On the night of the 2018 midterm elections, as a wave of anti-Trump sentiment swept Democrats to take control of the House, top Republican Mitt Romney urged Joe Biden to run for president.
“You have to run,” said Romney, the Republican presidential nominee Biden and Barack Obama defeated in 2012, speaking to the former vice-president by phone.
The same night, Romney was elected a US senator from Utah, a post from which he would twice vote to convict Donald Trump in impeachment trials.
Romney’s exhortation to a man then seen as a likely challenger to Donald Trump in 2020 will probably further enrage the former president, his supporters and the Republican party they dominate.
The Biden-Romney call is described in The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama, a book by Gabriel Debenedetti that will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.
Describing how Biden spent 6 November 2018, Debenedetti writes: “Biden spent election night glued to his phone as usual … He talked to most of the candidates he’d campaigned for, and plenty he didn’t, either to congratulate or console them, or just to catch up.
“This time felt better than 2016” – when Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency – “in part because Democrats were winning big, at least in local races and in the House.
“But it was also because of a refrain [Biden] kept hearing, and not always from the most expected sources.
“At one point he connected with Mitt Romney, who’d been easily elected to the Senate that night as a rare Trump-opposing Republican. They were warm as Biden cheered Romney’s win.
“Then Obama’s old rival got to the point: You have to run, Romney said.”
In a note on sourcing, Debenedetti says his book is “primarily the product of hundreds of interviews” with “colleagues, aides, rivals, confidants, allies and eyewitnesses from every stage” of Obama and Biden’s careers since 2003.
He also says: “When someone’s words are rendered in italics, that indicates an approximation based on the memories of sources who did not recall exact wordings.”
Romney’s opposition to Trump is long established, if not entirely consistent.
In 2016, the former Massachusetts governor spoke out against Trump, decrying his behaviour on the campaign trail and calling him a “phony” and a “fraud”. After the election, he said he did not vote for the Republican nominee, writing in his wife’s name instead.
Nonetheless, Romney then flirted with working for Trump, pitching to be secretary of state. He generally voted with his president after taking his seat in the Senate.
But the relationship was never smooth – Trump called Romney a “pompous ass” – and in 2019 Romney told the New York Times: “People say to me, ‘If you’re critical of the president you’re hurting the party.’ No I’m not – I’m laying out a path for the party post the president.”
In 2020, when Trump was impeached for blackmailing Ukraine for dirt on rivals including Biden, Romney became the first senator ever to vote to convict and remove a president of his own party.
He said he did not vote for Trump in that year’s election – but refused to say if he voted for Biden.
In 2021, Trump was impeached a second time, for inciting the Capitol attack. Romney voted to convict again.