US Senator Mitt Romney was loudly booed at the Utah Republican party convention on Saturday – and called a “traitor” and a “communist” as he tried to speak.
“Aren’t you embarrassed?” the Salt Lake City Tribune reported the Utah senator asking the crowd of 2,100 delegates at the Maverik Center in West Valley City. “I’m a man who says what he means, and you know I was not a fan of our last president’s character issues.”
Romney was the sole Republican to vote to impeach Donald Trump twice – for seeking political dirt on opponents from Ukraine and for inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January, before which Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” in support of his lie that the presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden.
Six other Republican senators voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment.
“You can boo all you like,” Romney told a crowd the Tribune said spat insults “like so many poison darts”.
“I’ve been a Republican all my life. My dad was the governor of Michigan and I was the Republican nominee for president in 2012.”
Romney, who will not face re-election in 2022, was also a governor of Massachusetts and would ordinarily be a member of the GOP establishment.
But the party is firmly in the grip of Trump and his supporters – according to a CNN poll this week, 70% of Republicans believe the lie that Biden did not win enough legitimate votes to be president.
At the Utah convention, a motion to censure Romney failed narrowly, by 798 votes to 711. The author of the resolution, Davis county delegate Don Guymon, said Romney’s votes to remove Trump from office “hurt the constitution and hurt the party”.
“This was a process driven by Democrats who hated Trump,” Guymon told the Associated Press. “Romney’s vote in the first impeachment emboldened Democrats who continued to harass Trump.”
Some in the crowd applauded Romney and after the state party chair, Derek Brown, asked delegates to show respect, the senator ended with a plea to “come together in strength and unity”.
Emily de Azavedo Brown, a delegate from Salt Lake County, told the AP: “If the point of all this is to let Mitt Romney know we’re displeased with him, trust me, he knows. Let’s not turn this into a Trump or no Trump thing. Are we a party of principle or a party of a person?”
On Sunday the Maine senator Susan Collins, like Romney a senior figure in the centre of the party, told CNN’s State of the Union she was “appalled” by events in Utah.
“Mitt Romney is an outstanding senator who serves his state and our country well,” she said. “We Republicans need to remember that we are united by fundamental principles … we are not a party that is led by just one person.”
Collins refused to say who she voted for in the presidential election. Romney has said he did not vote for Trump – but not who he voted for instead. He has said that in 2016 he voted for his wife, Ann, rather than Hillary Clinton.
Cindy McCain, the widow of the Arizona senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, also spoke to CNN. She said refusal to accept the result of the 2020 election – as in her state, where Republicans are carrying out a controversial audit of votes in the most populous county – was “just aloof and crazy”.
Other speakers at the Utah convention faced dissent, among them governor Spencer Cox. He told a largely maskless crowd he knew some “hated” him for his Covid-19 mitigation measures – but touted other moves such as banning “vaccine passports” in state government.
Private businesses in Utah can still demand proof of vaccination.
In one of many attacks on Biden’s attempts to pass new spending bills on top of the $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill passed in March, Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee, said Democrats followed “one idea: unquestionable trust in government”.
Chris Stewart, a congressman, told the crowd Biden was pursuing an agenda of “radical socialism”. He also said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, “kind of sucks”.