There’ll be many a presidential tweetstorm about it in the coming days and weeks, certainly. There are already snide remarks flowing from House cronies and media courtiers of the president. But Romney will cast plenty of votes that go Trump’s way over the next five years, some in big spots like SCOTUS nominations. People won’t forgive but they’ll cool off.
And I think his Senate colleagues will go easy on him, if only because some of them doubtless agree with him on the merits and are afraid to say so. He’s careful to say in the interview below that he trusts that all Republicans who voted to acquit were following their consciences just like he was, which is farcical but a wise show of goodwill at a moment when he needs some goodwill in return.
Plus, Mitch McConnell is a bottom-line kind of guy:
MCCONNELL on Romney. Says a good deal here: “We don’t have any dog houses here. The most important vote is the next vote.”
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 5, 2020
What Romney’s worried about, I think, is potential danger to his family. In a hyperpartisan age, an act of momentous betrayal against the party leader is apt to bring out some crazies. He stresses in the interview below how he checked with his wife and kids before moving forward on this, knowing that it might put all of them at risk of petty social and business sanctions at a minimum and possibly something worse.
“Yeah, it’s going to get very lonely,” he said. “And again, the consequences are significant. They’re, um, uh — they’re enough that it made this a very difficult process for me. There has not been a morning since this process began that I’ve slept beyond 4:00 a.m.”…
“I have spoken a good deal with my family because this will have consequence — the blowback will have consequence, not just for me, but for my family, for my wife, for my sons, for my daughters-in-law, for my 24 grandkids,” Romney said. “That’s why the burden has been so substantial as I’ve done this, but they all said, you’ve got to do what you believe is right. There was no call to pull back or, gee, dad, ya know, this is going to be tough. They said, do what you believe is right.”
A rich family can afford security but it’s surreal that they’d need to consult as a group over his decision to cast a vote that had … no meaningful consequences at all. It didn’t produce anything close to the 67-vote threshold needed for removal. It didn’t get Democrats to 50 votes so that they could claim the chamber was deadlocked. It handed them a talking point that removal was bipartisan and acquittal wasn’t, but who cares? Romney’s vote isn’t going to jar anything loose among a public that’s been deadlocked on removal for months. The potential negative consequences to him politically from today’s vote are vastly larger than they are to Trump, as he’s now much more likely to face a Senate primary challenge in 2024.
He’ll get blasted for it anyway, partly because not being a team player is weirdly a major affront in a populist era in which Americans broadly agree that the two “teams” are wet garbage. And partly because Romney spoiled the agreed-upon illusion that Trump didn’t do anything wrong, and not in a lame perfunctory “it was inappropriate but no big deal” rhetorical way either. No one likes to be reproached morally but that’s what his vote amounted to for all the heroes who were sure that what Trump did was fine and would have been equally sure that a Democratic president should be removed unanimously if they’d done the same thing. On Earth 2, if President Hillary had pulled this, Cruz and Hawley would have been pushing McConnell to let the Senate vote for removal even before impeachment was finished in the House in hopes of accelerating her departure from office. Romney called BS on that, a scandalous break with the ethic of power politics. On the day of Trump’s vindication by the Senate, with his approval at an all-time high in Gallup, the president’s protectors are going to have aneurysms about the heretic.
The irony, as Ross Douthat noted, is that this is a departure from the weaselly politician whom righties grew to know and disdain during his first two runs for president. Romney’s defining political characteristic until recently was his opportunism. The opportunistic thing to do in this case, obviously, was to vote with Trump and trade on that for some political favors. It’d make reelection in Utah easier and it’d get Trump fans off his back for awhile. For once, he wasn’t opportunistic. He must pay.
Anyway, he claims here that he wanted Bolton to testify and White House aides to submit affidavits in hopes of that their testimony might lead him to reasonable doubt, which seems … unlikely given how incriminating the leaks from Bolton’s book have been but is useful to Romney’s argument that he really was open to persuasion. He also makes an interesting but outdated point that we can’t just punt this issue to the voters since voters are understandably driven by partisanship on Election Day. We let the Senate decide on removal because they can be dispassionate — in theory. In practice, thanks to the 17th Amendment, senators can no longer decouple their own partisan interests from questions of guilt and innocence in an impeachment trial. If they could, rest assured that Cory Gardner, for instance, would have had a much harder time making up his mind in this case than he had in offering a slam-dunk acquittal for the president.
In lieu of an exit question, enjoy this data point published yesterday: “For the first time since his election in 2016, a majority of Utah voters say they approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, according to a new Utah Political Trends poll.” Good luck, Mitt.