Tribune Editorial: Mitt Romney’s profile in courage

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. The Senate will vote on the Articles of Impeachment on Wednesday afternoon. (Senate Television via AP)

“I almost literally looked down into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.”

— Sen. Edmund G. Ross, R-Kansas, reflecting on his deciding vote to acquit the impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868.

Mitt Romney could have ducked this one.

He could have voted with the rest of the Republican members of the Senate of the United States to acquit the president of the United States on both of the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives. He could have rationalized it — to himself, to his party, to his state, to his family, to history — by noting, as he did Wednesday, that his vote wasn’t going to be the crucial one.

But he couldn’t explain it to his conscience.

Romney, and everyone else, knew that his decision to vote to convict and remove the president on the first article of impeachment — abuse of power — was not going to change the fact that a president who very much deserves to be removed from office won’t be. That he will remain in office at least until January of 2021 and in the meantime is in a position, along with the rabid base of supporters in the party and in the Senate, to make life very difficult for Romney going forward.

The junior senator from Utah could have rested on the fact that he was one of only two Republican senators to vote to call witnesses in the trial. He could have said, to us and to history, that he did what he could and, having honorably failed at that, was prepared to vote with the rest of his party to acquit the president and move on.

But when it was crunch time, Romney just could not avert his eyes from the fact that this president had, without a shadow of a doubt, abused his power as commander and chief.

In Romney’s own words:

“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.”

Romney described his decision in terms of his faith which, although he didn’t mention it, is the predominate faith of the state he represents, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He explained that the oaths he took — first as a senator, then as a juror in the impeachment proceeding — left him with no choice.

All Utahns, all Americans, regardless of politics, ideology or religion should be duly impressed with Romney’s decision to follow his heart and his conscience — and his God — in doing the right thing when doing the right thing was difficult.

It would not be totally cynical to note that Romney has already reached what stands to be the pinnacle of his political career. At age 72, he might not have wanted to run for reelection in 2024 even if he hadn’t alienated a good portion of his party and his state. And another run for president was not likely.

It is also true that Romney has had a back-and-forth relationship with the president. Romney sought and accepted his endorsement in two political campaigns and interviewed to be his secretary of state, a series of events interspersed with stinging criticism of the now-chief executive as a con man, a phony and “very, very not smart.”

Romney’s vote Wednesday, though, may be what will deserve to be remembered.

“We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history,” Romney said. “But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.”

In writing this particular footnote, Romney deserves nothing but our thanks and our support.