Oh what a night. History was made on a number of fronts. Rashida Tlain in the 13th Congressional District of Michigan is set to become one of the first Muslim congresswomen in history. Ilhan Omar, who won Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, will become the first Somali-American in Congress. Jared Polis will be the first openly gay governor in our nation’s history. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be the youngest congresswoman ever.
Also, Ayanna Pressley the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, Sharice Davids one of the first Native American women in Congress after winning Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar the first Latina congresswomen in Texas. A whopping total of 270 women ran for the House. Now, for the first time, more than 100 women are slated to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It was also a night when Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and Kansas all turned purple, Floridians voted to restore the voting rights of more than 1 million felons, and Michigan legalized cannabis. When the dust settled, Democrats regained the House and it looks very much like Nancy Pelosi will lead the charge. It was a great night for “progressives.”
Ironically, one of the most historic events from a historic evening was the election of Mitt Romney as senator of Utah. No vanquished presidential nominee in modern history has run for Congress after losing a race for the White House. In fact, Mr. Romney became the first U.S. politician in 173 years to serve as governor of one state and senator from another. (Sam Houston was the last. He was governor of Tennessee and in 1846 and elected to the Senate in Texas.)
Not only did Mr. Romney run for Orrin Hatch’s open seat, he coasted to one of the easiest victories of the night. Mr. Romney claimed 61.2 percent of the Utah electorate, and Salt Lake City councilwoman Jenny Wilson took 33.1 percent. Pundits knew for months that this one was going to be a landslide. Mr. Romney himself stopped campaigning on his own behalf and went on the trail for his fellow Republicans. Is there a clearer sign of presidential ambition than that?
The truth is, Mr. Romney’s victory may not get the same attention as the other historic winners last Tuesday, but in the short term there is no question that his achievement will be more problematic for the Trump agenda than any of the names previously mentioned.
This is an irony because Mr. Romney could not be less energized by the needs of today’s youth, or the love of diversity that motivated so many young and impassioned Democrats to run for office. He is rich. He is white. He hails from a political family. He is Mormon. He is the epitome of an elitist insider. He was the president and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Politically, Mr. Romney is also a man who does not feel indebted to President Trump. When one surveys the Republican landscape in the Senate, what they will find is a field of Trump cheerleaders, cronies and chumps. Mr. Romney is different. With the departure of independent Republican voices such as John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, Mr. Romney’s ability to challenge the president becomes absolutely crucial.
And challenge the president he will. In a high profile op-ed, Mr. Romney wrote, “no American president has ever before vilified the American press or one of its professional outlets as an ‘enemy of the people.’”
Recently, the chief architect of the “Never Trump” movement said, “I will not be opposed to condemning instances of racism, sexism, and bigotry.”
On every issue from immigration reform (especially legal protection for “Dreamers”) to sanctioning the culprits of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Mr. Romney has questioned both President Trump’s policies and competence. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Trump lobbied Sen. Orrin Hatch to remain in office, the sole reason being that he did not want Mr. Romney to take his seat.
Mr. Romney can’t be bribed or persuaded by other means to go along for the joyride. Mr. Romney now becomes the only voice within the Republican Party that will not become neutered at the altar of Mr. Trump’s ego.
The history Mitt Romney made is not one that most progressive liberals care to recognize or applaud. But in the next 6-12 months, there will be nothing more important than a voice like Mr. Romney’s in the Senate.
• George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY adjunct professor of philosophy, writer and social worker from Rochester, N.Y.