Former 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight MORE will replace retiring Utah Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R) and become one of the most high-profile Republicans in Congress.
Romney, a Mormon who long held residence in Utah and formerly served as governor of Massachusetts, cruised to an easy victory in a state that has had mixed feelings about President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE.
He is expected to serve as one of the most prominent counterweights to Trump in the Senate after Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.) retire at year’s end.
Romney led the “Never Trump” movement during the 2016 GOP primary and denounced the president as “a con man” and “a fake,” calling on him to release his tax returns in a speech in March of that year.
Last month, however, he backed off those comments when he was asked during a rally in Arizona about being a leader of the “Never Trump” movement.
“I don’t think that was the case,” he said. “President Trump was not the person I wanted to become the nominee of our party but he’s president now.”
He also praised Trump’s policies as “pretty effective.”
But in the Senate, where most Republicans are loath to criticize Trump, Romney may emerge as a conservative conscience in response to his most controversial statements.
Romney last week pushed back on Trump’s attack of the media as an “enemy of the people.”
“Surely every president has endured stories that he knew were inaccurate and has chaffed at one or more news publications,” Romney wrote in a blog post. “But no American president has ever before vilified the American press or one of its professional outlets as an ‘Enemy of the People.’ ”
Trump carried Utah with only 45 percent of the vote in the 2016 general election, losing 21.3 percent of voters to independent conservative Evan McMullin, the largest share the protest candidate won in any state.
Trump’s style has clashed with the family-oriented sensibilities of many Mormon voters in the state. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMatthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' Professor tells Cruz that Texas's voter ID law is racist Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks MORE (R-Texas) won the 2016 Utah GOP presidential primary with 69 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 14 percent.
In an April interview, Romney declined to commit to supporting Trump’s reelection in 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R-Ky.) recruited Romney last year to run for the Senate and publicly urged Trump in February to get behind his candidacy.
Romney distanced himself from the White House during the campaign by running on fiscal discipline, free trade and openness to immigration.
When he announced his campaign, he noted that “Utah has balanced its budgets” and welcomes immigrants from around the world, while “Washington is buried in the debt” and “sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”
GOP senators say they expect Romney to become a leading voice on international issues and believe he may wind up taking a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker and Flake will be leaving.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney called Russia the nation’s biggest geopolitical foe, and could put pressure on Trump to take a tougher stance on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Romney could also emerge as an influential voice on health care. As governor of Massachusetts, he helped implement a universal health-care system in the state that later became the template for ObamaCare.
Romney argued there were distinct differences between the two plans, but in a 2015 interview with The Boston Globe he acknowledged “Without RomneyCare, I don’t think we would have ObamaCare.”
An October poll by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics showed Romney well ahead of his Democratic opponent Jenny Wilson, 59 percent to 23 percent.
Romney won the Republican primary in June with 72 percent of the vote and raised just over $5 million for his campaign, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
"Humbled by the support and trust of Utahns," Romney tweeted shortly after his victory on Tuesday night. "I endeavor to represent you with dignity, integrity, and in a manner that will make you proud."
Humbled by the support and trust of Utahns. I endeavor to represent you with dignity, integrity, and in a manner that will make you proud. pic.twitter.com/sVARvsIlRC— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) November 6, 2018
Updated on Nov. 7 at 2:25 a.m.
Emily Birnbaum contributed.