There was a time, not that long ago, when it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jeb Bush would follow in his brother and father’s footsteps and become, if not president, the Republican Party’s nominee for 2016. He’s amassed a $100 million war chest, his campaign was out in front of nearly everyone else in the field, and he had the name recognition and political connections to fight it out with Hillary Clinton on the national stage.
And then along came Donald Trump.
But looking back on it, Trump may not have even been the deciding factor when it came to Bush’s political fortunes. The tide was turning against the establishment long before Trump came riding down that golden escalator, long before he put the nail in Bush’s “low energy” coffin. Bush was already on the outs with the Tea Party wing of the GOP for his namby-pamby approach to illegal immigration and his soft-hearted position on Common Core. Even before Trump crystallized the new direction of the Republican Party, Bush seemed like a throwback to the kind of politician conservative voters just didn’t want to look at anymore.
In Utah, we may be getting ready to see history repeat itself. Except this time the heir-to-the-throne is not Jeb Bush but former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney has been essentially anointed as the man to take Orrin Hatch’s spot in the Senate, but if the Utah Republican Convention is any sign of what’s to come, his path to Washington may be a bit more rocky than he’d planned. Expecting to walk out of the convention with the majority of party delegates, he actually lost the nomination battle to state lawmaker Mike Kennedy by 1%. Now the two will battle it out in a June primary to decide who gets to actually run for the seat.
Political experts, including Romney’s team, believe his stumble had something to do with the complexities of Utah Republican politics. Specifically, delegates apparently don’t like it when a candidate goes around amassing signatures, instead preferring that they go out and recruit delegates face-to-face. Romney did both, hedging his bets in a way that irritated the party faithful.
But his problems may not begin and end with the arcane rules of the Utah Republican Convention. While President Trump has never been particularly popular in the state, there is at least some resentment in the air for the vigorous way Romney blasted the president in 2016. Some aren’t ready to forgive and forget, and others question the wisdom of sending a guy to Washington who is just going to stand in the way of Trump’s agenda.
More than likely, Romney will easily overcome the challenge from Kennedy, become the party’s nominee, and go on to win a place in the U.S. Senate. But the fact that he stumbled right out of the gate is yet another reminder that things have changed dramatically in Republican politics over the last four years. “Sure things” don’t exist anymore. Conservative voters have finally realized that they hold all the cards. That realization has already torpedoed a career or two. Romney might not want to get too comfortable.