Sincere question for Mitt Romney: Why did you bother running for Senate if not to stand up to Trump?

CNBC Television / YouTube Mitt Romney criticizes Trump in Washington 1546456606.jpg...
CNBC Television / YouTube

“Why?” It’s a question I think many of us find rising to our lips—along with a little bile reflux—when pondering the presidency of Donald Trump. And I’m not even talking about the question of why our electoral system declares someone the victor after losing by 3 million votes. Today I want to explore the question of why—other than Rep. Justin Amash of Wisconsin, who deserves great credit for his call to impeach the president—Republicans in Congress have remained publicly in lockstep with Individual 1 on the Mueller report.

I’d like to focus on one Republican who has been particularly disappointing: former Republican presidential nominee and now Sen. Mitt Romney. Romney has a tortured history with Mr. 46% of the Popular Vote (one percent fewer than Romney won four years earlier, which you know irks him to no end). Romney asked Trump to endorse him in 2012 (Trump claims there was begging involved, not that I believe anything he says). In March 2016, in an attempt to convince Republican voters to choose anyone other than Trump, Romney spoke out:

“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.” Romney said that “dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” pointing to his “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”

Romney also added this via tweet:

Given that Trump had already established himself as the head birther by the time he endorsed Romney, we can obviously take this claim with a grain of the stuff for which that great big lake in Utah is named. The point is that, by 2016, Romney had already gone on record with his feelings about Trump.

Just after the inauguration, Trump interviewed Romney (see the above photo) for the job of secretary of State, a job in which, perhaps, Romney thought he could serve the national interest in some way. Personally, I think Trump thought he’d bring in Romney just to tease him, and never considered for a second hiring someone he considered to be disloyal. In other words, Trump played Romney for a fool.

Then, in early 2018, Romney announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate, seeking to replace the retiring Orrin Hatch of Utah. In the weeks leading up to that announcement he had criticized Trump, specifically over the latter’s use of the term “shithole countries” to describe countries in Africa and the Caribbean whose populations are largely black. In the announcement, Romney might have been looking to contrast his take on immigration with that of Trump when he said: “Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

Just before being sworn in as a senator, Romney published an op-ed that suggested he might be going to Congress to provide a real alternative to Trump within the Republican party. The senator-elect wrote: “On balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.” Overall, Romney has broken with Trump on various issues—although he has voted with Trump slightly more often than predicted based on the share of the Utah vote Trump won in 2016, as per this analysis at Five Thirty Eight. Here’s an interesting comment (of course it’s anonymous) that highlights the limits of Romney’s resistance:

“Sen. Romney is a very sophisticated, very polite sort of guy. And I’m sure the president’s style rankles him,” said one Republican senator. But Romney’s anti-Trump votes haven’t “made the difference in the outcome. That’s where people start to get a little sensitive.”

When the Mueller report finally came out in late April, Romney responded that the “dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land including the President” left him “sickened.” The senator continued: “I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia — including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.” Nevertheless, here’s the part where Romney says he’s not in favor of doing anything about it:

“It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice,” Romney said. “The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.”

We all know, thanks to what special counsel Robert Mueller has told us both in the report and in his public appearance this past Wednesday, that Trump was in no way cleared on the matter of obstruction of justice. Romney knew that when he made this statement on April 19. He knew it this week when he was asked about the matter again, after Mueller made his public statement.

Sen. Mitt Romney expects “total honesty” from President Donald Trump and his administration.

“It’s not a crime to lie. It’s just wrong. I think it’s morally wrong. I reject people who lie. I reject lies,” he said.

“There were things that were said in that report which suggested that people in the administration had said things that were untrue, and I’ve found that disheartening because I expect total honesty by the highest office in the land,” he said.

“And if they make a mistake and say something that’s untrue, I expect them to come out and say, ‘I made a mistake,’ and clarify it.”

However, when a question came about how he might vote if the House did impeach, and there was a trial in the Senate, Romney quipped: “I’m not going there.”

With all the respect that is due, senator, you should go there. In fact, why did you bother going to the United States Senate in the first place if you’re not going to go “there.” It’s not like you were a senator before you ran for president, and you were just going back to continue on the same path. Why would he go to the Senate for any reason, other than stand up to Donald Trump in a meaningful way?

What’s the point of being just another senator? What’s the point of being another Susan Collins, with her sternly worded statements and her lack of follow-through? Why aren’t you standing up for what you clearly know to be true about Individual 1 and his utter lack of fitness to serve in the august office he holds? If the price you have to pay to be a senator is to “not go there,” then you are doing your country and even your party a disservice by doing so. Shame on you.

Although I’ve focused thus far specifically on Romney, let me say that all congressional Republicans other than Rep. Amash have failed the American people, the rule of law, and our Constitution by refusing to hold Trump accountable for his actions. On that front, let’s hear from William S. Cohen, a Maine Republican who served in the House and Senate, and as secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton. He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon and voted in favor of impeachment. In a Washington Post op-ed, Cohen declared:

The silence of Republicans today in the face of presidential behavior that is unacceptable by any reasonable standard is both striking and deeply disappointing.

When one talks privately to some Republican members about a president who lurches from tweet to taunt; who, according to those who have worked closely beside him, is incapable of telling the truth even in mundane situations; who accepts the word of Vladimir Putin and rejects the unanimous judgment of our intelligence community that Russia launched a cyberattack at the very heart of our democracy; and whose toxic combination of egotism and insecurity distorts the basic process of governing, they express their disdain and even alarm at how he conducts the nation’s affairs.

Yet, the same members are reluctant to speak out publicly even in the face of behavior they would find intolerable by any previous occupant of the Oval Office.

That last part is key. I know, without question, that I would not hesitate to support the impeachment and removal of a Democratic president who, in some alternate universe, acted as Trump has. I’m also confident that most Democrats would agree with me. I believe that the Constitution and our democratic values matter, that they are more important than protecting the political position of someone—even someone with whom I agree on the issues—who would destroy those sacred things in order to gain or maintain power.

The fact that Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for lying about sex, yet many of those same Republicans (I’m looking right at your foul mouth, Lindsey Graham) now refuse to take the same action against a president whose far more serious abuses of power are as plain as the stain on that famous blue dress, makes painfully obvious that their faux-worship of the Constitution is but a facade. There is no spirit of the law to them, no principles of constitutional government they would uphold across the board, no checks and balances within the federal government to be defended at all times. There is only the matter of what they can get away with when they hold the reins of power. Mitt Romney has talked a good game at times since coming to the Senate, but when push comes to shove he’s really no better than Lindsey Graham.

In a separate interview on the matter of impeachment, William Cohen added: “[Trump] is basically thumbing his nose at the Congress itself, saying I don’t recognize you. I am surprised there aren’t more defenders of the Constitution. They are there to be a check on abuse of power. If they are willing to submit that to the executive, then they have no business being in office.”

Romney announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate more than a year into the Trump presidency. He knew exactly what Trump was. If Romney continues to be unwilling to stand up to Trump in the way that really counts by supporting impeachment—the way one Republican has today, and a lot more than that did during Watergate—then he truly has no business being in office.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (forthcoming on June 18).

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Justin Amash is from Michigan not Wisconsin.