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Larry Pressler: Mitt Romney for president!

Mitt Romney said last week that Roy Moore is "unfit" as the GOP Senate nominee for Alabama's special election on Dec. 12.
Mitt Romney said last week that Roy Moore is "unfit" as the GOP Senate nominee for Alabama's special election on Dec. 12.
Gage Skidmore, Courtesy RNS

Probably the biggest news out of Washington this week has been President Donald Trump’s visit to Utah. People are speculating about what the spillover of his proclamation might be to public lands in the other 49 states. A big subhead was Trump’s virtual endorsement of Sen. Orrin Hatch for re-election. An assumption has emerged that Mitt Romney would be the nominee to succeed Hatch if he chose not to run.

Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist (whom I had never heard of a year ago), strangely commented on Romney while speaking in Alabama:

“By the way, Mitt, while we’re on the subject of honor and integrity, you avoided service, brother. Mitt, here’s how it is, brother: the college deferments, we can debate that — but you hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in the rice paddies in Vietnam.”

Bannon went on to say that none of Romney’s five sons has served in the military. As a Vietnam veteran, I would say that Bannon’s words were a cheap slur on the character of Mitt Romney and the reputation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patriotism, in my opinion, cannot be judged by service in the military. My generation went through a difficult time on this subject. But I have always respected my fellow citizens’ decisions to serve or not to serve.

Ironically, Bannon supported Trump, but Trump didn’t serve in the military, nor did his sons. We don’t really have a standard that the children of people running for office are supposed to have served in the military. Joe Biden, who never served, made much of his late son’s service. But I don’t believe that makes Biden any more or less patriotic.

I think the real purpose of Bannon’s remarks was to hurt Romney in a Senate race in Utah if Hatch were to retire.

My bottom line as a veteran is this: We should not criticize our fellow citizens who have not served. Each individual must decide what God most wants them to do and pursue it. I abhor Bannon’s remarks.

If Hatch decides not to run, I don’t think it will automatically be Romney who runs. Based on my 22 years in Congress, it is my observation that there comes a time in many states’ political history when the people feel they are just getting dictated to too much by the senior leaders of the state. Somebody rises up and shouts, “This is not a preordained outcome by just a few people.” Utah looks like it is ripe for some nonordained newcomer. That nonordained newcomer might be a fairly obscure state congressperson, mayor or professor who will announce their candidacy in the primary.

In my own case, I came into the U.S. House and Senate as a complete outlier and no one had ever heard of me. In my state, there was a preordained scheme of who was going to win all the offices. The governor was going to become senator, the lieutenant governor would become the governor, etc. However, it was all thrown into the wind by the people deciding they wanted a political earthquake. Utah looks like that today.

I happen to believe Romney should run again for president of the United States, this time as an independent. I know that will be very difficult, but if someone of Romney’s stature were to run, he may very well be able to win. Normally that would not be true, but there is a unique distaste for both political parties in the country. Romney is probably the only man who might be able to win as an independent. He would have to announce now and commit to running until Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

He should commit to financing his own race and spending his personal fortune. He should say he will doggedly keep on running despite ups and downs in the polls over the next three years and stay on topic instead of dealing with personal issues. This would not be an anti-Trump campaign. He would need to speak only on issues such as the economy, health care, education and other specific issues facing ordinary Americans. Many say this is impossible, but Donald Trump demonstrated that a “different” campaign can work.

I think Romney is just the right person to do this. If he does not run for president as an independent, we will probably have Trump for seven more years. There is just nobody on the scene who can run as a Democrat and make it a competitive race.

I am personally a bad example because I tried to make a comeback to the Senate as an independent, and I failed. Nevertheless, I remain on the advisory board of the Centrist Project, wherein we are trying to find centrist, moderate, independent candidates for national offices. I think the time is now ripe for an independent presidential candidate.

Even if Romney does win the Senate seat he will only be a freshman senator. He still has a chance, albeit a narrow one, to become president, and he should go for it.

It is my judgment that the people of the United States are yearning for a highly competent, decent president who can work with both parties. They are yearning for a campaign of issues. The democrats have no one of Romney’s stature. In my judgment, he could win the presidency as an independent.

Mitt Romney, the independent, for president!

Sen. Larry Pressler was a U.S. senator for 18 years and congressman for four years. He is a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law graduate and a Vietnam veteran.