Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he will not run for reelection, ending a storied two-decade political career that included the 2012 Republican GOP nomination for president and a term as Massachusetts governor.
Romney, 76, said the country’s many challenges call for a younger generation of leaders. He said the U.S. would be better served if the two front-runners for their parties’ 2024 presidential nominations — Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump — stepped aside. Biden is 80 and Trump is 77.
Call for Younger Leadership
“The times we’re living in redemand 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,” Romney said in a news conference at the Capitol. He said baby boomers like him are “not the right ones to be making the decisions for tomorrow.”
He said after he leaves the Senate he plans to focus on getting more young people voting and involved in the political process.
Romney’s Political Journey
As the GOP’s 2012 nominee for the White House, Romney campaigned across America as a buttoned-up former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive. But with Trump’s populist rise as the party’s dominant figure, Romney’s brand of Republicanism shifted from establishment to outlier. He was the only GOP member of Congress to vote to convict Trump at both of his impeachment trials.
Romney said at the news conference that he belongs to the “wise wing of the Republican Party” and doesn’t think it will fade away.
“My wing of the party talks about policy and about issues that will make a difference in the lives of the American people. The Trump wing of the party talks about resentments of various kinds and getting even and settling scores and revisiting the 2020 election.”
Romney said he spoke to Biden on Wednesday, and the president wished him well.
He is the sixth incumbent senator to announce plans to retire after the end of the 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 in a statement, noting the breadth of experience he brought to the chamber and saying his deep faith and integrity had inspired his colleagues.
“The U.S. Senate is known to attract bright and proven public servants. However, we rarely get to welcome new Senators already as accomplished and well-regarded as Mitt Romney,” McConnell said.
Open Contest for Romney’s Seat
His departure creates a wide-open contest in a state that heavily favors Republicans and is expected to attract a crowded field.
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson expressed interest in Romney’s seat earlier this year, launching an exploratory committee in April while saying the state needed a “conservative fighter” who represents its values, not a “professional career politician.”
Wilson, in a statement Wednesday, thanked Romney for his service and wished him the best. “I’ve been encouraged so far by the record-breaking fundraising, groundswell of grassroots support, and unprecedented endorsements we’ve received so far,” Wilson said. “Stay tuned.”
Romney’s Relationship with Trump
Romney easily won election to the Senate in 2018 but was expected to face more resistance from his own party after he emerged as one of the most visible members to break with Trump.
Romney in 2020 became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president from their own party in an impeachment trial. Romney was the only Republican to vote against Trump in his first impeachment and one of seven to vote to convict him in the second.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.
Romney was booed by a gathering of the Utah Republican Party’s most active members months after his vote at the second impeachment trial, and a measure to censure him narrowly failed. Members of the party even flung the term “Mitt Romney Republican” at their opponents on the campaign trail in last year’s midterm elections.
Romney’s Popularity in Utah
Still, Romney has been broadly popular in Utah, which has long harbored a band of the party that’s favored civil conservatism and resisted Trump’s brash and norm-busting style of politics.
The state is home to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project; the anti-Trump Republican Evan McMullin, who launched a long-shot 2016 presidential campaign; and GOP Gov. Spencer Cox, who has been critical of Trump and is also up for reelection in 2024.
More than a majority of the state’s population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The faith arrived in the western state with pioneers fleeing religious persecution and spread globally with the religion’s missionaries, a legacy that’s left the church’s conservative members embracing immigrants and refugees.
Romney, a Brigham Young University graduate and one of the faith’s most visible members, has been a popular figure in the state for two decades. He burnished his reputation there by turning around the bribery scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, making it a global showcase for Salt Lake City.
Romney’s Political Career
Romney served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. During his tenure, he signed a health care law that had some of the same core features as the 2010 federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama, who would go on to defeat Romney in the 2012 White House election.
During his presidential campaign, Romney struggled to shake the perception that he was out of touch with regular Americans. The image crystallized with his comment, secretly recorded at a fundraiser, that he didn’t worry about winning the votes of “47% of Americans” who “believe they are victims” and “pay no income tax.”
He moved to Utah after his defeat for the presidency.
In 2016, he delivered a scathing speech in Utah denouncing Trump, then a GOP presidential candidate, as a “phony” and a “fraud” who was unfit for the White House.
After Trump won, Romney dined with Trump as the president-elect dangled the prospect of naming him secretary of state. Trump chose Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson instead.
Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement during the primary race for his 2018 Senate run but also pledged in an op-ed that year that he would “continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
In 2020, Romney marched in a Washington protest against the police mistreatment of minorities and posted an image of his participation online with the caption “Black Lives Matter,” a rare statement for a member of his party.
On Jan. 6, 2021, as a mob of Trump’s supporters were storming the Capitol to stop Biden from becoming president, Romney nearly came face to face with the rioters. A U.S. Capitol Police officer directed him to turn around, prompting Romney to break into a run for safety.
Trump hailed the news of Romney’s retirement, saying the senator “did not serve with distinction.”
“Fantastic news for America, the great state of Utah, & for the Republican Party,” Trump wrote on his social media site all in caps. “A big primary fight against him was in the offing, but now that will not be necessary. Congrats to all. Make America great again!”