Editorial: Mitt Romney's bold stand on principle earns him scorn as a GOP traitor

©St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Americans witnessed a historic moment in national politics Wednesday in the closing minutes of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. His acquittal was a foregone conclusion, not because Trump deserved it but because Senate Republicans refused to hear testimony and many had already made clear that no amount of proof of Trump’s abuses would convince them to exercise independent thought.

Justice never stood a chance. Courage? No way. But then came Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. Romney’s remarks ahead of his vote were powerful, inspirational and clearly driven by his deep concerns for the future of our country. You can (and should) read them in full.

He delivered his remarks fully aware that Trump and his supporters would attack him. But Romney remained steadfast and true to his principles. This is what courage is all about. Some folks have it. Others — including Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley — choose cowardice over country.

Romney’s bold stand reminds us of another inspiring Republican figure, the late Sen. John McCain, who repeatedly stood up to Trump when others wouldn’t. Trump, instead of absorbing the truth behind McCain’s words, chose to attack McCain’s military record and poke fun at the fact that he spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Far too many of McCain’s Republican colleagues cowered in silence or stood in defense of our draft-dodging president.

Romney didn’t allow his historic antipathy to Trump to sway his rationale. Rather, he studied the evidence and testimony produced during the House impeachment inquiry. Other senators tuned out and traded jokes during the mind-numbingly repetitive Senate trial, but Romney studiously listened and took notes.

He said his preference was not to convict Trump because of the jolting implications of removing a sitting president from office. Romney said he wanted to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton in hopes of hearing something exculpatory that could justify a not-guilty vote. But the evidence was indisputable that Trump had abused his office by withholding military aid to Ukraine in a bid to exact political favors.

Romney said the president “is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust. What he did was not ‘perfect.’ No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

It’s amazing that Republicans would brand him a traitor simply for exercising the exact due diligence and objective analysis that was required in the pretrial oath sworn by all senators. Romney’s centrist approach serves as a model for politicians and voters of both parties to follow — if only they can remove their blinders long enough to actually read his words.

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