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Mitt Romney: Some call him a patriot, others a traitor

A billboard recognizing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as a patriot is pictured on I-15 in South Salt Lake on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The digital billboards were put up by Republicans for the Rule of Law.
A billboard recognizing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as a patriot is pictured on I-15 in South Salt Lake on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The digital billboards were put up by Republicans for the Rule of Law.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — One Republican group considers Sen. Mitt Romney a patriot, while a conservative organization wants him recalled and Donald Trump Jr. wants him drummed out of the GOP.

Fallout for his vote to convict President Donald Trump of abuse of power continues to rain down on the freshman senator. But amid the hashtag #RecallRomney going viral and the launch of Facebook pages calling for his removal, many are coming to Romney’s defense.

It’s still too early to say exactly what the overall public reaction to Romney will be and the different reactions could offset when it comes to his approval numbers, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

“While some intense partisans and Trump defenders are clearly upset, others in Utah and elsewhere have expressed appreciation for his courage and willingness to vote his conscience,” he said.

“While it’s possible that some Utahns will rally around a Republican president and against Sen. Romney, it’s also possible that a different group will admire his courage in resisting partisan pressures and speaking the truth as he saw it.”

Republicans for the Rule of Law put up digital billboards on I-15 near the 3300 South exit on Friday showing a picture of Romney with the words “This is what a patriot looks like.” The organization also will run an ad on Fox News five times a day every day next week thanking Romney.

“No one can watch his Senate speech without appreciating his integrity, his decency, and his sense of duty. He faced enormous pressure from his party, his constituents and even members of his own family,” said Republicans for the Rule of Law spokesman Chris Truax. “But Mitt Romney is nobody’s puppet. Whether we agree with all of his conclusions or not, we should all salute Sen. Romney for his sincere commitment to the rule of law.”

Mormon Women for Ethical Government also released an ad Friday that will run in conjunction with the Republicans for the Rule of Law ad.

Emma Petty Addams, Mormon Women’s executive director, said Romney set the standard for how a statesman should make tough decisions.

“He listened to his heart instead of his pollsters and chose prayer over prevarication,” she said. “He gave us a rare example of ethics in government, and we’re grateful for it.”

Romney said in a Senate floor speech before Wednesday’s impeachment vote that he was pressured to stand with the team.

“But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside,” he said.

On Thursday while taking a victory lap after the Senate acquitted him, Trump mocked Romney for citing his religious faith, calling it a “crutch.” He also tweeted a video calling Romney a “Democrat secret asset.”

Trump mentioned Romney in a tweet again Friday while saying how “surprised” and “disappointed” he was that Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, voted to remove him from office after all he’s done for the state.

“Every Republican Senator, except Romney, many highly religious people, all very smart, voted against the Impeachment Hoax,” the president tweeted.

Karpowitz said he’s anxious to see how Utahns react to Romney’s “heartfelt” speech and Trump’s “rambling and at times profane attacks.”

“At least stylistically, Sen. Romney is certainly much more consistent with what Utahns say they want in their elected leaders,” he said, adding that the “religious element of this matters.”

“The president and others on Fox News have criticized Romney’s invocation of religion. Will Republicans in Utah embrace those criticisms, which at times have seemed to minimize the role of faith? Or do they resonate with Romney’s statements about the importance of his faith in guiding his choices and taking seriously his oath as a juror?” Karpowitz said.

On Fox Business, host Lou Dobbs called Romney a traitor.

“Romney is going to be associated with Judas, Brutus, Benedict Arnold forever when he is not even a footnote in a footnote otherwise, because of his betrayal,” he told his guest, Ed Rollins, co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC.

Karpowitz said the question is really what would it mean to be a traitor.

“A traitor against what? His party? His constituents? The Constitution?” he said.

The Constitution, he said, required Romney to take an oath as a juror in the case to do impartial justice.

“It seems consistent with his duty to the Constitution and to his constituents to take that oath seriously and to follow his best judgment. That’s the oath — not to follow the latest opinion poll or to be loyal to party,” Karpowitz said.

Donald Trump Jr. posted a meme of Romney on Instagram with the words “mom jeans” along with derogatory name for cowardly.

American Majority Action, a conservative political organization based in Virginia, launched a campaign to recall Romney, saying his vote to convict Trump was all about himself, not the people of Utah.

Ned Ryun, American Majority Action president, said Romney has been posing as a Republican for years.

“He is the Democrat Party’s secret asset and worse, he is a member of the resistance. The people of Utah were lied to and tricked into thinking they were voting for a conservative Republican, which Mitt Romney is not. Mitt Romney’s cover is blown,” he said.

There is no legal provision to recall U.S. senators.

But a Utah lawmaker’s bill to create a recall process picked up steam this week after Romney’s vote. However, Republican legislative leaders, though not approving of Romney’s decision, say the measure is unconstitutional.