Oh, my. Mitt Romney, the man who was within spitting distance of the Oval Office just two elections ago, can’t lock up the nomination for a Senate seat in Utah. After a protracted technical battle royale at Saturday’s Utah GOP convention, no candidate managed to hit the required 60% mark required to be officially nominated as the Republican replacement for retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. Instead, he’ll now face Rep. Mike Kennedy in the June primary.
Now, many may justifiably chalk this up to the Byzantine and controversial rules of the Utah Republican Party’s nominating process–which has been especially contested among the Party’s faithful through this election cycle. BUT. It doesn’t take much divination to see this as a portent of the mood of the Republican grassroots in the era of Trump. Romney, one of the more articulate and bold critics of Donald Trump during the 2016 election, should probably be a shoe-in, particularly in Utah. Charges of carpetbagging notwithstanding (Mitt only recently migrated to the state, having previously served as governor of ever-blue Massachusetts), you’d think the first Mormon ever nominated by a major party for President of the United States would be their Beyonce-equivalent at this point. Not so. The undercurrent of resentment toward #NeverTrumpers among the Red-blooded base runs deep. This is merely a symptom of the wider disease, as it were.
We may still see get a fresh Rom-nom in June. The numbers were close this weekend, and Romney’s known to be a decent man with a solid, competent governing record. But Kennedy, for all of his policy agreement with Romney, displayed one thing at the convention that distinguished him from the more seasoned, recognized statesman: he openly supported Trump…not just individual actions, but POTUS himself. That, apparently, profoundly resonated with attendees.
I don’t think this bodes well for November. I don’t just mean for Romney/Utah, but for the GOP’s chances overall. If this event is evidence of a wider trend across the country, the tribal instincts of much of the grassroots Republican constituency appears to be recklessly doubling down on Trumpism. We know Democratic voters en masse are energized for the Fall, craving payback for ‘16 (not to mention a firewall against a conservative replacement for Justice Kennedy if he retires from SCOTUS). If the GOP base continues to eschew self-awareness and reject qualified faces like Mitt Romney for their alleged impurity, they doom themselves to permanent minority party status. I’ll cop to getting it wrong, with countless others, in 2016. That does not, however, convince me that crass populism is a template for repeated victory in the future.
I’m not saying Romney is the right guy for the job. Only that the current internal party cleansing may be less of a swamp-draining and more of a self-immolation. Pray for sanity.