Will Mitt Be McCain?

The media are speculating that Mitt Romney will become the “next” John McCain, a thorn in President Trump’s side, assuming the former Massachusetts governor is elected to the U.S. Senate from Utah this November. It may seem so. Although Trump contributed to Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, and just endorsed his Senate bid, Romney blasted Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and has done so recently as well.

“With McCain’s retreat, some turn to Romney to carry his torch,” intoned the Washington Post on February 15. “Romney took to Twitter, for instance, to lash out at Trump last month after The Washington Post reported that the president, in a meeting with senators, said that he did not want more immigrants from countries such as Haiti or in Africa, using an obscenity to describe such nations.”

“‘The poverty of an aspiring immigrant’s nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race,” Romney tweeted. “The sentiment attributed to POTUS is inconsistent [with] America’s history and antithetical to American values.’”

Note how the Post only “reported” on the obscenity, and Romney called it a “sentiment.” The obscenity charge came from Sen. Dick Durban, D-Illinois, who has a history of mendacity. Yet the story consumed the news media for a week even though then never reported how Hillary is well known to have a constant potty mouth.

A month earlier, David Catanese, senior political reporter at U.S. News and World Report, asked, “Is Mitt the Next McCain?.... ‘I've been told that Romney has said he wants to be a McCain-like figure in the Senate,’ says Dave Owen, a longtime Utah Republican strategist who doesn't count himself a Romney supporter.”

The fact though is the U.S. Senate, one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, is based on seniority, with power residing in the committee chairmen sometimes more than the majority leader. McCain, assuming his Senate chair in 1987, didn’t become the chairman of a committee until 1995, when he headed the Indian Affairs Committee. He chaired the Commerce Committee in 2005. He finally attained his longtime dream, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, only in 2015.

No wonder “Maverick” McCain didn’t start making a general nuisance of himself until the late 1990s, after he had been in the Senate a decade, clubbing with his fellow senators.

If Mitt wins, here’s the order of seniority for new members in January 2019 (assuming Sen. Hatch doesn’t quit early to let Gov. Herbert appoint Mitt before his classmates):

1. Former Senator
2. Former Vice President
3. Former House member
4. Former Cabinet secretary
5. Former state Governor
6. Population of state based on the most recent census when the senator took office (Utah is 34th)
7. Alphabetical by last name (in case two senators came from the same state on the same day and have identical credentials).

So Mitt would be near the bottom even though he is a former governor and presidential candidate.

Moreover, he’ll naturally want to stress issues important to Utah, especially land management, where the federal government owns 54.4% of the land, third after Alaska at 69.1% and Nevada at 84.5%. Massachusetts is 1.9%. Mitt almost certainly will seek a seat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where Utah junior Sen. Mike Lee currently is a member, but could slide to a more powerful committee.

Departing Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, as the most senior current Republican senator, chairs the ultra-powerful Committee on Finance, which means he’s Ex Officio on the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, controlling spending on federal lands. So Utah’s two senators today both influence land management.

Currently, Trump is working to hand back land Obama stole from Utah (probably because the state voted most against Obama in 2008 and 2012). According to a recent Heritage Foundation report, “In Big Win for Utah, Trump Scales Back Federal Land Grab from Obama Administration.”

Bill Clinton also hated Utah and stole its land after he placed third place there in 1992, garnering just 24.7%, with President G.H.W. Bush at 43.4% and Ross Perot at 27.3%. The land was given to a Clinton donor.

That’s the kind of headline Romney is going to want to keep seeing. Sure, there will be disagreements with Trump and the media will quote Romney for its own, anti-Trump reasons. But in the Senate, especially for a back-bencher, the rule is: Go along to get along.

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John Seiler

John Seiler