Sen. Mitt Romney says his views are tiny ‘chicken wing’ of GOP

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, walks through the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, walks through the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is hoping the Republican Party will shift away from the politics of former President Donald Trump, and wants to be part of influencing the change after he leaves office.

“My wing of the party is like a chicken wing, all right? It’s a little, tiny thing that doesn’t take the bird off the ground. So we’re going to have to change that in my view,” Romney told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview that aired Wednesday night on the “11th Hour.”

How, or if, there will be a move from the MAGA beliefs currently dominating the GOP is not clear.

“I don’t know how that’s going to play out over time,” the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee acknowledged. “But there are going to be voices that come forward that I think will be more aligned with the traditional conservative views that I’ve espoused, that our party has traditionally. We’ll see. Time will tell. I can’t predict what’s going to happen in politics.”

In this year’s presidential race between Trump, a fellow Republican, and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, Romney said members of the GOP who agree with him about the direction of the party face a choice at the ballot box he believes they’ll make “very reluctantly.”

The senator, who is not seeking reelection this year, said Trump won’t get his vote but declined to say who will. He cited the May 2023 court decision that found the former president liable for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996 as his reason he doesn’t want to see Trump back in the White House.

“I’m not announcing that here and now,“ Romney said. “I’m not going to be voting for President Trump. I’ve made that clear. I know for some people, character is not the No. 1 issue. It is for me. When someone has been, well, determined by a jury to have committed sexual assault, that’s not someone who I want my kids and grandkids to see as president of the United States.”

The United States “can survive bad policy” but can’t lead the world with someone of bad character in charge, he said.

Previously, Romney has said he’ll once again write in the name of his wife, Ann, for president, just like he did in the 2016 election. Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020. His biographer, McKay Coppins, wrote that Romney planned to write in Ann’s name again that year for president, “But in private, he made little effort to conceal the fact that he was pulling for Joe Biden.”

Pressed about whether he would follow through with voting for his wife again, Romney said, “my particular vote doesn’t have a big impact because I’m from Utah,” a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964. His advice for voters, however, is to go with either Trump or Biden.

“In my case, having been the former nominee of the Republican Party, I want to make sure that I’m in a position after this election to have some influence on the direction of our party in the future. So I’m not going to go out and do something which would make that more difficult,” he said. “I really think our party has to come back to the basis that has been successful for us in the past.”

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, meets with House Democrats during their caucus meeting at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

During the pre-taped interview, Romney again said it’s demeaning for Republican leaders to appear outside the New York courtroom where Trump is currently on trial over “hush money” payments to an adult film actress, calling it terrible and a mistake for them to be “attacking our legal system.”

He also criticized Biden, saying the president should have pardoned Trump when the U.S. Justice Department indicted Trump in another criminal case that’s awaiting trial. “I’d have pardoned President Trump,” Romney said. “Why? Well, because it makes me, President Biden, the big guy and the person I pardoned a little guy.”

And Biden hasn’t done enough to deal with the immigration crisis at the border with Mexico, he said.

Biden “should be all over that. Instead, he served it up on a silver platter” to Trump, who saw the issue work for his 2016 campaign and expects it to help him win this election, Romney said.

Trump may have helped block a recent attempt at congressional action on the border, but Romney said “when he was president, he did a lot of things that sounded pretty ugly, but we didn’t have anywhere near the number of people that have come into the country illegally as we’ve had under President Biden.”

Still, Romney remains optimistic.

“America is an extraordinarily resilient country. We just had this extraordinary pandemic and yet our economy is strong, (with) low levels of unemployment,” he said. “It’s not because the president is pulling all the levers the right way. No, it’s not. It’s because the American people are fulfilling their dreams.”