Romney's impeachment vote unlikely to spoil his 2024 Utah dreams despite Trump's popularity surge: Experts
'Many in Utah are members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and Romney being one, he would get easily re-elected'
Utah Senator Mitt Romney received a mixed response from the Republican Party after he voted to convict President Donald Trump, a member of his own party, during the Senate impeachment trial on February 5.
Romney made history, becoming the first senator ever to vote to convict a president belonging to the same party. Barring Romney, all 52 of the 53 Republican Senators voted for Trump's acquittal finding him not guilty of abuse of power.
The Utah Senator's unprecedented vote drew ire from many in the party, including President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr, who both called for his ouster from the GOP. Mounting criticism against Romney's move in the party has also raised concerns about his equation with fellow Republicans and his standing in the next Utah senate elections in 2024.
Utah, traditionally, has not been a Trump-supporting state. Although the president won the state in the 2016 presidential elections, he only garnered 45 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage for any Republican since George H. W. Bush in 1992.
"Trump is far less popular in Utah than he is in many states where Republicans dominate. As a group, people who are Mormon have a lot of international experiences and are more open to foreigners and immigrants than many other conservatives in this country. So Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and statements do not resonate in Utah the same way they do in many other largely Republican states. During the 2016 presidential election, Utah was home to some of the most aggressive never-Trump efforts by Republicans in the nation and Trump did far worse among Utah voters when you compare him to the Republican nominee of 2012 (Mitt Romney) and 2008 (John McCain)," Dr Stephen J Farnsworth, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, University of Mary Washington, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
A survey conducted in 2019 showed that a mere 45% of Utah voters approved of Trump’s job performance. However, the voter sentiment towards Trump appears to be changing in the state as the latest survey in February 2020 marked a 7-point increase in the president's favor, putting him over 50 percent for the first time.
Although the Utah senate polls are years away, there are speculations that the devout Mormon may not run for the next elections, and if he does, he should be prepared to lose considering the surging popularity of Trump supporters in the red state.
Experts, however, believe that the Utah Senator has nothing to worry about.
"Utah is a unique state, its population — many of whom are members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) — is very conservative but not terribly supportive of President Trump’s style," Dr Jim Riddlesperger, professor of political science at Texas Christian University told MEAWW.
"Romney, on the other hand, is a member of that church and is beloved by many in that state. My guess is that were he to run for reelection there he would be easily reelected."
The Utah Senator, in his Wednesday speech at the Senate, described himself as "profoundly religious" and noted that all the senators had taken an oath of impartiality before the impeachment trial.
“My promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside,” Romney said. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
Elizabeth Larus, Professor, Political Science at University of Mary Washington believes that the Utah senator will run in the upcoming polls, and although there are some voters in Utah who will come out to vote against Romney, he need not worry about his political standing in the state.
"Romney is likely to run in 2024," she said. "The 2024 poll is far enough out that his vote to convict and remove President Trump will not likely make a difference in the election outcome. Some voters in Utah will come out against him because of his vote, but Romney is not in a vulnerable seat," the professor said.
As far as Romney's equation and standing in the Republican party go, most officials appear to be dismayed by the senator's decision. However, some appear to continue to seek his support in the party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a statement after Romney's vote, said that although he was "surprised" and "disappointed" by his move, he will need the GOP Senator's support and vote in key decisions ahead.
"I do believe that Romney’s vote to convict the president on abuse of power will hurt his standing in the Republican Party, but there’s no indication the party will take any formal steps to punish him," Gregg R Murray, Professor of Political Science, Augusta University, said on Trump's call for Romney's ouster.
"They continue to need his support and vote on future issues. I have no reason to believe he won’t run for re-election in 2024. Regardless of how upset people from his state are now about his vote, 2024 is a long way away and people have notoriously short memories, especially about politics," he added.