The real national civics lesson that has emerged from the Senate trial of President Donald J. Trump was taught by Senator Mitt Romney of Utah who cast the lone Republican vote for conviction and removal of the President. Senator Romney had absolutely nothing to gain and his entire political career to lose with his vote to convict and remove. Well, that’s not quite accurate—he had his self-respect to protect, and he considered that more important than protecting his political future. Senator Romney will reap no political benefit anywhere with his vote. Voters in his strongly Republican home state of Utah now give Trump a strong thumbs up. In fact, Trump’s approval rating in Utah is well above the national average. Politically speaking, Romney’s vote made no sense. His sense of “right,” however, far outweighed his sense of political expediency. Good for him. History will treat him well.
The condemnations came fast and furious from Trump supporters and Trump sycophants. The President himself called Senator Romney a failed presidential candidate who used religion as a crutch when casting his guilty vote. Donald Trump Junior immediately called Senator Romney a “pussy.” One needn’t wonder too long at whose knee junior learned to express himself.
While his fellow Republicans have rushed to vilify him, history, we believe, will applaud him. So would George Washington, who understood the poisonous potential of political parties. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, the authors of our treasured Federalist Papers, would smile appreciatively to know that patriots like Mitt Romney would still be around 233 years after they gave America those remarkable eighty-five essays that revealed so eloquently their reasoning with respect to the American experiment they envisioned.
I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Mitt Romney. A small group of us were invited to spend a little time with him when he came to Indian Wells, California to lecture. We met with him in his suite for a short time. The discussion was entirely non-political. He shared his favorite snacks with us, (small peanut butter and honey sandwiches) as we engaged in thoroughly relaxed and convivial conversation. Here, I thought, was an uncommonly decent man. Indeed, he was and is.
I have known one other elected official who sacrificed a political career and a congressional seat he could have held forever rather than cast a vote to protect a President gone bad. I’m referring to the late Larry Hogan, the father of the current Republican Governor of Maryland. Larry Hogan was my dear friend and former business partner before my career took me from Washington, DC to Chicago. I was privileged to work closely with him when he ran for Congress, managing the advertising for his campaigns, writing many of his speeches and doing all of his polling. The voters of Maryland’s heavily democratic fifth congressional district, who had only elected one other Republican to any elected office in the entire history of the district, rallied around Larry Hogan electing to him to three successive terms, in 1968, 1970 and 1972. He was returned to office with 62.5% of the vote in his last campaign for Congress. Then, came Watergate.
Larry was a member of the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Democrat Peter Rodino of New Jersey. Larry Hogan, a conservative Republican, was presumed to be a Nixon loyalist. Indeed, he was. He had campaigned for Nixon and Nixon returned the favor by campaigning for Larry. Nixon’s daughters even campaigned for Larry Hogan. When we spoke immediately after the Watergate break-in Larry was sure the burglary was a rogue caper. But then came the evidence, the testimony, the transcripts, and the tapes. Larry called me the evening before he announced that he was voting for all three Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon. He was crestfallen. He told me he knew his decision would end his political career. The Republicans, he said, would turn him out in the next primary, but he knew he had no choice. His allegiance, like Senator Romney’s, was to his oath of office and to his conscience. He was the first Republican to break ranks. Other Republicans followed him, and the following day the late Senator Barry Goldwater informed Nixon that it was over. Those Republicans, all of them, were profiles in courage.
Mitt Romney, like Larry Hogan before him, will never have second thoughts about his vote to remove the President. He knows President Trump and his minions will heap scorn on him and there will be no end to the name-calling and the attempts to muddy his name and trample his reputation. He will be persona non grata in Republican circles and scorned by many in his home state. The President will spare no opportunity to vilify him as he has vilified John McCain, Khizr Kahn, the gold-star father whose son was killed in Iraq, Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Brooks, Robert Gates, and countless others.
Already Romney’s nod to his own religious faith is being belittled. But Mitt Romney wasn’t only talking about his Mormon religion when he alluded to his duty to honor the oath he took. What religion doesn’t teach faithful allegiance to an oath made in God’s name.
Mitt Romney, like Larry Hogan, understood what George Washington meant when he wrote, “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” They, like George Washington, knew that sometimes party loyalty demands too much.