Following his vote yesterday to convict President Donald Trump on the House’s first adopted impeachment article, “abuse of power,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) is being hailed and feted as a paragon of moral conviction and political principle by all sorts of strange new friends. In Romney’s mild defense, his Senate floor speech explaining his vote evinced a genuine internal struggle, and he voted to acquit the president on the risible, constitutionally illiterate second impeachment charge of “obstruction of Congress.”
Let us first state the obvious: Romney made the wrong decision to vote to convict the president on the first article of impeachment. This was the most blatantly partisan impeachment sham in a century and a half, going back to the vehement “Radical Republican” opposition to President Andrew Johnson. The conduct upon which Democrats attempted to impeach Trump is dramatically less ruinous than the conduct upon which the Framers would have considered impeachment justified, and reeks of the sort of petty politics that led the Framers to deliberately reject the far lesser “maladministration” as a possible constitutional standard for impeachment.
What’s worse, Romney’s vote rewards an unhinged Democratic Party that has only further coarsened our politics, further embittered an already fractious and tribal citizenry, and recklessly lowered the bar for future impeachments so as to make them far likelier — perhaps even mundane — when differing political parties come to control the House and the White House. Romney’s vote also (1) will muddy the re-election waters for endangered Republican moderates who did vote to acquit, like Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Cory Gardner (CO), and Thom Tillis (NC); (2) likely caused at least one (perhaps more) of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to flip their votes from acquittal to conviction; and (3) therefore likely single-handedly transformed a bipartisan impeachment acquittal into a bipartisan conviction.
The analysis that Romney’s vote was merely a personal choice is thus too simplistic by half. There actually were, are, and will be tangible consequences to his decision. Those consequences will disproportionately redound against Republicans’ interests, come November. Hopefully, Republican primary voters in Utah are paying attention.
But even more importantly, the emerging narrative that Romney’s vote was symptomatic of a broader fealty to devout political principle is beyond farcical and needs to be swatted down. Mitt Romney, the man who ran against Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1994 by avowing he’d be to the “left” of Kennedy on “gay rights” but then famously described himself as “severely conservative” when seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, has taken both sides of essentially every major political issue imaginable in his career. He has publicly waffled on at least gun rights, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, health care, illegal immigration, tax cuts, and Israel. Romney is undoubtedly a lifelong devout Mormon and we can all admire his devotion to his faith — but at least in the realm of politics, he has had no truer guiding light than the solipsistic pursuit of his own raw political power.
Consider Erielle Davidson’s column yesterday at The Federalist:
For starters, Romney’s track record on religious freedom has been poor. Catholic leaders in Massachusetts, the state in which Romney formerly served as governor, have emphasized Romney’s role in forcing Catholic hospitals to administer the abortifacient Plan B, even if doing so violated the consciences of the employee required to administer the deadly drugs. “The injury to the conscience rights of Catholic hospitals was not done so much so much by the church’s ideological enemies on the Left but by the Romney administration,” C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, explained to LifeSiteNews.com back in 2012. …
In a 1994 debate with Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, he proudly announced, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.” He “evolved” to eventually arrive at the pro-life position. …
The playbook is the same for health care, where he went from supporting an insurance mandate — arguing that he would love to export the Massachusetts Romneycare model to the nation at large — to accusing Bret Baier of being “wrong” when the Fox host attempted to remind him of this. The Baier interaction occurred in 2011, as Romney geared up for yet another presidential bid.
I have met Mitt Romney and, by all accounts, he seems like a genuinely good, decent, and upstanding man. I will not join those who are now calling him a “traitor” to the republic. But he made a very foolish decision yesterday — a decision, that is, with far broader-reaching implications than many may immediately realize. Romney’s vote, furthermore, is hardly indicative of his being a principled conservative — or even a principled anything in the sphere of politics. Rather, his vote is indicative of life’s worth of political work in which the junior senator from Utah, former governor of Massachusetts, and twice-failed presidential candidate has flirted with more political stances than Bill Clinton has flirted with Little Rock call girls. Romney is not a shining example of principle so much as he is a shining example of overly finely tuned technocratic indecisiveness.