SALT LAKE CITY — House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested Mitt Romney will be a moral force for the Republican Party in Congress, while a new poll shows that Utahns want the newly elected senator to stand up to President Donald Trump.
Ryan, Romney's 2012 presidential running mate, predicted Romney would inherit the role the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., played on Capitol Hill, according to Politico. Ryan said he thinks Romney has a chance to be a moral force in a GOP increasingly driven by identity politics.
"It’s great that he’s coming," the outgoing speaker said at a question-and-answer session the Washington Post hosted Thursday. "Mitt believes there’s a role for him … as a standard-bearer for our party.”
Romney met with Ryan, R-Wis., while in Washington for Senate orientation meetings earlier this month.
Many observers saw McCain as a maverick who was willing to go against his party. His thumbs-down vote on the Republican health care bill that would have overturned much of the Affordable Care Act fueled a feud with Trump that lasted until the senator's death in August.
Romney said during his Senate campaign that no one could take the place of McCain, whom he called a national hero and someone who spoke the "conscience of his conviction" in many settings.
"I believe that I will speak my views as well from time to time. I don't think I'll be able to do what John McCain did," Romney said last month.
Utahns, according to an Associated Press poll released Thursday, want Romney to speak his mind when it comes to the president, something he has periodically done before and after Trump took office.
Nearly two-thirds — 64 percent — of Utah voters said they would like to see the former Massachusetts governor continue to stand up to Trump, while 36 percent want him to support the president, according to AP VoteCast.
Among Romney voters — including those belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — half said they would want him to stand up to Trump, and half preferred he support Trump.
The AP analyzed 1,528 of the faith's voters based on data from VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 voters nationwide conducted for the Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Romney made his views about Trump known during the 2016 election, calling him a "fraud" and a "phony." He distanced himself from those comments during the campaign but said he would call the president out if he makes divisive, misogynistic, anti-immigrant or racist comments. He said he would be with Trump when he thinks he's right for the country and for Utah.
The senator-elect recently criticized Trump's comment on Saudi Arabia and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling them "inconsistent" with U.S. foreign policy and with "American greatness." Romney has also called for Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling to proceed "unimpeded."
Trump endorsed Romney in his run for Senate, which he won with 63 percent of the vote and will replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Trump has struggled since he was a presidential candidate to win over members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
According to VoteCast, 58 percent of church members in Utah say Trump does not have the right temperament to serve effectively as president, compared to 42 percent who said he does. Forty-six percent of church members said the president is honest and trustworthy.
Support for Trump among church members nationally was slightly lower among more educated members of the faith, according to VoteCast.
College-educated members were far more likely to vote for Republican candidates than to express approval of the president — 73 percent versus 51 percent. VoteCast found no significant gap among church members without a college degree as 63 percent voted for Republicans and 60 percent approve of Trump.