Utah Senator Mitt Romney broke rank today, becoming the first and only U.S. senator to vote to remove a president hailing from his own party. In the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, he only voted “yes” on the former. Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump and his allies immediately flocked to Twitter to attack Romney, suggesting that the partial vote was an act of defiance.
Romney incorporated themes of faith, family and historical remembrance into an emotional speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. He portrayed himself as a humble man who was trying to do the right thing, despite the inevitable backlash from the rest of the party. Since Trump was acquitted, voting yes was unproductive for the political cause of removal.
This stance isn’t surprising coming from Romney, a man whose views have fluctuated over the course of his political career.
Yet, his willingness to make this symbolic gesture is impressive, especially because in the Trump-led Republican party, strict loyalty has become expected. It is important that, while still a career politician, he isn’t afraid to publicize his misgivings and remind the public that Trump’s morals are what’s on trial.
The president can no longer pretend that his impeachment is a partisan hoax.
But, it is comfortable to be at this virtuous vantage point when you’re not up for re-election until 2024 like Romney. Although he may suffer political ramifications, they will undoubtedly be temporary. With all of the commotion around the 2020 presidential race alone and the general chaos around politics, the public may even forget about this and allow it to fall away as an isolated incident.
Remember when Trump was caught saying “Grab ‘em by the pussy” on tape in 2016? Apparently, the American public doesn’t either. This moment is not immediately comparable, but the point is that the country tends to move on quickly.
But again, if Romney is going to be all about righteousness, why didn’t he try to convince the other Republican senators to vote the same way when he had the power to? More importantly, why did he vote yes for the abuse of power but not for the obstruction of Congress? Both matters are inextricably bound to Trump’s lawlessness.
Clearly, Romney was able to determine that Trump abused his power when pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. If that was a matter of corrupt power maintenance, blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents to the House falls under the same umbrella.
If corrupting an election to maintain power is an egregious assault on the Constitution, hiding it is no less of an assault. Romney’s second vote is then ultimately a show of support for Trump’s partisan refusal to cooperate. Why not double down if you’re going to get criticized regardless?
This senator’s “middle of the road” brand is either a facade or he can’t admit to himself the degree to which he remains motivated by potential political benefit. His ashamed demeanor during the vote is difficult to explain otherwise. But when the integrity of the presidential office is at stake, a couple of angry comments are meaningless.
The lack of productivity here suggests that this may be a career-motivated stunt. If Romney’s vote contributed nothing to the final decision, he may be just looking to get himself in the headlines. After all, his name has faded from the spotlight since his presidential run in 2012.
Unfortunately, this moment means little for the future of polarization. The fact that we actually cannot tell whether Romney is motivated by political gain or virtue demonstrates that the divide in this country is significantly more complicated than we perceive it to be.
In regards to what this means for Romney, he is the big Mormon figure in the federal government. His decision today and the morally-charged rhetoric may strike a chord with his constituents and reflect in Utah’s, a traditionally red state, voting patterns in the long-run.
It is unfortunate that, nowadays, a politician becomes heroic when they reasonably interpret events and act according to the Constitution. It should not be breaking news that someone broke party lines.