On Wednesday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would not run for reelection in 2024. On the surface, the electoral impact of Romney’s decision is minimal — his seat should stay safely in Republican hands. But it’s still notable because it represents the departure of one of the few remaining Republican senators who had a moderate voting record and/or vocally opposed former President Donald Trump.
The Senate, of course, was a second (or, really, third) career for Romney. After a successful career in business during which he co-founded Bain Capital, Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002 — part of the Bay State’s long-standing love affair with moderate Republican governors. He ran for president twice and won the Republican nomination in 2012, losing to then-President Barack Obama in the general election.
That was the last time the GOP chose a presidential nominee who wasn’t Trump. Since 2016, Republican voters have turned against Romney’s brand of establishment-aligned Republicanism and embraced Trump’s brash populism. In 2018, a year that saw large numbers of moderate or anti-Trump Republicans leave Congress, Romney bucked the overall trend by getting elected to the Senate from Utah (where a large number of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including Romney himself — have made the local GOP more Trump-skeptical than most). Since then, he has spoken out vocally against the party’s new direction. Most notably, he voted to convict Trump in both of his impeachment trials.
Romney also developed a moderate voting record, breaking with the right wing of his party in votes ranging from confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to overturning Trump’s emergency declaration to fund the border wall. Romney’s DW-NOMINATE score — a measure of ideology based on roll-call votes, where 1 represents the most conservative and -1 represents the most liberal — is 0.288, making him more moderate than all but three current Republican senators.
Both groups of Republicans — Trump opponents and ideological moderates — are endangered species now, and Romney’s departure will further cull the herd. Of the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump in either of his impeachments, only six are still in Congress, including Romney. And the number of Senate Republicans with DW-NOMINATE scores below 0.300 is at its lowest point in at least 40 years.