Seven years after running for president as the GOP standard bearer, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday described himself as a “renegade Republican” and said that he is “not part of the Republican establishment these days.”
In a wide-ranging speech at the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City, Utah’s junior senator argued against “socialist” proposals being discussed on the Democratic presidential debate stage such as “Medicare for All” and free college tuition. He also lamented that “neither party is interested in talking about the debt and the deficit.”
“I guess I should consider myself a renegade Republican because I still believe that deficits and debt matter a lot,” Romney said.
The freshman senator and onetime presidential nominee went on to criticize several aspects of President Donald Trump’s trade and foreign relations policies.
“I don’t like tariffs being placed on our friends and allies, I think the likes of Putin and Kim Jong-un deserve censure instead of flattery, and I think demonstrating personal character is one of the most important responsibilities of the leader of the land,” he said, echoing an op-ed he authored in the Washington Post days before taking office in January.
Romney pointed out that despite Trump’s 2016 campaign promises to balance the budget, the debt continues to balloon under his administration. Last month, Trump endorsed a congressional budget deal that will increase spending and extend the debt ceiling for another two years. Romney voted against the bill.
In his speech Monday, the former Massachusetts governor said the deficit should be a top priority second only to national security, though he believes the two are linked.
He pointed out that a dispute over $5.7 billion for a border wall led to a 35-day government shutdown in December 2018, but the nation’s interest payments are projected to top $390 billion this year.
“We attempt to be the leader of the world, but we’re sending billions of dollars to China and Russia and other countries, while they’re using that money – our interest – to build a military that would confront us,” Romney warned.
While Japan and China are the top two foreign owners of the nation’s debt, the Federal Reserve owns about as much as those two countries combined. The largest share of the U.S. debt is owned by American investors.
Still, Romney warned against the nation being indebted to China, a country he predicts will try to “supplant” the United States as a top world power economically, militarily and geopolitically.
“How do you compete with that? You compete with that by linking arms with your allies economically and military, but we’re doing the opposite,” he said.
Romney said he has been watching the Democratic primary debates and spent the first part of his speech arguing against proposals such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, which has earned the support of several other Democratic candidates.
“Medicare for All as it’s described would be expensive, it would be intrusive on our personal liberties and it would be an unmitigated bust in this country,” Romney said.
Instead, he proposed lowering drug prices by limiting what pharmaceutical companies could charge Americans.
“In other words, no more insulin being $45 in Canada and $450 here in the United States. One price across the world,” he said.
While he apparently sees himself on the outskirts of the Republican Party, Romney said he will continue to defend conservative principles, which he says are compassionate and aimed at helping people long-term.
“The perspective of conservatives is based on keeping America strong — providing for a bright and prosperous future for all of our people — not just now, but long term,” he said.