The Utah senator has plans to be a force in 2020 — by helping Republicans who need daylight from Trump.
President Donald Trump wants to sideline Mitt Romney — but the Utah senator isn’t having it.
Even as he faces a barrage of attacks from the president and his allies, Romney is mapping out plans to play a central role in 2020 — headlining party events, shelling out cash from his campaign war chest, and hitting up his donor network for vulnerable senators on the ballot next year.
Later this month, Romney will take his most aggressive step yet to insert himself into the 2020 campaign when he hosts a New York City fundraiser for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Michigan Senate hopeful John James. All are establishment-aligned figures confronting tough races in swing states. Behind the scenes, Romney’s team has also begun directing his donors to help GOP candidates in Senate battlegrounds.
Romney aides say he’s always intended to help in competitive Senate races and that his desire to do so has never been influenced by Trump’s efforts to ostracize him. Yet the senator’s recent efforts underscore his insistence on not receding from a Republican Party now dominated by Trump. At 72 and in the twilight of his political career, Romney cares little about what the president has to say about him, his friends say, and is determined to take a stand for mainstream Republicans who’ve been increasingly marginalized since Trump took office.
“I know plenty of my candidates would love Romney’s fundraising help — he’s got a huge donor network, regardless of the Twitter sentiment of the day,” said Will Ritter, a top aide on Romney’s 2018 Senate campaign, referring to Trump’s attacks.
The senator is stepping up after Trump just unleashed a withering assault on the 2012 GOP nominee over his refusal to rule out supporting impeachment. Over the weekend, Trump called the Utah senator a “pompous ‘ass,’” who is “so bad for Rs.” The president added that Romney was “playing right into the hands” of Democrats and tweeted out a video of him losing the 2012 election.
Trump’s allies are piling on. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said Romney was “bitter about Donald Trump” winning the White House. Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh told listeners that Romney is determined to “get rid of Trump.” And Donald Trump Jr. said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “much tougher than Mittens.”
The senator further infuriated the Trump team when he called the president’s appeal to China to investigate Joe Biden “wrong and appalling.”
Romney is shrugging it all off. On Thursday evening, he hosted a fundraiser for the Utah Republican Party, an organization that’s been plagued by financial and organizational troubles. Within the state’s political circles, the event was considered particularly noteworthy because conservatives formerly involved in the state GOP apparatus vocally opposed Romney’s 2018 Senate bid.
Romney’s presence at the Salt Lake City dinner, held at the home of real estate executive Scott Keller, is designed to provide encouragement to mainstream Republicans who’ve long felt alienated from the state party. The Utah GOP is trying to rebuild itself following midterm elections that saw Republicans lose a congressional seat and a half-dozen state legislative seats.
“Having someone as well-known as Mitt Romney publicly supporting the Utah Republican Party’s fundraising efforts effectively sends a signal to former donors, the business community, and the entire Utah political establishment that ‘the water is warm,’ so to speak, and it’s safe to jump back in,” said state GOP Chairman Derek Brown.
After he became chairman earlier this year, Brown said, Romney “made it very clear to me that he was willing to play an active role in supporting the party.”
So far this year, Romney has funneled cash to roughly a dozen county GOP organizations.
But most of his donations in 2019 have been directed to his Senate colleagues. After taking office in January, he gave the maximum contribution of $5,600 to each Republican incumbent up for reelection in 2020 — an unusual, if not unprecedented, gesture for a freshman senator.
This spring, he held a high-dollar fundraiser in Florida for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Over the summer, he was a special guest at an event for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Romney is expected to hold additional fundraising events over the 2020 election season for Republican incumbents and the Senate GOP campaign arm. His team has also encouraged longtime Romney givers to boost Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, who faces an uphill battle to keep her seat against star Democratic recruit Mark Kelly, the onetime astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. Trump’s approval rating in the state has dropped to the mid-40s, according to some recent surveys.
The upcoming fundraiser to benefit Gardner, Collins, and James is expected to draw an exclusive group of major givers. Investment company executive Stephen Schwarzman is listed as a co-host, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO.
Romney’s aides are aware that his fundraising help may not be welcomed by every Republican candidate. But the three beneficiaries of the New York City event have shown a willingness to demonstrate independence from the president. Trump lost Maine and Colorado in 2016, and the president’s reelection aides are increasingly pessimistic about his odds in Michigan.
“I think there is definitely a role for him to play,” said Boyd Matheson, an opinion editor at the Deseret News newspaper who has been in touch with Romney via text message, “especially in the purple states where Trump isn’t doing especially well.”