Is Romney going to vote to remove Trump?


Trumpers are going to read that headline and respond, “YES, AND HE ALWAYS WAS,” but I don’t think that’s true. There’s too much for him to lose and too little to gain by casting a vote to remove that’s functionally meaningless to make this an easy call for him. He has almost five full years left in the Senate and may well spend all five having to deal with an embittered Trump administration that won’t do him a single favor if he votes the wrong way here. He’ll piss off thousands upon thousands of Republican constituents back home, some of whom love Trump and others of whom think this is a moment to circle the partisan wagons irrespective of their feelings about the president. He’ll be shredded in right-wing media for the rest of his life, accused not just of disloyalty but of petty jealousy and grudge-holding towards a guy who succeeded where Romney himself failed in 2012. He’ll alienate his Republican colleagues in the Senate, to the extent that he hasn’t already.

All he’d “gain” is gift-wrapping a talking point for Democrats that the vote to remove was bipartisan. He’d be the only Republican in either chamber who was willing to side with Pelosi, Schumer, and Schiff on the Ukraine matter.

He’d lose friends too. Reporter Tim Alberta posted a depressing but illuminating thread on Twitter last night about the curious case of Lamar Alexander, a man who’s retiring from the Senate and thus seemingly has no political reason to do Trump a major favor by declining to call witnesses. Not true, said Alberta. Politics extends far beyond the halls of Congress:

It’s not like Romney would be a total pariah, particularly among his circle of establishment business-class Republicans, and of course he has a la-a-arge family that’ll love him no matter what. Still, the fact remains that there are intangible costs, starting with social penalties, for crossing the party on a momentous vote in a hyperpartisan era. He has every selfish reason to vote to acquit.

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I’d guess it’s 50/50 at this point whether he does. A week ago, before the NYT’s story about what’s in Bolton’s book dropped, I would have guessed 80/20 that he acquits. The case for calling Bolton as a witness wasn’t as urgent at the time, which would have made it easier for Romney to get comfortable with the line Alexander took last night — yes, what Trump apparently did was inappropriate but it’s not a high crime or misdemeanor. Bad, but not impeachable. There’s not even firsthand evidence that the president was involved!

But I think the game changed with the Times’s revelation that Trump allegedly told Bolton there was an “aid for Democratic dirt” deal with Ukraine, per Bolton’s manuscript. And I think it probably changed more as Romney marinated in the sheer abject servility his colleagues are prepared to show on Trump’s behalf by not even deigning to hear Bolton out before rendering a verdict despite the allegation in that Times story. I can’t find the article now but I remember reading somewhere months ago on a different occasion how frustrated Romney was by the timidity of some Senate Republicans towards the president. If that was true then his frustration must be off the charts after Alexander’s and Murkowski’s decision on witnesses.

Which means, putting all of that together, that he may be emboldened about the coming vote on acquittal or removal. He might see it now not just as a vote on the merits but as a test of whether anyone — anyone — in the party’s leadership is willing to call BS on squeezing a foreign government to damage your likely electoral opponent and say, “Yeah, this was seriously wrong.” This line from the Times’s story about him this morning jumped out at me:

Mr. Romney said he was not one for dwelling or looking back. “You go back to my campaigns,” he said. “I sort of watch how the president reacts to his opponents, and it’s not the way I did it. But you know what? He won and I didn’t. On the other hand, he won and I didn’t but I would not have done what he’s done in order to win.”

It is not clear what exactly Mr. Romney is referring to here, nor does he elaborate except to repeat the last part: “I would not have done some of the things he did.”

He might approach this verdict the same way. Republicans will win, but clearly he’s not willing to do what they did — overlook John Bolton — in the name of victory. I think he’d agree that one can come to the conclusion Alexander did, “bad but not impeachable,” in good faith based on the available evidence. But few Republicans have even been willing to go as far as Alexander did and call what Trump did “bad.” Most are too frightened to cross even that small line, despite opting for acquittal in the end.

No one on the Republican side is willing to cast a vote formally denouncing what Trump did, given this set of facts? Shouldn’t someone?” I suspect that’s what Romney’s thinking. I still think he’ll vote to acquit in the end, but I wouldn’t wager a dollar on it. And if he votes to remove and that costs him his Senate seat, he’s probably fine with that. I think he may have already quietly resolved not to seek a second Senate term in 2024. Why would he want to spend six more years in this den of thieves, rubber-stamping judges and otherwise doing nothing constructive except praising the smell of the president’s farts? There are a million Republicans in Utah who’d be willing to take orders from a populist Trump knock-off in the White House in 2025. Let one of them have the seat. Romney will find a way to enjoy retirement at age 77 with his adoring family and giant pile of money.

The one thing I still can’t figure out, though, is how Romney and the Dem fencesitters — Manchin, Jones, and Sinema — will decide whether to acquit or remove in light of the fact that key evidence, Bolton’s testimony, has been withheld. A jury in the justice system never has to deal with that problem; they know only what’s before them in court. They’d have no idea there was a witness out there willing and apparently able to incriminate the defendant who hasn’t been called to testify for whatever reason. Romney et al. do know that, and they also know that Republicans are keeping Bolton out precisely because they fear he might have something material to say. What should an undecided senator do with that information? Vote to acquit on the theory that they can’t know for sure what Bolton would have said, in which case they’d be rewarding Trump and the GOP for suppressing Bolton’s testimony? Or vote to remove on the theory that they refuse to let the GOP protect Trump by suppressing Bolton, even though they can’t know for sure that Bolton would have said anything accusatory? Can they vote “present,” maybe?

Update: Oh noes.

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