A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced Wednesday that he would leave his seat after just one term, a bombshell that came with a Maine angle as Romney unloaded on many of his colleagues on his way out the door.
The Republican told biographer McKay Coppins of The Atlantic that Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, warned Romney of vague threats to his life days before the riots of Jan. 6, 2021. Romney warned Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, of them, and said the leader did not respond.
The point is that Romney sees many in his party have effectively capitulated to former President Donald Trump whether they align with him or not. Depending on your beliefs, you could see this either as a principled stand by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee or a sign that he is simply out of touch. Either way, it’s clear that figures like Romney have lost their hold.
The context: Maine has had a front-seat view to this. Romney won the 2012 presidential caucuses here, but they are remembered more for a takeover of the state convention by supporters of insurgent candidate Ron Paul and the divisive dispute that followed.
It did not threaten Romney’s path to the nomination, but it was a sign that the grassroots was suspicious of him. He lost the election to President Barack Obama after getting Trump’s endorsement. As Trump closed in on the party’s nomination in early 2016, Romney gave a notable anti-Trump speech in which he called the billionaire a “phony” and “fraud.”
Trump happened to be in Maine that day, giving his first reaction in a Portland hotel ballroom. He responded by noting his past endorsement of Romney and giving the infamous line that the 2012 nominee would have “dropped to his knees” for Trump’s backing. He slammed Romney as a “choke artist.” Then-Gov. Paul LePage said Trump would prove the establishment wrong.
He did, eventually beating Democrat Hillary Clinton. Romney’s career continued due to the atypical nature of Mormon-dominated politics in Utah, a deep-red state that is not as enthralled with Trump as many others are. Primary challengers were beginning to line up against him there, with many conservatives noting his votes to convict Trump on impeachment charges.
What they’re saying: Romney said he was stepping aside because the country needs younger leaders to step up as an antidote to the shortcomings of Trump and President Joe Biden.
King told CNN that Romney will be missed in the Senate for his work across the aisle, and Sen. Susan Collins, another Republican skeptic of Trump, said she learned of his decision to leave the Senate “with deep regret.”
What’s next: We won’t know whether Romney would have hung onto his seat. But as the party clatters toward another Trump-Biden election despite the former president’s indictments and a lack of popularity for both men, we do know that Romney and others like him have lost their grip on the party. Next year will provide a good look at the results of this shift.