Mitt Romney Reminded Me Why I’m Proud to Be from Utah

Two days ago, as of this draft, Mitt Romney broke with Senate Republicans and voted to convict Donald Trump on the first article of impeachment: charges of abuse of power. Predictably, many of Romney’s constituents and fellow conservatives excoriated him for his decision. Fox News commentator Lou Dobbs thundered that “Romney is going to be associated with Judas, Brutus, Benedict Arnold forever…because of his betrayal” [1]; Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter that Romney had officially become a “member of the resistance & should be expelled from the GOP” [2]; meanwhile, at the state level, a Utah lawmaker presented a bill to censure Romney for his vote [3]. A large number of Utah voters, however, have thanked Romney for what they saw as an act of inspiring political courage. I would like to join them in expressing my own gratitude. This Wednesday, Mitt Romney reminded me of why I’m proud to be from Utah. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a committed Democrat and frequent critic of President Trump. I voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and I would have voted for Barack Obama when he ran against Romney in 2012 had I been old enough. Many reading this article might argue that my sudden support for Romney is a natural product of my partisan loyalties: why wouldn’t I be happy that a prominent Republican tried to remove Trump from office? But while my party affiliation certainly influenced how I viewed the dramatic events that unfolded in the Senate on Wednesday, I would suggest that self-interest played a minimal role in Romney’s party defection and that true non-partisans have every reason to appreciate the integrity of his move. 

Why? Because Mitt Romney stood to gain very little from defying Donald Trump. Unlike Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Doug Jones (D-AL), or Joe Manchin (D-WV), Romney’s home state is solidly within his own party’s control, and despite Utah’s reputation for being unenthusiastic about the president, in recent months Trump has been more popular here than Romney himself [4]. As he made clear in his speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, because of his impeachment vote, Romney risked becoming a pariah among his conservative colleagues [5]. With both the majority of Utah voters and the unanimity of Senate Republicans in Trump’s corner, Romney had next to no political motivation to buck his party’s consensus.  

While Romney admittedly has a long history of criticizing Donald Trump, it’s hard to imagine that his recent defiance of the president stemmed purely from bitterness over losing the White House in 2012. Romney was effusive in his praise of other 2016 presidential candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, and his condemnation of Trump’s candidacy began well before the latter had even clinched the Republican nomination [6]. It seems that Romney’s grievance is not that Trump succeeded where he failed, but rather that Trump threatens America’s “prospects for a safe and prosperous future” [7].  I am inclined, then, to take the senator at his word that his impeachment decision was a sincere effort to vote with his conscience and defend the rule of law.

Though Romney only took up official residence in Utah six years ago, in many ways he and the Beehive State share a commitment to defending core values, regardless of partisanship. For instance, last year President Trump signed an executive order delegating refugee policy to state and local governments. While many conservative governors slashed the number of incoming refugees, Utah Governor Gary Herbert—himself a lifelong Republican—asked Trump to send more to the state . Herbert described members of the refugee community as “productive employees and responsible citizens,” and his state has become a central destination for those fleeing violence and hardship [8].Then, earlier this year, Utah passed a law banning conversion therapy, becoming one of the most conservative states to do so [9]. Meanwhile, Utah’s push to drive down housing prices, expand public transportation, and cultivate a talented workforce have produced a booming tech sector and created one of the fastest growing state economies in the nation [10].

Especially among BYU’s more progressive students, Utah’s traditionally conservative culture and leaders are often the subject of derision and frustration. But while the state has its fair share of idiosyncrasies and even profound flaws, it has also demonstrated its capacity to shelve political expediency and do the right thing. Mitt Romney reminded me of that this week. In a time of such political ugliness, it’s nice to have something to be proud of. 

[1] https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/2/7/21128106/president-trump-mitt-romney-impeachment-recall-republican

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2020/02/06/utah-lawmaker-files-bill/

[4] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/trump-more-popular-in-utah-than-romney-as-senator-weighs-impeachment

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html

[6] https://www.politico.com/story/2015/11/romney-issues-endorsement-of-gop-oppo-group-215478 

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/04/us/politics/mitt-romney-speech.html 

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/trump-gave-states-the-power-to-ban-refugees-conservative-utah-wants-more-of-them/2019/12/02/d8de7b00-1085-11ea-a533-90a7becf7713_story.html

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/us/utah-conversion-therapy-ban.html[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brendarichardson/2019/12/09/utah-ranks-among-the-fastest-growing-states-in-the-nation-heres-why/#454abeca217f

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Dan Harker

DAN HARKER is a senior from Orem, Utah, majoring in Middle East Studies/Arabic. Dan loves learning languages and traveling and has recently spent time exploring Jordan, Israel, Qatar, Mexico, and Morocco. When in Provo, he contributes to research on Islamist parties in the Arab World and American perceptions of elected officials. After graduating from BYU, he hopes to earn a doctorate in political science and pursue a career as a policymaker for national security. Dan’s guilty pleasures include binging Breaking Bad and New Girl as well as listening to Susan Rice’s autobiography while making chorizo burritos. Dan fervently believes that Chick-Fil-A is overpriced and really not all that great to begin with.

Dan Harker

DAN HARKER is a senior from Orem, Utah, majoring in Middle East Studies/Arabic. Dan loves learning languages and traveling and has recently spent time exploring Jordan, Israel, Qatar, Mexico, and Morocco. When in Provo, he contributes to research on Islamist parties in the Arab World and American perceptions of elected officials. After graduating from BYU, he hopes to earn a doctorate in political science and pursue a career as a policymaker for national security. Dan’s guilty pleasures include binging Breaking Bad and New Girl as well as listening to Susan Rice’s autobiography while making chorizo burritos. Dan fervently believes that Chick-Fil-A is overpriced and really not all that great to begin with.

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