U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused fellow Republicans of fomenting political division by perpetuating the myth that massive voter fraud denied Donald Trump reelection, and said unity will be difficult to achieve without acknowledging Democratic President Joe Biden won a fair contest.
Romney, in a livestreamed interview with Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar on behalf of the Economic Club of Chicago, also said he shared hopes that the Jan. 6 uprising at the nation’s capital might lead to more bipartisanship but said there’s been no sign of any change in rhetoric.
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Romney acknowledged there were already divisions within the Republican Party when he ran as the GOP candidate in 2012 against then President Barack Obama, but said they have only grown stronger.
“There’s no question but that I was not the ideal fit with the Republican Party at that time (of the presidential bid), nor am I the ideal fit today with the Republican Party,” said Romney, elected as a senator from Utah in 2018.
Romney said his 2012 campaign strategist told him he would have to work even harder to get the nomination because the GOP had become more Evangelical, while he was a Mormon, more populist, while he was a millionaire, and more conservative, while he was a moderate.
Romney, voted to convict Trump in the former president’s first Senate impeachment trial last year, and will be a juror in the upcoming trial in which Trump is accused of insurrection for allegedly encouraging the violent attempt by his supporters to take over the nation’s Capitol.
The senator said he believed the impact of social media in stoking unrest over the election would have been dampened if Republicans had pronounced Biden the rightful victor.
“In addition to social media perpetuating the big lie, if you will, that somehow Donald Trump is still president and Joseph Biden stole the election, you have many Trump supporters in elected office — senators, congresspeople, governors — continuing to say the same thing, that the election was stolen,” he said.
“If each of us, elected Republicans, went out and jf we went on Fox (News) … saying, ‘You know what? I was a big Trump supporter. I was really pulling for Donald Trump. But you know what? He lost fair and square,’ ” Romney said. “If that were happening, I think the impact of social media would be less.”
Romney dismissed complaints from other Republicans that proceeding with a second Trump impeachment trial would only serve to fan anger and division.
“Have you gone out publicly and said that there was not widespread voter fraud and that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States? If you said that, then I’m happy to listen to you talk about other things that might inflame anger and divide. But if you haven’t said that, that’s really what’s at the source of the anger right now,” Romney said. “You’ve got to have that get to the rearview mirror before you talk about the next stage” toward unity.
“Justice being carried out is something which the American people expect,” Romney said of the second impeachment.
“There’s no question but that the president incited the insurrection that occurred. To what degree and so forth is something we’re going to evaluate in the trial that will proceed,” he said. “But to simply say, ‘Well, we’re gonna just move on because we need to be united’ would not be, I think, consistent with the history of justice as applied in our country. And I believe it’s an element of unity, which I look forward to having resolved, so that we can move on.”
Romney acknowledged that political self interest was at play among some of his colleagues, particularly those considering a bid for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination who want to appeal to Trump’s base.
“(Arkansas Sen.) Tom Cotton, (former U.N. Ambassador) Nikki Haley, (Florida Sen.) Marco Rubio, (Missouri Sen.) Josh Hawley — I don’t hear them speaking in terms of moderation but instead continuing the same rhetoric as in the past,” Romney said.
On a more optimistic note, he said he expects with the country facing the challenges of COVID-19 and vaccine distribution, pandemic relief funding, growing debt, climate change and a more powerful China, “we’ll be able to get work done.”
“But I think the rhetoric is probably not going to change a lot,” he said.
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