“Romney: A Reckoning,” a new biography by McKay Coppins, details the progression of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) as he went from Republican presidential nominee to party outcast.
Biographies of this sort rarely release while a politician is still in office, and Romney gave Coppins unprecedented access to hundreds of journals and documents over their dozens of interviews.
The book explores the tensions between power and principle and how each played a role in Romney’s life and the modern political system. Here are some highlights from the book.
Most Republican lawmakers don’t like Trump
Romney’s resistance to former President Donald Trump may be his lasting legacy as a public official, but Romney says he’s not the only Republican lawmaker with a negative opinion of the former president.
“In public, of course, they played their parts as Trump loyalists, often twisting themselves in humiliating rhetorical contortions to defend the president’s most indefensible behaviors,” Coppins wrote. “But behind closed doors, they ridiculed his ignorance, rolled their eyes at his antics, and made incisive observations about his warped-toddler-like psyche.”
Romney tells of several experiences where other lawmakers thanked him in private for his comments against the former president, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
But the senators keep their dislike of the former president hidden because it furthers the true aim of most senators: reelection.
“Whatever his faults, Trump had unlocked a burning loyalty in Republican voters that hadn’t been seen since Reagan,” Coppins wrote. “Job preservation, in this context, became almost existential.”
Other Republicans were scared to impeach Trump
On a similar note, Romney claims that many Republican senators believed former President Trump was guilty in both of Trump’s impeachment cases but still voted not guilty.
“Some of the reluctance to hold Trump accountable was a function of the same old perverse political incentives — elected Republicans feared a political backlash from their crowd,” Coppins wrote.
Romney understood why. Before and after the Jan. 6 attack, Romney was personally spending $5,000 a day on private security for his family. He knew most lawmakers couldn’t afford that, and they voted to protect themselves.
“There were too many Trump supporters with guns in (some lawmakers’) state,” Coppins explained. “It only takes one really disturbed person.”
When Romney spoke at the Utah Republican Convention a few weeks after voting to impeach the president a second time, he was wholly unprepared for the vitriol that people hurled at him during his speech.
“Many of them had probably been among his most enthusiastic supporters in 2012,” Coppins wrote. “Now they were acting like wild children in public.”
Romney’s a big fan of Brandon Sanderson
Romney had few friends in Washington D.C., even before the impeachment proceedings alienated him from the rest of the Republican lawmakers. He spent his evenings by himself in his townhouse reading sci-fi and fantasy novels, including one popular Utah author.
“(Romney) devoured everything by Brandon Sanderson,” Coppins wrote.
Scroll asked Coppins if Romney had any particular favorites.
“You are not the first person to ask me … I actually don’t know the answer!” Coppins said in an email. “But I’ll ask him next time I see him.”
According to Coppins, Romney also enjoys watching Ted Lasso and Better Call Saul.
Romney didn’t plan to run for Senate
After Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in the 2012 election, he and Ann Romney had no plans to get involved in politics again. They visited President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who gave Romney a priesthood blessing.
Packer gave comfort and counsel, but one line stuck out to the Romneys.
“This is just the beginning,” Packer said.
Ann joked with Packer after the blessing, suggesting that he must not know much about politics.
“Maybe you don’t know much about prophecy,” Packer said.
Five years later, in March 2017, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch visited Romney and invited him to take Hatch’s place after retirement. After a few months of prodding from other political figures, Romney announced his candidacy.
Romney’s message to young people
Early in their meetings, Coppins asked Romney if there were any lessons Romney wanted people to learn from his story. That question weighed on Romney’s mind.
“These days, when he speaks to student groups, his most frequent piece of advice is to not sacrifice their integrity at the altar of ambition,” wrote Coppins.
Romney sees the failures of the current Republican party in their willingness to compromise morals to win elections, catering to popular — but false — narratives that appease voters. To live a life of value and morals, people must be willing to put aside personal convenience and follow their conscience, Romney said. Without conscience, democracies crumble.
“Romney: A Reckoning” is available at the David O. McKay Library and can be purchased online.