On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) made headlines with the announcement that he would vote in the impeachment trial to convict President Trump.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor,'” said Romney. “Yes, he did.”
Predictably, liberals in the media and elsewhere immediately praised Romney for his bravery and moral conviction as the only Republican senator to break with his party:
“I will tell my children and their children”@MittRomney has also now told history that one Republican Senator lived his oath to defend the Constitution against Donald Trump.
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) February 5, 2020
I sat silently across the chamber, listening to my friend give one of the most important speeches I have ever had the good fortune to hear in person.
At a time when many wonder what honor is left in public life, there stands Mitt Romney.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 5, 2020
And just as predictably, pro-Trumpers in the media and elsewhere trashed Romney as a two-faced, unprincipled sellout:
And he will forever be recorded as a morally bankrupt failure fit for the gutter. pic.twitter.com/unfK9MEFga
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) February 5, 2020
Benedict Romney is always on the wrong side of the truth. He’s a zero-integrity fraud who desperately wants to be accepted by Beltway elites at ANY cost. He’s a Judas who will sell out to the highest bidder as long as the op-ed columns write nice things about him.
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) February 5, 2020
The irony is impossible to miss.
Back in 2012, when Romney was the Republican nominee running against President Obama, countless Democrats and liberals were overflowing with hatred for the man. They trashed his character and portrayed him as a merciless, poor-people-hating bigot.
In fact, Lawrence O’Donnell himself, who on Wednesday was gushing with praise for Romney on Twitter, insisted in 2012 that Romney was a “gay bashing” “hardcore communist.” At one point during the election, O’Donnell even challenged one of Romney’s sons, on-air, to a literal fist-fight. No, I’m not joking.
And who was passionately standing up against those ridiculously unfair attacks on Romney’s character, even if they didn’t always agree with him on policy or his campaign style? Who was pointing to Romney’s countless acts of kindness and generosity, like helping a dying teenager draft a will, and flying 30 of his employees to New York to help look for a colleague’s missing daughter? Many of the same Republicans and conservatives who now want him gone from the party and gone from politics.
Judging by these stark reversals in sentiment, someone waking up from an 8-year coma might turn on cable news or log in to social media and come away thinking that Romney must be a completely different person than he was in 2012.
Only, he isn’t.
One would be hard pressed to identify any substantive differences between the Romney of then and the Romney of now. Not on issues of character and temperament, and not on issues of policy or ideology.
What has changed since 2012, and in very significant ways, is our country’s political landscape. It has become uglier, less principled, and more tribal. And many people on both sides of the aisle — including those at the top levels of our government, in our national media, and on social media — have contributed to that change.
But Romney isn’t one of them.
In fact, it’s Romney’s refusal to bury his beliefs and descend into the darkest depths of today’s hyper-partisan politics that oddly makes him such a polarizing figure. After all, we live in a time when someone’s political worth is determined almost entirely by how he or she feels about Donald Trump.
Incidentally, I’ve always found Romney Derangement Syndrome to be particularly bizarre, whether it’s coming from the MAGA universe or liberals (who still display it whenever Romney sides with Trump on an issue). I mean, Romney’s such a mannerly, well-adjusted guy that these people come across like The Office’s Michael Scott when he lashes out in disgust at Toby Flenderson.
Anyway, it’s worth considering what Romney had to say in defense of his impeachment trial vote:
“The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The President’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”
To anyone not blinded by partisanship or unfamiliarity with the presented evidence, these conclusions are rather obvious. And one can acknowledge as much while understanding (and perhaps even detesting) that the Democrats have been wanting to impeach Trump since long before the Ukraine call ever took place.
But fair, honest people can certainly conclude differently as to whether or not a president (regardless of his or her political party) should be removed from office over such abuses. And in a more nuanced and thoughtful political environment, either decision could be met with respect…if not agreement.
Beyond Romney’s character and stated views, what demonstrates his decision to be sincere is that it came with absolutely no political up-side. He knew that his vote would not be a deciding one (Trump would be acquitted regardless), and he knew that it would make him even more unpopular with his party; he said so in his speech. It would have been far easier and politically safe for him to just vote to acquit, while offering a rational explanation of why (because such an explanation exists).
People on both sides understand that, which is why Trump defenders have come up with this alternative narrative:
I’m not mad at Mitt Romney. He’s in love with someone who’s awful to him; The American Media. I’m sad for him in the same way I’m sad when a prostitute can bring herself to leave the pimp who abuses her. And for the same reasons.
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) February 5, 2020
Of course, that take is ridiculous (and downright dopey). I explained why in a piece I wrote last year, after Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld (another former Romney defender) pushed the same narrative about Mitt:
“Now, there’s no doubt that the liberal media loves it when top-tier Republican leaders are criticized by other Republicans. This has been true for a very long time, and it goes without saying that the “new respect” liberal journalists claim to have for such folks is almost always disingenuous and short-lived.
What’s amusing is the notion that Romney (who took more abuse from the liberal media during his 2012 presidential run than Gutfeld will in his lifetime) doesn’t already know this. Anyone who’s been the victim of as many unfair political attacks as Mitt Romney obviously understands how media bias operates. And if he were truly interested in feeling a “warm glow” from those who previously portrayed him as evil, he would adjust his political positions to accommodate their liberal beliefs.
But Romney hasn’t done that.”
Sure enough, Senator Romney has voted with Trump 80% of the time, and his voting record has been more conservative than the president’s. That’s not how someone goes about seeking the approval of liberals.
No, Romney hasn’t changed. Those who’ve done a 180 on him have.