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Republican Sen. Mitt Romney announces he will not seek reelection in 2024

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In an office filled with mementos of his political career, Senator Mitt Romney explained his reasons for ending it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITT ROMNEY: At the end of another term, I'd be in my mid-80s. Frankly, it's time for a new generation of leaders.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Utah Republican senator and former presidential hopeful is known as a frequent bipartisan negotiator and an outspoken critic of Donald Trump. His departure adds to the increasingly divisive state of American politics.

INSKEEP: NPR political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us this morning. Good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did Romney stand out among other Republicans?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, before Romney was a senator from Utah, you know, he was a governor in a liberal state in Massachusetts. So he's a real believer in political success being tied to bipartisanship. And then, you know, even when he became a senator in a pretty conservative state, he stayed true to that bipartisanship belief. That doesn't make him a liberal, you know, or even a moderate nowadays. He's a conservative. But in trying to solve big problems, he believed in the need to work with the other side to get done what could get done. And that really is rare, particularly now in the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: It's remarkable to think that he was the Republican presidential nominee the election before Donald Trump was nominated - two very different people. He constantly criticized Donald Trump when he was running for office and as president. How did he address that yesterday?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, he didn't shy away from it at all. You know, he was asked about the state of the Republican Party, and here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMNEY: There's no question that the Republican Party today is in the shadow of Donald Trump. He is the leader of the greatest portion of the Republican Party. It's a populist, I believe, demagogue portion of the party. Look; I represent a small wing of the party. If you will, I call it the wise wing of the Republican Party. And I don't believe we're going away. I think ultimately we'll see a resurgence and come back into leadership of the party.

MONTANARO: He said that he really feels like Trump and some in his party don't believe in the Constitution - he had said in a magazine interview. You know, and he believes that that reversion back to being part of the wise wing of the Republican Party, as he sees it, it'll be because rank-and-file Republican voters will eventually realize that MAGA is a losing strategy, that young people in particular are repelled by it, and that from a policy standpoint, Romney says that he believes right-wing populism that Donald Trump touts, you know, will fail because he said, paraphrasing the writer H.L. Mencken, that to each problem, there's a solution that is simple, clear and wrong.

INSKEEP: Of course, Romney was the only senator in history, I think, to vote twice against his own party's president for impeachment - not that there were a lot of opportunities to do that since nobody's been impeached twice before. But he did that, was disappointed, according to this article you mention by McKay Coppins in The Atlantic - just disappointed and shocked, even, that his fellow Republican senators didn't seem terribly concerned with the evidence. What else did he have to say about the fitness of his fellow senators and other political leaders?

MONTANARO: Well, he talked about his own age. You know, people may not realize Romney is 76 years old. I mean, I hope I look and talk as well as he does when I'm pushing 80. But he noted, you know, that he would be in his 80s at the end of his next term and feels that it's really the next generation that needs to step up and address the problems that are going to be on their plate, rather than boomers, who, as he put it, have put in place a lot of these programs but haven't paid for a lot of them.

Overall, he really seemed like a man relieved. Quoting slapstick comedy, for example, when asked if he was going to run ever again, he said that he referred to the mid-'90s Jim Carrey movie "Dumb And Dumber." There's a million to one shot. So you're saying there's a chance.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.