The president's motives aren't hard to discern: retaining Hatch would allow Trump to keep an ally close while spurning Romney, his onetime presidential primary opponent who remains a vocal critic, and who would in theory prove a much less obliging Congressman.
Donald Trump and Orrin Hatch.
"If I could get a really outstanding person to run for my position, I might very well consider [retiring]", Hatch said, adding, "Mitt Romney would be ideal".
The former MA governor was reportedly seriously considering running for Senate in his new home state of Utah, under the condition that the state's longtime senator, Orrin Hatch, decided not to run for re-election in 2018. "Yet Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is now refusing to rule out another campaign - a circumstance Romney's infuriated inner circle blames squarely on the president".
A source with knowledge of the matter told ABC News that "while it may be entirely true that Trump dislikes Mitt, if there's anyone who can bridge the divide, it's Orrin". This "persuasion" comes via private back-channeling and, more overtly, a personal appearance Trump will make today in which the president is expected to reduce the size of Utah's Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments, a cause that Hatch has championed.More news: Netflix confirms 'House of Cards' will return, and will have new star
Well, Romney can hardly be furious. Trump himself seemed to confirm the theory during a speech at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, when he addressed Hatch before the crowd. "He's not afraid to take on the big boss around here". Asked if he was trying to send a message to Romney that he doesn't want him to make a bid for Hatch's seat, which the senator has held since 1977, Trump said Romney's "a good man. Mitt's a good man".
Romney was no friend of Trump's on the campaign trail; in March 2016, he labeled the president "a phony" and "a fraud" whose "promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University". Not only does Trump have to convince Hatch to run again, but he also must work hard to get him over the finish line. However, he's also criticized Trump enough to get under his skin; Romney called on Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement, blasted his response to the violence in Charlottesville, and undermined Trump's response to the Roy Moore scandal.
"Romney has been preparing to run for Hatch's seat on the long-held assumption that the 83-year-old would retire", Isenstadt wrote.
Trump's public posturing followed a Sunday story in Politico that outlined how the president was "going all out" to persuade Hatch to seek another term in office. "Mitt Romney has neither opened the door nor closed it". According to the Washington Examiner, former White House strategist Steve Bannon is considering endorsing Hatch to keep Romney out of the Senate.