Reaction to Romney's Op-Ed Ignoring Key Consideration: Religion Matters By Luke Perry
The national response by prominent journalists to Mitt Romney’s recent op-ed (examples here, here, here, here, & here) has missed one key element: religion matters. Donald Trump is arguably the least religious president in U.S. history and has displayed an extraordinary amount of moral relativism during his tenure. Romney would have arguably been the most religious president ever. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a high-demand religion, calling on adherents to regularly contribute significant amounts of time and resources to the church. Of course, Romney is personally motivated, politically calculating, and pragmatic, like most national political figures, but he is also immensely devout. You cannot fully understand Mitt Romney without recognizing this.
Romney’s Mormon faith is central to understanding his character and leadership based critiques of Donald Trump, past and present. As I document in my book Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the 2012 Election, Romney’s family has deep roots in Mormon history, while Mitt has been a respected religious leader dating back to his mission, where he distinguished himself overcoming a life threatening tragedy. Romney was central in saving the 2002 Olympics hosted by Utah, a pivotal moment in the development of his political career, and became the first LDS presidential nominee of a major party, the centerpiece of the “Mormon Moment.”
Righteousness, family (particularly being a good role model), and service, are crucial components of Mormonism Romney has sought to embody throughout his life. As Romney recently stated in explaining his views on Trump, “I know what my principles are.” Over the last two years, Romney has explicitly articulated why Trump is not a good person, and now, not a good president. This is a remarkable critique from any incoming GOP U.S. Senator, let alone a former presidential nominee. There will be political ebbs and flows as Romney joins the Senate, but he will never be comfortable with Trump’s character, or lack thereof.
Liberals have criticized Romney for being politically inconsistent, overly calculating, and all talk and no action. Trump supporters have expressed anger and disappoint in his lack of loyalty to the president and the Republican Party. Unlike in the past, Romney has no further political aspirations that tie him to any party or person. When asked about running for president in 2020, Romney cited his two losses and quickly dismissed the idea. Instead, Romney follows Orrin Hatch, the longest serving U.S. Senator from Utah, who exceeded the tenure of Reed Smoot, a Mormon pioneer in national politics. This is it for Romney, who will settle into as politically and culturally significant a position he could hope for.
Senator Romney will support conservative domestic policies- he is after all, a conservative. Romney is also clearly dissatisfied with aspects of Trump’s foreign policy, from the resignation of Jim Mattis to withdrawal in Syria, not to mention a consistently insufficiently adversarial approach to Russia, something Romney advocated as the GOP nominee in 2012. I expect Romney to unabashedly address these concerns in his new position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Though Romney is unlikely to become a presidential candidate again, he does have a major donor network that will be impactful. Romney has also openly referenced the prospect of a Republican primary challenge to Trump, and made clear that Trump endorsed him during his Senate campaign, not the other way around. This bolsters the prospects of Jeff Flake running for president. Flake, a fellow conservative Mormon and Trump critic, became the first Republican to call for a primary challenge in March of 2018. GOP Mormon resistance is an often overlooked aspect of current Republican Party politics with implications for Utah and beyond in 2020.
I predicted nearly a year ago that Romney would adopt a critical approach toward President Trump in joining the Senate, so his recent actions are not surprising. How so much insightful analyses can ignore such a central element to understanding this development is curious and hopefully addressed moving forward.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College