Mitt Romney and the Last Stand of the Republican Old Guard


Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) delivers prepared remarks on February 5, 2020, explaining his vote to convict President Donald Trump on the impeachment charge of abuse of power. The only member of either party to break ranks, Romney condemned the “corrupting [of] an election” and called it an “abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office”. Photo credits: Washington Post.

In today’s hypercharged political environment, “country over party” has become the cynical punchline of a bipartisan joke. Congressmen vote in lockstep at the command of their whips, competing to see who can boast the most uniform of voting records. The House of Representatives and the Senate have locked blades, each daring the other to blink first. The animosity was at its peak February 4, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tore up her copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech on national television in response to what she called “a [shredding] of the truth.”

And yet the very next day, February 5, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) defied expectations with his decision to vote to convict President Donald Trump on an impeachment charge of abuse of power alongside all 47 Democrats, thus becoming the only senator in history ever to vote against his own party’s president in an impeachment trial. Romney justified his vote with the defense that “corrupting an election to keep oneself in office” was “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine”. It was nowhere near enough to swing the balance to the necessary 67 out of 100 senators, but it denied President Trump the unanimous party vote of support he had gotten in the House of Representatives and craved in the Senate. 

If any senator had the political standing to buck the howls of their party and vote on conscience, it was Romney. He had been the Republican Party’s 2012 candidate for the presidency, running against President Barack Obama; the former Massachusetts Governor had made his temperance and respectability one of the core parts of his campaign. He had shepherded healthcare reform into law in Massachusetts, taken a moderate stance on LGBT and abortion rights, and sounded the alarm on Russian meddling in foreign elections as early as 2012. Along with the 2008 Republican nominee and Arizona senator, the late John McCain, he had been the very embodiment of the sober party elder.

Now with McCain’s passing from cancer in 2018, he is the last of his kind. President Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has been all but complete; not even moderate senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted against him. Murkowski didn’t even dare to vote for witnesses to be called at the Senate trial, nor did retiring Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming. In many ways, Romney’s vote was more a wistful eulogy for the old Republican Party—the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and prudent foreign policy—than anything else. With this vote, it has finally died upon its hill, its lonely defender having made a last stand to the very end.