With former President Donald Trump facing legal troubles as he makes his third run for president, he has a familiar foil — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who does not mince words when it comes to the former president.

Last week, after news broke that Trump would be indicted related to his handling of classified documents, Romney said Trump “brought these charges upon himself.” Last month, after Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in a civil case, Romney said he is “not fit” to be president. Romney also voted to impeach Trump, twice.

Trump has called Romney, among other names, a “failed presidential candidate.” And Romney regularly comes under attack on social media by Trump’s followers.

Although both are Republicans, they represent distinct approaches to the party, both in terms of style and substance, said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Tuesday, June 13, 2023, after pleading not guilty in a Miami courtroom earlier in the day to dozens of felony counts that he hoarded classified documents and refused government demands to give them back. | Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

On policy, Romney has a moderately conservative voting record. During his first campaign for the Senate, Romney said he agreed with Trump’s domestic policy agenda. But during the Biden administration, Romney has shown a willingness to compromise, helping to pass an infrastructure bill and a gun safety bill.

Romney has also criticized Biden over his handling of the economy, immigration and his decision to cancel student loan debt.

Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney have different reactions to news of Trump indictment

Trump’s brand of Republicanism has been said to be more populist than traditional. He has criticized Republicans over their calls for entitlement reform, and regularly says he’s taking on the country’s “elites.”

Recently, Trump’s rival in the Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, criticized him for his stance on abortion, after Trump said Florida’s abortion law was “too harsh.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks to members of the media after a roundtable discussion on the Jordan River Watershed and the Great Salt Lake at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in West Jordan on Friday, May 5, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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Even though their policy differences may not always be stark, Romney’s decision to vote in favor of impeachment looms large for many Trump voters, Perry said.

“Sen. Romney voted to impeach the standard-bearer for his own party,” Perry said. “And he did it as a matter of principle where he felt he should be, and there are very conservative members of the Republican Party who are not going to forgive that.”

Their approaches matter, too, Perry said. Romney favors a more historical approach to lawmaking in the Senate, as he tries to reach across the aisle to build consensus on issues. On the other hand, “President Trump is not that person,” Perry said.

So who did Utah say represents them better — Romney or Trump?

It depends who you ask. Overall, more Utahns say Romney represents their political and policy preferences over Trump, with 44% choosing him compared to 31% who chose Trump, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

But among Republicans, 47% say Trump best represents them, while 39% say Romney, with 14% choosing “other.”

Younger voters, moderates and people with a college degree were more likely to say Romney was their standard-bearer, as were very active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Trump did better with Republican and self-described “very conservative” voters.

The poll was conducted among 798 Utah registered voters from May 22-June 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percentage points.

Because the poll was conducted in late May, the responses do not reflect voters’ reactions to news of Trump’s indictment over allegations he failed to turn over classified documents. Trump has defended himself by saying he believes he was allowed to keep the documents.

Last year, when this same question was asked, slightly more Utahns — 51% — said they identified with Romney. But Trump also has lost ground in the state, with 37% of voters last year saying that he represented them.

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