Two Republican senators who have been vocal supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld won’t say If they are open to backing his insurgent run for the Republican presidential nomination against President Donald Trump.
The silence by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah is an indication of the political tight rope GOP critics of the President must walk as he runs for re-election next year. They must decide to back his campaign and satisfy Trump supporters in their states or oppose the President and potentially draw his anger and their electoral wrath.
For now, Collins and Romney are exercising a third option: Staying mum.
“I’m just not going to get into a discussion of presidential politics until 2020,” said Collins, the moderate lawmaker who is facing a tough race for a fifth term in a state that tends to favor Democrats. “I just think it’s premature.”
Most presidents quickly win the support of lawmakers from their own parties, but Trump’s demeanor in office has led some on Capitol Hill to take the extraordinary step of refusing to say if they’ll back him for reelection.
Collins has spoken out frequently against Trump’s behavior but also saved the confirmation of his embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Romney was just elected to the Senate and has ambitions to stay a while. He recently blasted Trump’s actions described in the Mueller report and has spoken out against other presidential conduct, but he has also supported many of Trump’s policies.
“I don’t have any comments about the presidential race at this stage,” Romney said when asked by CNN if he was open to backing Weld. “It’s way too early for that.”
The non-answers by Collins and Romney are also in sharp contrast to how strongly they say they feel about Weld.
Romney served as governor of Massachusetts a few years before Weld.
“Bill is a terrific guy, who was a superb governor. But presidential politics is a whole different kettle of fish in terms of my evaluation,” Romney said. “He and I spoke before he was a candidate and he was a very consistent supporter of mine during my campaign. I like Bill a lot.”
In 2016, after Collins announced she would not vote for Trump, she said she would back Weld for president if he were running as the presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party instead of as the vice-presidential nominee under Gary Johnson.
“If it were switched, and Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts were on top, it would be an easy choice for me because I’ve known him for many years and think very highly of him,” she said in an interview on CNN at the time, a pledge of support she repeated several times to other news organizations.
Despite the seeming political solidarity with Weld, Romney said he isn’t ready to say if he will break with Trump and support Weld, something that could anger the Utah Republicans who just elected him to the Senate.
“I’m just not making comments about presidential politics at this stage,” Romney repeated when pressed for an answer.
Collins too dismissed a reporter’s questions.
“I’m just not going to engage right now,” she said. “I’m just focused on my Senate work.”