Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement has created a clear and possibly smooth path to the Senate for Mitt Romney. What kind of a Senator would Romney be?
I think he would have been a fine president. Constrained by the GOP’s conservative base, Romney likely would have been a solidly conservative president. His mastery of detail and his administrative ability likely would have made him a successful conservative president.
Administrative ability counts for little in the Senate. Mastery of detail counts for plenty, but voting record counts for more.
How would Romney vote? Not like Susan Collins, as Jennifer Rubin hopes. At his worst, Romney has never been Susan Collins. Nor, if he desires a second term, would it be in his interests to become like her.
On the other hand, Romney need not “grow” much in office to become a less than fully reliable conservative vote. His self-image need not change at all for him to be willing to “reach across the aisle.” And, I assume, his dislike of Donald Trump need not grow for him to enjoy making the president squirm.
In addition to the matter of voting record, there is also the question of whether Romney might become the leader of an effective anti-Trump GOP Senate “resistance,” as Rubin wishfully predicts. If he wants to serve a second term, I think Romney will reject that role.
Otherwise, it may depend on which way the wind is blowing. To lead Senate GOP resistance to Trump, Romney would need Republican followers. As long as Trump remains popular with the Republican base, such Senate followers will be hard to come by, and I doubt that Romney wants to devote his time and energy to being a fringe figure.
If Trump loses the support of the base then yes, Romney might lead Republican resistance. But in this scenario, Trump is toast with or without Romney.
There’s also the question of Senate math come 2019. If Democrats gain control of the Senate, Romney is unlikely to be relevant. Rubin suggests that he might side with Democrats on impeachment. But removal requires 67 votes. It’s extremely improbable that Rommey’s vote would be the 67th or that other Senators would follow Romney’s lead, as opposed to their own self-interest. And Romney could never successfully play the Barry Goldwater role of helping persuade Trump to resign (assuming that, in fact, Goldwater actually played that role).
If Republicans retain control of the Senate but by a fairly small margin, it’s unlikely that it will pass much consequential legislation. The key in this scenario is for Romney to vote to confirm qualified conservative judicial nominees, and I expect he would.
If elected, Romney’s term would extend through 2024. It’s possible, therefore, that he would serve during a Democratic presidency. Things might become quite interesting in that scenario, but I have speculated more than I should do just thinking about the first two years of a Romney Senate term.