Mitt Romney urges Trump and Biden to ‘step aside’ for younger leaders

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Republican senator Mitt Romney on Wednesday called on Joe Biden and Donald Trump to “stand aside” for younger leaders and railed against the populist wing of his own party, as he said he would not seek re-election next year.

Romney, who is 76 and was the Republican candidate for president in 2012, announced the decision to end his political career in a pre-recorded video statement on Wednesday, saying: “At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-eighties. Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders.”

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill after the announcement, Romney said it would be a “great thing if both President Biden and former president Trump were to stand aside and let their respective party pick someone in the next generation”.

“President Biden said he was a transitional figure in the next generation. Well, time to transition,” Romney said.

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The departure of Romney, a traditional Reaganite conservative, will remove one of the remaining bulwarks against the shift away from its roots and towards Trumpian populism. The announcement comes five years after the death of Senator John McCain, Romney’s predecessor as the Republican presidential nominee and one of the few other powerful Washington opponents of the party’s embrace of Trump.

On Wednesday, Romney warned that the Republican party was now dominated by the former president.

“He is the leader of the greatest portion of the Republican party. It is a populist, I believe demagogue, portion of the party,” Romney said, adding that he represented the “wise wing of the Republican party”.

“I don’t believe we are going away,” he said. “I think ultimately we will see a resurgence and come back into leadership of the party.”

Romney’s decision to step back from the Senate reignites uncomfortable questions about Washington’s ageing elite, including Biden and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate.

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Biden, 80, has faced persistent questions about his age as he gears up for a re-election bid, while McConnell, 81, has confronted calls to step aside after twice in recent months appearing to freeze while speaking to reporters.

Romney’s planned departure from the Senate will also be a blow to moderate Republicans seeking to distance the party from Trump, especially following the January 6 2021 attack on the Capitol and the former president’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

Romney is the only Republican senator who voted to convict the former president in both of Trump’s impeachment trials.

Trump, who is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, cheered Romney’s announcement, calling it “fantastic news for America” and saying a “big primary fight” would no longer be “necessary” to try to unseat the Utah senator.

Romney is also seen on Capitol Hill as a bipartisan dealmaker and instrumental in interparty negotiations on legislation. He voted with Democrats on several occasions, including to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African-American woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

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McConnell praised Romney on Wednesday, saying few new senators were “already as accomplished and well-regarded as Mitt Romney”.

“Senator Romney’s experience as an executive made him an impactful presence from day one,” McConnell added. “His experience as a campaigner made him a dogged spokesman for worthy causes. And his deep faith and integrity have earned the admiration of each of his colleagues.”

A former chief executive of management consultancy Bain & Company, Romney co-founded and led its private equity spin-off Bain Capital. He took a leave of absence from the firm to lead the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a move that catapulted him into politics.

Romney became governor of Massachusetts in 2002, and launched an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. He lost that contest to McCain, but secured the party’s backing for the 2012 presidential election, which he lost to Barack Obama.