessarily the anti-Trump Republicans.

President-elect Donald Trump eats dinner with Mitt Romney and then-incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus at Jean-Georges restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in New York, in November 2016. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Evan Vucci/AP

President-elect Donald Trump eats dinner with Mitt Romney and then-incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus at Jean-Georges restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in New York, in November 2016.

Evan Vucci/AP

Romney was very tough on Trump during the campaign. He called him "a phony, a fraud" in a major speech. But the two men seemed to reconcile over frog legs at dinner in the Trump International Hotel in New York during Trump's search for a secretary of state. Although many thought Romney may have looked the part, he did not get the top job at Foggy Bottom.

Since then Romney has only criticized Trump in public after the president's remarks creating a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and their opponents following the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August. On Monday, reporters asked Trump about Romney's possible candidacy in Utah, and Trump said, "He's a good man. Mitt's a good man."

But as we were reminded when Trump attacked Hilary Clinton again Monday morning over her treatment by the FBI, there are some political rivalries the president just can't seem to get over.

Correction Dec. 4, 2017

A previous version of this story misspelled Bob Corker's last name as Coker.