President Donald Trump's visit to Utah was not only about public lands, it was specifically designed to convince Sen. Orrin Hatch to run for another term in 2018 and to keep Mitt Romney out of the race.
The Washington Post cites a "senior White House official" who said the trip to Utah was designed to woo Hatch to run for re-election.
The White House focus on wooing Hatch, 83, whom aides see as a loyal supporter and reliable vote, is part of a growing behind-the-scenes effort to prepare for a difficult 2018 election season. The senior official, who along with others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the relationship, said that the White House worries that Romney would continue voicing open hostility to the president on issues such as the endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Hatch’s advisers said that the president’s efforts to woo him were appreciated, but are unlikely to be decisive. “Senator Hatch appreciates the president’s support but his final decision will largely be influenced by conversations with his family over the next few weeks,” Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said after Trump’s visit to Utah.
The battle against Romney flared up publicly last week when former White House strategist Bannon attacked Romney's Mormon faith during a rally to support Alabama Republican Roy Moore. If Romney does run for the Senate in 2018, those attacks are expected to intensify.
Conservatives with ties to Bannon say that they plan to keep attacking Romney if he moves toward a Senate campaign with the goal of blunting his impact as a critic of Trump on the national stage.
“If elected, Mitt Romney would take the role as America’s number one ‘never Trumper,’ ” said one conservative strategist aligned with Bannon on Thursday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. “If he does decide to run, I think he can expect a full-on carpet bombing from conservatives coming his way.”