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Before Impeachment Trial Begins, A Trump-Romney Relationship Review

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The impeachment trial will start in the Senate next week, and there's going to be a lot of focus on a handful of Republican senators who've been open to hearing from witnesses, including Mitt Romney of Utah. That puts him at odds with a lot of his colleagues and the president himself. Here's Nicole Nixon with member station KUER on Romney's relationship with President Trump.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: Just a few months before Donald Trump secured the GOP presidential nomination, Mitt Romney pleaded with his fellow Republicans to nominate someone, anyone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: Here's what I know - Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

(CHEERING)

NIXON: But then they tried to patch things up. Trump interviewed Romney to be his secretary of state, then turned him down. But he endorsed Romney in 2018 when Romney ran for the Senate. During that campaign, Romney walked a fine line when talking about Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

ROMNEY: When the president's right, I'll be with him. When I disagree with him, I'll point that out. There have been a number of things on the personal front, if you will - tweets and so forth - that I have found objectionable, and I point that out. You know, I call them like I see them.

NIXON: Since entering the Senate, Romney has called out Trump, especially when it comes to foreign policy. In return, Trump has responded with presidential tweet storms, including one where he called Romney a pompous ass. Tweets like that may be one reason why Trump's approval ratings consistently hover right around 50% in heavily Republican Utah. Brigham Young University political science professor Chris Karpowitz points to the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

CHRIS KARPOWITZ: It's hard to overstate how different Donald Trump is from the average member of the LDS Church in just the way he has lived his life. Though Utah is not just members of the LDS Church, that matters.

NIXON: He says many Republicans here are reluctant to embrace Trump's style.

KARPOWITZ: I think there is room in Utah for Republicans to articulate a different way of being Republicans.

NIXON: Still, Romney increasingly finds himself at odds with the party establishment he used to represent. At an event in Salt Lake City this summer, he admitted that while he supports parts of Trump's agenda, he no longer sees himself as part of the Republican establishment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMNEY: I guess I should consider myself a renegade Republican because I still believe that deficits and debt matter a lot. I don't like tariffs being placed on our friends and allies. I think the likes of Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve censure rather than flattery.

NIXON: Shortly after he won his Senate election, a poll showed that nearly two thirds of Utah voters wanted to see Romney stand up to President Trump. One of those voters is 47-year-old Mike Walgren (ph), a registered Republican who's not a fan of Trump.

MIKE WALGREN: I liked during the election that he gave that phony, fraud sort of speech. Like, I feel like he even needs to be stronger sometimes.

NIXON: Walgren appreciates that unlike other GOP senators, Romney says he's keeping an open mind and will remain objective through the impeachment trial. Still...

WALGREN: I hope that he votes to convict. I really think there's enough evidence, and I'll be disappointed if he doesn't.

NIXON: Romney faces less pressure from constituents than some other Republican senators because he's not up for reelection until 2024. That's if the freshman senator, who will be 75 by then, decides he even wants a second term.

For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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