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Mitt Romney says Trump will be reelected, but not because he’s popular

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, poses for a portrait in his new office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. “It’s good politics to divide, but it’s bad for the country,” Romney said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, poses for a portrait in his new office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, For the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump will be reelected not because he’s well liked but because the Democrats will put up a weak candidate, Sen. Mitt Romney said at a recent international conference.

Speaking in a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference, the Utah Republican was asked whether the Republican Party would take his line on trade policy, particularly insisting on fair trade with China and solving inequities in some sectors of the economy.

“I can’t possibly predict what the future is in my party. I did not predict that President Trump would become President Trump,” Romney said.

“I can tell you I think it’s likely he will get reelected, not because he’s highly popular, but because I think the Democrats are not going to nominate someone who’ll be a very effective competitor.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has emerged as the Democratic front-runner.

Romney attended the conference in Germany about 10 days after becoming the first Republican senator in history to vote to remove his own party’s president.

In introducing Romney at the panel discussion, moderator Mohamed A. El-Erian, the chief economic adviser at Allianz, called him “probably the most courageous lawmaker we have in the United States,” which drew applause from the crowd.

During the discussion titled, “Heavy Duties? Prospects of Global Trade,” Romney said the GOP would “follow only inches behind” what Trump says on trade. The president has a hold on Republican voters and that he has an approval rating of “something like 95%” among GOP voters isn’t lost on Congress and senators, he said.

“They know that if they come out against the president in some way, in some significant way, that they’re likely to be facing a primary by someone else that’s more attuned to the president’s thinking, and they’ll lose,” Romney said. “So my party will follow the president in this regard, and predicting what the president’s going to do is not something I’ve been able to do so far.”

Trump, he said, has his own point of view, citing his and the president’s disagreement over tariffs, which Romney calls “a tax on our people.”

Romney said he can’t predict what the Democrats will do either, because if Sanders is elected, he would bring a whole different approach.

“Right now, the nature of American politics is highly populist,” Romney said.

The right is anti-foreign goods, anti-trade and anti-immigration, while the left is anti-bank, anti-wealthy people and anti-billionaire, he said, adding that there’s a degree of resentment and anger across the country and it’s being reflected on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m perhaps a throwback, Romney said. “I jokingly say I have about 2% of the population that’s with me, and that’s an overstatement.”

Still, Romney said he thinks Republicans and Democrats are leaning more toward agreement on trade policy. Democrats, he said, have long maintained that trade agreements hurt American factories and workers.

“Now, the Republican president is saying the same thing,” Romney said.

Romney said Trump was right to go after China, but wishes all of the free nations of the world would have pushed back against its “cowboy capitalism” — attacking the economies of countries through predatory pricing, cyber theft and forced technology transfer. The U.S. must join with its allies to pressure China to play by the rules, he said.

Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed the first phase of a trade deal last month that cuts some U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Chinese pledges to buy more of American farm, energy and manufactured goods. Romney said hopefully phase two will be even better.