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Such a variety of possible Republican candidates to replace Orrin Hatch — and all subsumed in the person of one Willard Mitt Romney!
Now, if Romney runs, it’s unlikely Utah will see Freshly Minted Mitt, the idealistic, socially liberal, fiscally moderate businessman who gave Ted Kennedy a reelection scare in 1994. That Mitt wasn’t enamored of Ronald Reagan; his values seemed to reflect the doughty progressive Republicanism of his father, former Michigan governor George Romney.
Next came Managerial Mitt, the man who ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 intent on sidestepping land mine matters like abortion and running instead as an accomplished Mr. Fix-It, who would be an independent-minded check on the wayward ways of Democratic Beacon Hill.
The new governor had scarcely gotten his desk arranged when another doppelganger made his presence known: Mendaciously Morphing Mitt. Having set his sights on a 2008 presidential run, this Mitt hoisted his supposedly moderate ideological anchor and tacked hard to starboard, flip-flopping on abortion, battling against gay marriage, inveighing against illegal immigration, and signing on as a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. This was the shape-shifting Mitt that John McCain memorably skewered during a 2008 Republican primary debate. After Romney had argued he was the change candidate in the race, McCain retorted: “Governor Romney, we disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change.”
Of course, Utah might luck out at Romney Roulette and get Admirably Manly Mitt, who in the face of Donald Trump’s growing momentum during the 2016 primary season, stood up and denounced the GOP frontrunner as the phony, crude, blustery bully he was and is.
Then again, they might also get stuck with Malleable Manservant Mitt, who, once Trump triumphed, let himself be duped into believing the small-minded, score-settling president-elect might actually pick one of his chief critics as secretary of state if only selfsame critic came courting with honeyed words of praise.
Now wait, some readers will no doubt object, with such a multifarious menu of might-be Mitts, how can Utahans know that the Romney they vote for in 2018 is the one who will show up in the Senate in 2019?
That, admittedly, is a problem.
And yet, though I have witnessed myriad Mitts — enough to realize there is a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle about the man — if a Republican is to replace Hatch, I’d still like to see it be Romney.
For starters, he’s undeniably smart and knowledgeable. Further, his beliefs could make him an important Senate counterbalance to Trumpism. He is wise to the wiles of Russia. He has lamented Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement. And though as a presidential candidate he called for the repeal the Affordable Care Act, he understands health care policy, and knows that Obamacare, based as it is on Romneycare, isn’t socialism and could be made to work well.
Deep down, he has an underlying decency, or so I’m still inclined to think. He believes in a different sort of America, a better America, than Trump does.
No, he wouldn’t speak truth to power with the relish of a John McCain. Still, it’s hard to imagine him morphing into the kind of toady Orrin Hatch has been for Trump. Or ducking Trump’s many controversies with the regularity of Speaker Paul Ryan. Or letting a little presidential attention transform him from firm critic to muted accommodationist, the way it has Lindsey Graham.
It’s odd to say that a man of 70 may have unrealized leadership potential. And it’s all too possible that a Senator Romney might turn out to be yet another disappointing Romney reinvention.
And yet, if Romney could put his grander presidential ambitions aside, stabilize and stay true to his convictions, and start to speak his mind without first putting his finger to the wind, he could become a valuable figure in today’s US Senate.
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