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.
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.