On Wednesday, Utah’s Republican Senator Mitt Romney announced that he will not seek reelection, marking the end of a remarkable two-decade political journey that encompassed his 2012 Republican presidential nomination and a term as Massachusetts governor.
At the age of 76, Romney explained that the nation’s myriad challenges call for a new generation of leaders to step forward. He suggested that it would be beneficial for both parties if the front-runners for the 2024 presidential nominations, Democratic President Joe Biden (age 80) and Republican former President Donald Trump (age 77), made way for younger leaders.
In his words, “The times we’re living in demand the next generation step up and express their point of view and to make the decisions that will shape American politics over the coming century. Baby boomers like me are not the right ones to be making the decisions for tomorrow.”
Post-retirement, Romney intends to focus on increasing youth engagement in the political process, emphasizing the importance of getting more young people to vote.
Romney’s political identity shifted from an establishment Republican to an outlier with the rise of Trump’s populism. He notably became the sole GOP member of Congress to vote in favor of convicting Trump in both of his impeachment trials.
At a press conference, Romney identified himself as belonging to the “wise wing of the Republican Party” and expressed his belief that it would not fade away. He contrasted his policy-oriented approach with the Trump wing, which he characterized as focused on grievances, settling scores, and revisiting the 2020 election.
Romney disclosed that he had spoken with President Biden, who wished him well.
He becomes the sixth incumbent senator to announce plans to retire after the conclusion of their term in 2025, joining Republican Mike Braun of Indiana and Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell praised Romney’s extensive experience and deep faith, stating that he had inspired his colleagues.
Romney’s retirement opens the door to a competitive race in a state traditionally favoring Republicans.
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson had previously expressed interest in Romney’s seat, emphasizing the need for a “conservative fighter” who represents the state’s values rather than a “professional career politician.”
Despite facing some resistance within his own party after his break with Trump, Romney remained popular in Utah. The state is known for its faction of civil conservative Republicans who resisted Trump’s unconventional style of politics.
Utah’s majority population comprises members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known for their conservative values and a history of embracing immigrants and refugees.
Romney, a prominent member of the faith, has enjoyed widespread support in the state, owing in part to his successful management of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.
Prior to his Senate career, Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. His tenure there included the signing of a healthcare law with similarities to the 2010 federal healthcare law signed by President Barack Obama, who defeated Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Romney faced criticism for appearing out of touch with the average American, particularly due to his remark, captured secretly at a fundraiser, that he wasn’t concerned about winning the votes of the “47% of Americans” who “believe they are victims” and “pay no income tax.”
After his presidential defeat, Romney relocated to Utah and continued to be vocal about his concerns regarding Trump, referring to him as a “phony” and a “fraud” who was unfit for the White House. However, he did accept Trump’s endorsement during his 2018 Senate campaign while pledging to speak out against divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest, or democracy-endangering actions.
In 2020, Romney joined a protest against police mistreatment of minorities and declared “Black Lives Matter,” making a rare statement for a member of his party.
On January 6, 2021, during the Capitol riot, Romney came close to confrontations with Trump supporters and had to run to safety when directed by a Capitol Police officer.
Trump celebrated Romney’s retirement, characterizing him as someone who did not serve with distinction and expressing satisfaction that a contentious primary fight against him had been averted.