When it comes to Mitt Romney, I’m inclined to agree with Christopher Barron. No, not the lead singer of the Spin Doctors who was a good high school friend of mine. I’m talking about the dude who writes for the right-wing Trump-aligned Washington Examiner.
Throughout Romney’s entire political career, he has been willing to put political ambition over principle and conviction.
It’s almost hard to keep up with him. Romney has been on every side of almost every issue of consequence, from gun control to abortion to gay rights to taxes, and it has clearly been political opportunity and public opinion guiding Romney’s ever-evolving positions on these issues, not principle.
I’d add that Romney set the land-speed record for telling lies in a political campaign in 2012, a fact that was meticulously documented by our own Steve Benen at the time. In that way, he helped lay the groundwork for Trump.
But, contrary to Barron, I don’t see this as undermining Romney’s claim that principle caused him to vote for Trump’s removal from office. To my mind, it just makes it more surprising and remarkable. If any politician seemed infinitely malleable and therefore ready to adapt to ideological changes within the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership, it was Romney.
Think about it. In May 2016, Romney delivered perhaps the most blistering anti-Trump speech in history, saying “there’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake” and declaring that “dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark.”
This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.
He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.
Then, in November 2016, when he was angling for a job in Trump’s administration, he changed his tune:
Sitting in plain view of diners at the three-star Michelin restaurant Jean-Georges, Reince Priebus and Donald Trump broke bread during a four-course dinner with Mitt Romney, one of their finalists to lead the State Department, supping on frog legs, diver scallops, and a special course prepared specifically for the former Massachusetts governor: crow.
Romney’s appetite, apparently, was limitless. Afterward, the former Trump antagonist swallowed his pride before a gaggle of journalists waiting outside the Trump International Hotel in New York, calling the dinner “wonderful” and their conversation about global affairs “enlightening.”
So, given Romney’s record of waffling mendacity, he did not seem like a prime candidate to take a stand against Trump in the impeachment trial. If there were a clear angle where it might benefit him, then things would be quite different, but if there’s an upside for Romney in this case, it will be played out in posterity.
Now, maybe Romney was telling the truth for once when he explained on the Senate floor that his religious beliefs require him to take his oaths seriously. He once signed a pledge not to raise taxes, but most of the things he’s flip-flopped on over the years haven’t involved swearing in God’s name to remain consistent.
I don’t know why he decided to stick his neck out this time. But I do know that he deserves credit for it.
What he doesn’t deserve is to have his entire record expunged so that he appears to history as one of the nation’s most principled men.
As for the impact, I know that Romney did quite a bit better than McCain in the Philly suburbs precisely because he was seen as less of a hardline conservative. There are a ton of Obama-Romney-Clinton voters here, and they’ll note that all of them agree that Trump is unfit for office. His vote to convict Trump will make a difference in a way that a vote to convict from Susan Collins would not.
That’s at least part of the reason that the president is so angry about it.