“I was in Utah, met with legislative leadership there, and then went to Florida for a fundraiser for the NRSC,” Romney said, exiting the weekly GOP luncheon, two hours before Trump lobbed another verbal grenade at the senator.
He said there was no awkwardness at the fundraising retreat or Tuesday’s lunch, also attended by Vice President Pence. His visit to Utah, however, led to a more confrontational discussion.
“I’m sure people have different points of view, that’s what we’re entitled to do in a democracy,” said Romney.
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson described it as a “very frank” conversation, but one that GOP leaders appreciated. “It actually took a lot of courage to do that in the wake of what happened, primarily because many of us here are disappointed with what happened yesterday,” Wilson told local media Thursday.
Trump often mocked Romney after he lost the 2012 presidential race, and when the real estate developer emerged as the front-runner in the 2016 GOP presidential contest, Romney tried to rally opposition to Trump.
As he considered running for Senate from Utah in 2018, the former Massachusetts governor veered between lashing out at Trump and supporting his policy positions. He has been a mostly reliable GOP vote since entering the Senate 13 months ago, although he opposed Trump’s national emergency declaration in March to shift money from military projects to pay for border barriers Trump promised Mexico would finance.
In the last week, Romney has been on the receiving end of a presidential tirade and an onslaught of criticism from the president’s son, White House officials and some conservatives. Romney’s niece, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, declined to defend him, saying she disagreed with his decision. On Thursday Trump complained that Romney used his Mormon faith as “a crutch” in guiding his vote to convict and on Monday, during a meeting with the governors, Trump again blasted Romney.
“You keep him. We don’t want him,” the president told Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R).
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump called Romney a “disgrace,” at the same time that the senator was voting for Trump’s judicial nominees.
Last week, Romney voted to convict Trump on one impeachment charge — abuse of power — but found the president not guilty on obstructing Congress. Trump was acquitted on both counts.
Before the votes, the newest GOP senator, Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) accused Romney of trying to “appease the left” after he suggested the Senate should hear the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton. Republicans blocked any witnesses from testifying in the trial although Romney and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with Democrats to allow witnesses and new evidence.
Romney said Tuesday that his Senate colleagues have been supportive so far.
“I certainly respect each of them for the conclusions they reached and believe that when people of character vote their conscience, that is a good thing,” he said.
What will Romney do about the 2020 race?
“I’m not running,” he said, breaking into laughter, having twice before sought the presidency. “I’ve just said I’m not going to be endorsing, I’ve said that from the very beginning. So nothing’s changed in that regard.”
Romney said he would not endorse anyone for president in 2020, not Trump nor any Democrat nor third party challenger.
He had one bit of advice for Democratic voters, to shy away from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“I don’t really have any thoughts on the Democratic field, other than, if Bernie or Elizabeth becomes the nominee, the president will beat them in a landslide,” he said.