• Ryan O'Connell

Democrats' Possible Nightmare: Warren vs. Romney?

October 24, 2019

The Democrats’ nightmare is that Donald Trump is re-elected President and the American experiment in democracy ends. But here’s another potential scary scenario for them: what if Trump were removed from office before the 2020 election and a mainstream conservative like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) ran for President against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass)?

This is admittedly a highly speculative prospect. We would have to assume, first, that 20 Republican Senators would vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, which seems very unlikely at this point. But public opinion is gradually moving against the President, with 50% of Americans favoring at least a trial (and there’s growing support for conviction, too). That trend could accelerate, as more and more government officials provide damning, credible testimony about Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.

Furthermore, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and other Republicans in Congress are finding it harder and harder to defend the President. It’s not just the Ukraine scandal. Politicians in both parties have been shocked and appalled by Trump’s casual abandonment of the Kurds, his sheer incompetence in foreign affairs, his pandering to the autocratic leader of Turkey, Recep Erdogan. Trump is squandering political capital, alienating allies that he needs to avoid being convicted in the Senate.

Mitch McConnell’s Priority: Keeping the Senate

Sen. McConnell and his colleagues want to hold onto the White House, of course, but their key goal, if push came to shove, would be to keep control of the Senate. If they came to fear that Trump could jeopardize their Senate majority in 2020, they might abandon him. They have already given up hope on regaining control of the House of Representatives.

The Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but they will have to defend 23 seats in 2020. Most are rated "safe" or "likely Republican" by the non-partisan Cook Report, but three are considered toss-ups: Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina. If they lost those seats, and the Democrats won the White House, the Republicans would relinquish control of the Senate.

That’s because under the Senate’s rules, in the event of a tie, the Vice-President casts the deciding vote. So if the Democrats won the White House, they would gain another vote in the Senate, giving them the majority. The Democrats would then control both houses of Congress as well as the executive branch.

Romney: a George W. Bush Republican

Romney, a traditional conservative, might appeal to the many moderate Republicans who, disgusted by Trump, cast their votes for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms. Romney might also draw support from independents and moderate or conservative Democrats who are turned off by some of Warren’s sweeping policy proposals and her harsh rhetoric on “corruption”.

Warren has developed great momentum, and she might become the front-runner in the Democratic primaries. The Massachusetts senator’s proposals to provide “Medicare for All”--which would abolish private health insurance--and to impose a wealth tax on the rich are wildly popular with progressive Democrats. But the general public has not embraced the “Medicare for All” concept yet. Warren’s tax proposals might alienate moderate Republicans and independents (and even some Democrats).

Republicans are gleefully using Warren’s proposals (and those of Sen. Bernie Sanders) to attack all Democratic candidates as “socialists”. Warren’s sustained rise in the polls has worried some members of the Democratic establishment, who would prefer a more moderate candidate.

Think of Romney as a George W. Bush Republican--but a smarter, more experienced and more competent version. Romney was a very successful, pragmatic Governor of Massachusetts. Romney created a universal health care system in the state that was the model for the Affordable Care Act, which came to be known as “Obamacare”.

Like Bush, Romney is deeply conservative but, unlike Trump, he embodies traditional Republican values. The former Governor favors lower taxes; he is pro-life; he supports strong controls on immigration. But Romney also believes in free trade and a strong role for the United States in international affairs. He does not cozy up to autocrats like Putin or Erdogan. His tone is reasonable; he does not refer to immigrants as "animals".

Furthermore, unlike Trump, Romney has led an impeccable personal life. He had a distinguished career in business as well as politics, and he has enjoyed a long, happy marriage. A devout Mormon, Romney has held senior positions in his church. Romney is 72, one year younger than Trump, and he is fit and articulate.

Sen. Mitt Romney

But Romney Would Face Huge Obstacles

Still, Romney would face some major hurdles if he decided to run for President. As a former “Never Trumper” and the President’s major antagonist in the Republican party, he is anathema to die-hard Trump supporters.

If Trump were convicted and removed from office, Mike Pence, the Vice President, would become President under the procedures set forth in the Constitution. The Make America Great crowd would no doubt want Pence as their standard-bearer in 2020. He is an evangelical Christian, which appeals to a major constituency in the Republican party. Conversely, Evangelicals are not well-disposed toward Mormons, a relatively small, insular Christian sect.

However, a Mike Pence candidacy might not help the Senate Republicans much, and the Republican establishment, seeking a comeback, might jettison him in favor of Romney.

Pence would be tainted by his association with Trump, of course. Pence also holds extreme views that might turn off moderate Republicans and independents. As an ultra-evangelist, he is virulently anti-gay, calls his wife “Mother” and refuses to dine alone with a woman. Those attitudes offend many moderate Republicans, especially the educated suburban women who were such a critical swing vote in the 2018 midterms.

Pence is a bland, colorless politician, and his political antennae have not worked well at times in the past. When he was governor of Indiana, a deep Red state, he destroyed his political base there by ramming through anti-gay legislation that triggered a ferocious backlash.

Third Time the Charm for Romney?

This would be Romney’s third run for the Presidency, which raises the issue of his “electability”. In 2008 he lost in the Republican primary campaign against Sen. John McCain. However, he won the nomination in 2012 and ran a close race against Barack Obama, losing by just four points, 47-51%. Romney explored running for President again in 2015 but abandoned the effort, because he could not muster enough support.

But that was a long four years ago. Romney made a political comeback in 2018, easily winning election as a Senator from Utah, even though he only had vacation homes in the state. (Utah is heavily Mormon). Meanwhile, many Republicans, tired of the chaos and corruption of the Trump administration, might welcome an experienced, pragmatic politician as their candidate in 2020.

Romney would presumably run a better campaign and avoid some errors he committed in the 2012 race. He attacked Obamacare, which led to charges that he was “flip-flopping” on his own health care policies. This time, Romney could remind voters that he created the model for Obamacare…and he could pledge to keep it intact, along with private health insurance. (For the record, Romney has disavowed any intention to seek the White House again. However, history indicates that few politicians can resist the call of duty if their party asks them to run for President.) The risk for the Republicans would be that the Base, infuriated and embittered by Trump’s fall, would stay home. Maybe. But the hard-core Base will vote for any Republican candidate for President rather than a Democrat. The party establishment might assume that the most of the Base would still show up to vote, even if they were angry.

At some point, Mitch McConnell might bet that with Mitt Romney as the candidate, rather than Trump or Pence, his party would have a better chance of holding onto the Senate. And if Romney faced off against Warren, the Republicans might even have a decent shot at keeping the White House in Republican hands.

Unlikely? Sure. Impossible? We can’t rule out anything in this election. After all, who would ever have thought in 2014 that Americans would elect a reality TV star as President?

The Wall Street Democrat

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