After the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most renowned justices of the modern era, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY.) quickly called to appoint a new justice before the general election — less than a day after her passing. Since then, much attention has been paid to the hypocrisy of our nation’s conservative leaders. One face at center stage, nested between McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). On Tuesday, Romney signaled his support for appointing a Trump-nominated justice by the Nov. 3 election, drawing criticism from Democrats and Independents alike who have lauded his long standing public disapproval of President Trump and his administration. However, as wishy-washy and duplicitous as he may seem, Romney’s careful selection of when and where to speak out is indicative of his political savvy.
In 2012, Romney learned that catering to the far-right was ineffective. His campaign was centered around his image as a reliable Mormon businessman, eager to cater to the desires of the diminishing middle class. Coming out of a crippling economic crisis, Romney stressed economic and social conservatism. He called for the tax cuts, deregulation and traditionalism that is typical of a conservative candidate. The first debate of the general election saw a headstrong Romney gaining momentum with his base through promises of reduced taxes, job surges and healthcare reform. These policies were similar to what he had successfully instituted when he was Governor of Massachusetts. His performance set him up leagues ahead of his opponent Barack Obama, promising a fierce and vicious fight for the presidency. Yet as his campaign progressed, Romney’s stances zig-zagged from moderate to far-right. He fell into the arms of the right, taking strong stances against abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration. Consequently, Romney alienated moderate voters and quickly lost control of this critical voting group, losing to Obama by 126 electoral votes and 4 points in the popular vote.
Following the election, Romney repurposed the contradicting and shifting opinions that were his undoing into a political strategy that won him the favor of key Democrats and Republicans. He recognized the importance of appealing to voters across the ideological spectrum. In 2016, Romney re-established his name as a prominent Republican leader through his harsh criticisms of the crass and callous remarks then-candidate Donald Trump made a habit of saying throughout his presidential campaign. Romney’s image shifted from a fumbling people-pleaser to a man confident in his values who is willing to speak up for his constituency. His March 2016 address strongly condemning the President during his candidacy reinvigorated his support amongst left-leaning voters. This position was only solidified by his vote to stray from his party and convict Trump following the impeachment trial.
Romney has become one of the most influential Republicans simply by virtue of being willing to speak out against the President and his administration. This willingness to go against the tide has gained him political traction with the very group of moderates he failed to appease in 2012. His strategic choice to run for Orrin Hatch’s former Senate seat in 2018 put him in a unique position – the Republican base he had to capture increasingly disapproves of Trump’s performance, with Trump’s disapproval rating at 52%. His anti-Trump rhetoric no longer set him behind his opponents, and this reprieve allowed him to focus on his strong suit: the economy. There will be no political pressure for him to cave to the demands of Trump like many of his counterparts, such as McConnell and Graham.
Nationally, Romney’s shows of support for liberal social causes, like when he marched in a Black Lives Matter protest this June, have bolstered his support from Democrats while giving him room to focus on conservative issues under the radar. Since his Senate election, Romney has authored and supported bills advocating for increased border security and harsher immigration laws without receiving much scrutiny from the progressives that praise him. Throughout his time as a senator of Utah, he’s been able to carefully balance his constituency’s desires with increased public attention that has put him back on the political stage.
Romney’s ability to transform his greatest shortcoming to a strong public relations tactic is indicative of his ability to play the American public and members of the government in his favor. Romney will support his party when it matters but will occasionally pander to liberal social causes to maintain bipartisan support. After reviewing Romney’s political strategy, his recent statement expressing support for a Trump-nominated justice should be no surprise.
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