On Friday morning, Romney made it official: He’s running to replace Orrin Hatch as Utah’s senator.
Romney’s biggest weakness is that he’s not really from Utah. He grew up in Michigan, and while he did attend Brigham Young University in Provo, he spent most of his professional life in Massachusetts, where he served as governor from 2003-2007.
The state’s GOP chairman blasted Romney on these grounds, saying on Thursday that Romney is “essentially doing what Hillary Clinton did in New York” when she ran for Senate in 2000. “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here.” The two-minute video accompanying Romney’s announcement makes it clear that his campaign takes that weakness seriously: The words “Utah” and “Utahans” appear a dozen times, and it focuses on Romney’s work as CEO of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
But there is still a national message in the ad, and in Romney’s campaign. “I think it will be very much a Utah-centric campaign,” longtime Romney ally Derek Miller told The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins. “[Romney] wants the country to look at Utah as an example. Why are things going so well here? … What lessons are there to learn, and how do you take them back to the nation’s capital?” In the ad, Romney uses Utah as a model for the country: The people are decent, hard-working, and frugal.
This is being held up as a subtle, anti-Trump message: Instead of attacking Trump, as he did during the 2016 election, Romney is embracing an implicit critique by standing up for a different kind of conservatism. But it’s also an acknowledgment that Romney’s critiques of Trump (and his overtures to him) have failed. Romney hasn’t been able to influence the president or his party, so he’s going to try to ignore Trump and run a conventional Senate campaign. The question is whether he’ll also be a conventional Republican senator—which is to say, obeisant to Trump.