It’s been a few weeks since Mitt Romney announced that he would retire from political life and not seek re-election next year. I’m still sorting through everything I think this could mean.
On the one hand, I disagree with a great many of Romney’s policy positions and should therefore feel good about him leaving politics. However, Romney is a unique voice in United States politics today – a staunch conservative who has refused to bend to the partisan demagogy that’s overtaken much of the conservative movement across the nation.
Romney spent much of his time in the Senate being attacked by members of his own party for refusing to endorse Donald Trump’s more extreme actions while in office, and eventually became the only Republican senator to vote to convict the former president in both of his impeachment trials.
On the other hand, Romney is not a young man. This detail of age was recently highlighted with the passing of Dianne Feinstein, who was 90 while still acting as a senator. Currently 76 and in seemingly good health, Romney is unlikely to pass away while in office, but he did cite age as one reason why he would not seek re-election to the Senate.
“Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders,” Romney said in the video in which he announced his withdrawal. “They’re the ones that need to make the decision that will shape the world they will be living in.”
On this ground, I fully agree with Romney. The average age of a U.S. senator is 64, whereas the average American is just under 39. It would be valuable for older senators like Romney to retire and move into roles where they advise a rising generation of leaders, as opposed to holding them back by staying in office until they are physically unable to do so.
However, amidst all the pageantry and performances on Capitol Hill, Romney was someone who consistently seemed to not only enjoy the process of governing, but was also genuinely interested in it. This is how he set himself apart from many of his Republican colleagues, especially his Utah counterpart, senior Sen. Mike Lee.
Romney understood better than many of his congressional colleagues that governing means working with everyone, even those from the opposite party, to create legislation that improves the lives of Americans. Governing is about finding common ground in a sea of disagreement, and Romney was remarkably talented at doing so.
Romney’s work to find common ground with his fellow lawmakers was exemplified last December when he helped the Respect for Marriage Act get passed, codifying same-sex marriage into law.
And, despite his own religious beliefs, Romney said, “This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress – and I – esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally.”
Ultimately, I think Romney is correct to retire, and even though I still disagree with him on many ideas, I’ll be remembering him as a man who truly worked for the benefit of the people, and I will miss those corny videos where Romney espoused his love of chocolate milk and hot dogs.