Below is my column in the Washington Post on the vote of Mitt Romney and how his independence is a virtue celebrated selectively by the political establishment and the media. One thing that should unite everyone is the inexcusable attack on Romney’s reference to his faith by President Trump. Romney grew emotional on the Senate floor when he dismissed the “unimaginable” attacks as paling in comparison to what he would lose by violating an oath to God. Trump responded at the National Prayer Breakfast by declaring.” “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” The one thing that I never thought would be questioned is the faith of Mitt Romney, who not only is widely known as a deeply religious Mormon but has been discussed as a possible head of the Mormon Church. I have never been a fan of Romney’s policies, particularly his environmental policies (which are in line with Trump). However, I have never heard anyone suggest that Mitt Romney’s faith is anything but genuine and heartfelt. I have no problem with Trump attacking the merits of his decision but the attack on his motivation is well beyond the pale.
Here is the column:
Mitt Romney no longer has to guess about what “unimaginable” consequences are in store for him after the Utah senator voted to convict President Trump of abuse of power: A Utah legislator has moved to censure him; Donald Trump Jr. has called for Romney to be expelled from the Republican Party; and the National Prayer Breakfast (and later White House press conference) turned into a Romney rage-fest, as the president insulted both the senator’s ethics and his faith.
Romney grew emotional on the Senate floor on Wednesday, when he explained that whatever waited for him in terms of political retribution for his vote would pale in comparison to what he would lose by violating “an oath to God.”
Trump responded at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday by declaring, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
In reality, Romney is precisely what the Framers expected in a senator. He voted his conscience by voting first in favor of the abuse-of-power charge and then against the obstruction-of-Congress charge. Romney’s decision did not make him right, but what should be clear to even the most jaundiced eye is that he believes himself to be right.
This rare profile in courage might have surprised others, but it did not surprise me — though I admit there was a time when it would have. Many years ago, I had little regard for Romney. During his 2012 presidential campaign, I had come to view him as just another plastic-fantastic candidate with scripted answers for every question.
But my view of Romney changed in October 2011, as I was flying back to Washington from Oklahoma, when Romney plopped down in the seat next to me on the plane. I had watched at the departure gate as people spontaneously went up to him, literally grabbing him for pictures and hanging arms around his neck. Romney remained incredibly polite and patient with each and every person.
Once on board, we soon got to talking and I assured him that our conversation would be off-the-record. I noted that I would not want his life. When you are a politician, people often think they have a claim to your body and soul. But once we were in the air, Romney seemed to relax; a less robotic Romney emerged.
Over the course of that conversation, I discovered something I didn’t expect: a genuinely thoughtful and candid man — very different from the stiff and sometimes detached persona I observed from watching the campaign.
That flight came to mind when Trump tweeted this week that Romney, as the GOP nominee, could have defeated President Barack Obama in 2012 had he shown the same “energy and anger” he had shown on the Senate floor in casting his vote. It was partially true. When we got off that flight, I was convinced that Romney was a better man than he was a candidate.
The Democrats are correct to celebrate Romney’s vote as an act of conscience. But this ignores one fact and obscures a second: First, Romney’s conscience not only led him to vote to convict on the abuse-of-power charge, it also led him to reject the impeachment article based on obstruction of Congress. That second article was deeply flawed. Yet, no Democrat joined Romney in that vote of good conscience.
More importantly, Romney’s willingness to depart from the party line was no more evident among his Democratic colleagues than it was among his fellow Republicans. Indeed, even though Democratic members such as Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) indicated that it was a struggle to understand the basis for the obstruction allegation, all stuck with the party line. Not exactly a Romney-esque profile in courage.
At the same time, the media does not celebrate defections from the Democratic ranks the way it did for Romney’s declaration of independence. I do not recall seeing the same kind of adoring coverage showered on Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), who voted “present” on both articles of impeachment, or on Reps. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), both of whom voted against impeachment. Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) cast the same split vote in the House as Romney did in the Senate, but received either criticism or crickets in the media.
Finally, the historical record of Democratic voting on impeachment is anything but bipartisan. They voted as a bloc to acquit President Andrew Johnson (who was a Democrat and later a National Union party member). They voted as a bloc again during the Clinton impeachment more than 130 years later. In the Trump impeachment, they continued that perfectly partisan record by voting as a bloc for conviction. Bipartisanship remains a virtue respected primarily in the opposing party.
The first time the United States endured an impeachment trial, Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas, one of the seven Republicans who voted to acquit Johnson, described the experience as “literally [looking] down into my open grave.”
Ross, like Romney, jumped — to the applause of opposing party. In the Senate, self-sacrifice remains an act best admired from a distance.