Jeff Flake has speculated that 35 or more Republican senators might vote in an impeachment trial to remove Trump from office, but only if the vote were held in secret. Whatever the real number is, the senators face a collective-action problem. Politically, their safest bet is to move as one, announcing their openness to removal as a bloc. The president can say what he wants about this or that senator. But he wouldn’t be able to claim—with any credibility beyond his most cultlike followers—that a group composed of 10 or more Republican senators is just a cabal of dishonest, no-good losers secretly working for the Democrats.
Part of any collective-action problem is the disincentive to go first. Senators who want to vote against Trump will want to wait until the last minute, letting their more courageous colleagues take the political hit by going first. The senator going first might get hailed as a hero when the history books are written. But in the moment, he or she will be used as a human shield. It won’t be fun, and it’s a big ask for any sitting Republican.
Romney is best suited for the job. We already know, from The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, that Romney is “taking the prospect of a Senate trial seriously—he’s reviewing The Federalist Papers, brushing up on parliamentary procedure, and staying open to the idea that the president may need to be evicted from the Oval Office.” He’s not up for reelection until 2024, which gives him the maximum amount of leeway to make difficult votes. Even then, he represents Utah, a deep-red state where Trump’s approval rating has been underwater for much of his presidency. And that’s all assuming that Romney would even want to run for another six-year term at age 77. This all points to Romney as the perfect person to overcome the collective-action problem—he has more stature and political capital than anyone else in the Senate, but he also has the least to lose.