What Mitt Romney Saw in the Senate

The Atlantic has an absorbing piece on Mitt Romney as an excerpt of an upcoming memoir named Romney: A Reckoning, based on the announcement yesterday of his upcoming retirement.

I spent quite some time reading through the Atlantic exclusive piece, as I was riddled with interruptions, but I’d like to share some highlights that I felt were about as candid as one could expect from someone with an “R” behind their name. I thought it was a great read, and while yes, Mitt Romney voted with Trump policies, he also stands with those who see Trump as a destroyer of America and our democracy. He also takes down several of his colleagues along the way.

Many of the interviews with Romney took place in a quiet D.C. apartment he purchased grudgingly for $2.4 million, as his wife Ann was in love with a condo, something more luxurious, at the Watergate.

The revelation above came a few months after the insurrection on January 6, 2021. He openly questioned whether the authoritarian movement within the GOP was a product of Trump, or was it only a sore with the GOP, opened by someone like Trump, a shameless demagogue?

Romney painted Mitch McConnell as someone who tells his caucus what they want to hear, as a manager of a roomful of egos. He questioned which version of the truth McConnell believed in. There were several conversations Romney spoke of with McConnell, and yet McConnell denied to the reporter that he had said them.

An example, with regards to the 2019 impeachment over the Ukraine phone call, Romney said that McConnell told Trump to lay off his criticism of Romney. Romney thanked him, and McConnell remarked, “It wasn’t for you so much as for him,” McConnell replied. “He’s an idiot. He doesn’t think when he says things. How stupid do you have to be to not realize that you shouldn’t attack your jurors?” McConnell later denied this.

During the second Trump impeachment over the insurrection, Romney went back and forth about whether to convict or acquit Trump. When he’d finally reached a decision to convict (as the lone Republican to do so), he found former speaker Paul Ryan calling him on the phone. Ryan was telling him to convict would be political suicide, making him an outcast in the Republican Party. Romney thanked him, and went on to vote to convict.

Romney spoke bluntly about Josh Hawley, as well as Ted Cruz.

He saw some of his colleagues as crazy, and some who acted crazy for the votes. He tried working with Ron Johnson, but after listening to an extended rant on Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, he asked him if there was any conspiracy he didn’t believe in?

What Romney couldn’t stomach any longer was associating himself with people who cynically stoked distrust in democracy for selfish political reasons. “I doubt I will work with Josh Hawley on anything,” he told me.

But as Romney surveyed the crop of Republicans running for Senate in 2022, it was clear that more Hawleys were on their way. Perhaps most disconcerting was J. D. Vance, the Republican candidate in Ohio. “I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than J. D. Vance,” Romney told me. They’d first met years earlier, after he read Vance’s best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. Romney was so impressed with the book that he hosted the author at his annual Park City summit in 2018. Vance, who grew up in a poor, dysfunctional family in Appalachia and went on to graduate from Yale Law School, had seemed bright and thoughtful, with interesting ideas about how Republicans could court the white working class without indulging in toxic Trumpism. Then, in 2021, Vance decided he wanted to run for Senate, and re­invented his entire persona overnight. Suddenly, he was railing against the “childless left” and denouncing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a “fake holiday” and accusing Joe Biden of manufacturing the opioid crisis “to punish people who didn’t vote for him.” The speed of the MAGA makeover was jarring.

Following the insurrection on January 6, he was sure his colleagues would see the error of their ways in lying to their constituents about fraudulent elections. But he was wrong, and he spoke to them about moving forward with their plan to object to electors.

“What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States,” Romney said. “Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.” His voice sharpened when he addressed the patronizing claim that objecting to the certification was a matter of showing respect for voters who believed the election had been stolen. It struck Romney that, for all their alleged populism, Hawley and his allies seemed to take a very dim view of their Republican constituents.

“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!” Romney said, his voice rising to a shout.

In the end, Romney has been heckled, even in Utah. During a speech there, a woman was red-faced and screaming at him with a child at her side. He said to her, “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

He said he honestly became afraid of them, and was spending $5,000 a day on security detail since the riot.

“There are deranged people among us,” he told me. And in Utah, “people carry guns.”

“It only takes one really disturbed person.”

He let the words hang in the air for a moment, declining to answer the question his confession begged: How long can a democracy last when its elected leaders live in fear of physical violence from their constituents?