The Utah primary is upon us. In a puzzling move, Utah delegates triggered primary races for both John Curtis and Mitt Romney. Curtis might have been expected since he faced such pressures in his initial candidacy. But Romney? That is a head scratcher by any measure. He is an obvious and overwhelming favorite.
Just a few years ago Mitt Romney, in what many might term a political miracle, secured the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Utahans rallied around “one of their own” is one brief Election Day away from the White House. Optimism and fervor reigned and Romney was a superstar in most local water cooler discussions. The election results did not pan out (and if you read Bev Harris at blackboxvoting.org and others who carefully analyzed the election you might see a very suspicious and troubling victory on Obama’s part) and Romney semi-retired into seeming political obscurity.
Fast forward to the present and Romney is back in as a strong choice to replace Orrin Hatch’s long-held Senate seat. Mike Kennedy, a good man by all reports, with comparatively light political experience, is now up against Romney in the primary. It is a lopsided race by any measure and arguably a waste of time and taxpayer money. But the strategy is interesting. The same Romney who was Utah’s darling a few years ago is now being labeled by his opposition as a carpetbagger and ”Washington Insider”. These terms were heard directly from (heretofore unnamed) delegates and from the Kennedy campaign. Is there any truth to this?
There is plenty of truth that when Romney secured the nomination in 2012 he was immediately and carefully surrounded by Washington insiders. That is how the game is played in Washington, especially at the highest echelons of power. You play with their team or you do not play at all. When Romney (or Kennedy theoretically) wins the Senate seat, the game will begin anew on the Congressional level. The plot is always the same: “go along to get along”.
But Romney was not, according to knowledgeable analysts such as Newt Gingrich or Joel Skousen, a true insider. It was his appeal as a person not completely beholden to the establishment that drove his popularity to some extent. And, upon his nomination, the establishment machine launched into battle against him. Remember the leaked 47% speech or the silly allegations of high school bullying?
In fact, Skousen points out that Romney’s greatest weakness was seeking for establishment acceptance, a characteristic that implies he was indeed not “in the club” at the time. Romney looked to GOP campaign veterans for help in plotting his course. That is like inviting the foxes to design the hen house. Any candidate will be given the official party version of issues and talking points. Trump faced the same pressures but pushed back, hard, and won on his own boisterous and anti-establishment message, igniting a firestorm that still swirls around him to this day.
It is likely that Romney carries both the scars and lessons learned from this experience. If he still seeks that acceptance by the Washington establishment then his candidacy will be flawed to some extent. But knowing the intelligent, principled and savvy leader Romney has been through the years, chances are he has learned a little something through these past cogitations. And that makes him the most likely change agent if indeed change is possible.
From an experiential point of view, Romney stands head and shoulders above any candidate we have seen in Utah for some time, maybe ever. The facts stand that Romney as an individual is highly principled, very moral and an all-around decent guy. If he has acquired the wisdom through his past campaigns that playing by Washington’s rules is a surefire recipe for mediocrity, or worse, then he will indeed be a formidable representative for Utah when he ascends to the Senate.