After failing to convince GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah to seek reelection, President Donald Trump must now contend with the likely possibility that Hatch will be replaced by his longtime political foe: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Trump has courted Hatch in recent months in order to ensure that the senator, a reliable Trump administration ally, would seek an eighth term — likely preventing Romney from entering the race. Hatch announced Tuesday that he will not run again, opening the door to Romney, who often hinted throughout 2017 that he would seek Hatch’s seat in the event of his retirement.
Romney’s likely ascendance to the upper chamber threatens a Trump administration that saw its two most prominent Republican congressional detractors — Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — announce their retirements in late 2017.
Romney added to the speculation surrounding his likely candidacy by changing his location on Twitter from Massachusetts to Utah in the immediate aftermath of Hatch’s announcement. Romney won 73 percent of Utah in 2012 and is considered a strong frontrunner, should he declare his candidacy.
The former governor and devout Mormon has routinely criticized Trump for his bombastic rhetoric and seemingly impromptu decision making since the early days of the 2016 campaign.
Romney blasted the president in a 2016 speech, referring to him as a “phony,” and a “fraud.” He further cautioned voters against Trump’s personal tendencies: “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the third-grade theatrics.”
Romney’s verbal beating stands in sharp contrast to Hatch’s characterization of Trump.
“This President hasn’t even been in office even a year, and look at all the things that he’s been able to get done,” Hatch said of Trump in late December. “By sheer will in many ways.”
Trump returned the favorable words during a visit to Utah in December.
“You are a true fighter, Orrin. And I have to say, I’ve gotten to know him very well. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people very well. You meet fighters and you meet people that you thought were fighters but they’re not so good at fighting. He’s a fighter,” Trump said. “We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.”
Trump had dinner with Romney during the transition after floating his name for secretary of state, but never offered him the position, prompting media speculation that Trump was simply cowing his longtime political opponent for personal satisfaction.
The White House maintains that Trump and Romney reached a truce, telling reporters that the pair shared a call during Trump’s Utah visit.
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