Mitt Romney gets a run for his money from new ‘America First’ challenger

by Alex Caldwell

Photo: Trent Staggs Communications Team

With 2024’s U.S. Senate primaries approaching fast, Republican candidates across the nation are gearing up to unseat unpopular incumbents within the GOP, such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs is one such candidate, launching a primary bid against Romney for what may become the most closely watched primary battles of the election cycle.

During an exclusive interview with RSBN, Staggs characterized himself as an “America First” candidate who is “truly committed” to Utah, unlike Romney.

“We need a bold, conservative leader that reflects the values and principles of our great state, and that isn’t happening right now with Senator Romney,” Staggs told RSBN.

Mitt Romney was once viewed as a popular figure of the Republican Party. A businessman, former governor of Massachusetts, and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney was a household name across the country. His father also served as Michigan’s governor and as President Nixon’s HUD Secretary.

However, Romney’s support has plummeted and is miles away from what it was just one decade ago as a result of his anti-Trump sentiment.

The latest poll from Desert News/Hinckley Institute of Politics found that just 41 percent of Utah voters approved of Romney, while 49 percent disapproved and 10 percent were unsure.

Romney won by nearly 32 points in 2018 (62.6 percent to 30.9 percent) in the heavily Republican state. Trump also won Utah by 21 points in 2020. 

Staggs told RSBN that he believed he could overcome the senator’s name recognition due to his low support among constituents, and his anti-Utah voting record. 

According to 538, Romney has also voted for Joe Biden’s agenda nearly 60 percent of the time since January, a major backstab of his state’s constituents.

Romney also supported the impeachments of President Donald Trump, voting to convict the 45th president both times, a move that Staggs called purely “personal.”

“I thought it was not reflective of the will of the majority of Utahans. It was incredibly personal in my view,” said Staggs. “I think Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he allows personal beefs to get in the way of good governance.”

“[Utahans] deserve somebody who is truly committed to the state, who’s going to represent their will, the values and principles of the state, and be here,” he added.

Romney, who lost the election to Barack Obama in 2012, did not support either of Trump’s runs for president. In 2016, Romney called Trump a “phony” and “a fraud,” and wrote his wife’s name, Ann, in his vote for president.

He also reportedly urged Joe Biden to launch a bid against Trump in 2020. According to a report from The Guardian, Romney told Biden during a phone call, “You have to run.”

Staggs has also suggested that Biden has encouraged Romney to run for the Senate.

“Joe Biden encouraged Mitt Romney to run for the Senate. I can promise you this, the Biden Administration doesn’t want me anywhere near the Senate. I’ll hold them accountable,” Staggs tweeted earlier this month.

However, Romney’s semblance has made his constituents’ view of him “not a positive one,” according to the mayor.

“I have had so many people tell me that they have lost confidence in Mitt Romney,” Staggs told RSBN. “They may have supported him five years ago, but they definitely would not support him again.”

Staggs claimed his opponent has not followed through on his promise to support a balanced budget and end illegal immigration and has instead opposed those items.

Romney refused to sign his state’s other GOP Senator Mike Lee’s letter to Joe Biden in May that opposed raising the debt ceiling without any spending and budget reforms.

A total of 43 GOP senators, including Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signed the letter. Romney ultimately voted in favor of the Democrat-led measure to suspend the debt limit.

“Utah deserves another conservative senator like Mike Lee,” said Staggs. 

Staggs also criticized Romney for his refusal to endorse Sen. Lee’s 2022 reelection bid.

In contrast to his opponent, Staggs told RSBN that he would “absolutely be fighting the horrific levels of spending that Romney is supporting” if elected senator.

He noted that the nation needs a “much, much smaller government,” including a balanced budget amendment and reforms to “nightmare” regulatory agencies that are hurting small businesses.

Staggs has campaigned on upholding three themes if elected senator: “smaller government, safer families, and a stronger economy.”

As mayor, Staggs stood up to mask and vaccine mandates, cut property taxes, and cut spending.

When Salt Lake City issued a ruling to limit gatherings to 10 people or less during the Covid-19 pandemic, Staggs urged police officers to not enforce the rule, saying that people and businesses would “make appropriate precautionary measures including ceasing operations if it is the correct decision for them.”

One of his first orders as mayor was also to cut staff in the mayor’s office.

Staggs told RSBN that he was most proud of cutting taxes as mayor and that his decision to self-provide law enforcement “saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.”

“Taking that approach to the government is key,” Staggs told RSBN. “That’s why they need more business people in the government.”

Unlike Romney, Staggs called the Biden presidency “a disaster,” while praising the leadership of President Trump.

“Donald Trump did a phenomenal job,” said Staggs. “I voted for Trump twice, in 2016 and 2020, and I think we’d be infinitely better off today if Trump were president.”

“I’m an America First guy. I really loved what President Trump was able to accomplish,” Staggs added. He has also affirmed support for the recent Supreme Court rulings, including their overturning of affirmative action and their striking down Roe v. Wade.

A life-long Utahan, Trent Staggs earned the endorsement of Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police. He also called himself “a huge proponent of voter ID, and even paper ballots.”

He argued that the U.S. should take note of countries that maintain election security, and then implement those same measures here.

“It’s alarming to me that we can’t make these common-sense types of measures to shore up our election integrity,” Staggs told RSBN.

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