Robert Gehrke: Romney’s brave vote to remove Trump should make Utahns proud to have him as their senator

Robert Gehrke.

“Yes, he did.”

That was Sen. Mitt Romney’s answer to the question of whether President Donald Trump committed an offense “so extreme and egregious” that he should be removed from office.

“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust,” Romney said Wednesday. “ … It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Romney’s action was a dramatic act of conscience and courage, fulfilling a solemn “oath before God” to act impartially and protect the country and Constitution — not to protect a president and his party.

The retribution unleashed on Romney will be swift and savage.

Within minutes, Trump loyalists were calling for him to resign or (contrary to the law) be recalled. Donald Trump Jr. took to social media, calling Romney a disparaging name for a part of the female body his father likes to grab and promoting the “#ExpelMitt” hashtag urging him to be banished from the Republican Party.

[Read more: Mitt Romney broke with GOP and voted to remove Trump from office]

At home in Utah, where Trump’s popularity is higher among Republicans than Romney’s, his decision could have political consequences.

Trump, who has proved himself to be a petty, vindictive bully, will never forget Romney’s perceived disloyalty, and it’s safe to expect that he will search out every opportunity for revenge.

Indeed, until a new president takes office — be it in 2021 or 2025 — Utah could effectively have just one senator.

He will endure that withering vitriol over a vote that was largely symbolic. It was, as Romney acknowledged on the Senate floor, a foregone conclusion that he would be in the minority and that Trump would remain in office.

In a way, that makes Romney’s decision all the more impressive. It would have been simple, safe and painless to fall in line with his party, spare himself the political grief and find a way to excuse the president’s conduct.

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Romney voted to convict the president on one article of impeachment.

He could have done what Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee did, blaming a deep state conspiracy and essentially arguing that this president — or any future president — can do anything he or she wants, even it means ignoring laws passed by Congress, using the office for personal gain or blatantly defying any attempts at future congressional oversight.

Or he could have mimicked Rep. Chris Stewart — the Utah representative who criticized Romney’s decision — and run interference for Trump, parading across cable news to proclaim his innocence before the evidence was gathered.

Had Romney done that, however, it would have come at the expense of his own judgment of what is right and wrong and his oath to exercise that judgment in an impartial manner.

“With my vote,” he said, “I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me.”

Hopefully, the senator’s grandchildren and all Utahns — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — recognize a few things: Mitt Romney was the one senator of 100 with the moral compass to break from his party. He weighed the evidence with careful thought and voted his conscience out of a solemn sense of duty. In the face of certain political repercussions, he stood firm and did what he believed was right, even though it was the “most difficult decision” he had ever faced.

He showed the kind of integrity and guts that are almost unheard of in today’s polarized, blindly partisan Washington.

There will be those who accuse Romney of acting out of self-interest or a vendetta against Trump. But there can be little doubt his self-interest would have been better served if he voted to acquit the president. Payback is also a weak motive, since, when the sun comes up tomorrow, Trump will still be president and Romney will have gained nothing from his vote.

I haven’t always been a big Romney fan. I recognized he was thoughtful and reasonable but disagreed with him on policy matters and sometimes viewed him as talking a good game before ultimately folding under political pressure.

On Wednesday, he found his backbone.

When history judges Romney and asks if he had the fortitude to do what he believed was right for the country and the Constitution, despite his own peril and pressure, the answer will be simple: “Yes, he did.”