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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Mitt Romney, now the conscience of the GOP

A still image handout from the United States

A still image handout from the United States Senate shows Republican Senator from Utah Mitt Romney speaking about the impeachment trial against President Trump during a regular session of the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Credit: US SENATE TV/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/US SENATE TV/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

I was wrong about Mitt Romney.

I always thought he was wishy-washy.

Turns out, he’s anything but.

The Utah Reublican senator has nerves of steel. He is a man among men, and America and the Republican Party are better for it.

Sen. Romney could have been forgiven for voting to acquit President Donald Trump for abuse of powers in office. He had already done enough.

As one of only two Republican senators who voted to hear witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, Romney had honored his principles. He had shown his mettle, his willingness to pay the price of independence at home and in Washington.

Retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander had even blazed a path for Romney — call out Trump for his abuse of power, but determine it short of impeachable. It was an easy out, an arguable position, and a middle ground I’d probably recommend to clients.

But not Romney. He eschewed the easy path; he knowingly put his head in the chopping block because of what he believes. Who does that anymore?

Not Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the other GOP senator to vote for trial witnesses. She went full Lamar, slipping comfortably back into the Republican fold. Her decision is understandable. Truly. Trump was never going to be convicted by the Senate. Why destroy your political career over him?

Some suggest this was an easy vote for Romney because he’s not up for reelection for another four years. That’s an insult to courage itself. With his two votes, Romney has made powerful enemies, and he will pay a price for them forever.

Romney did something one is never supposed to do in partisan politics. He showed up his teammates; he made them look cowardly. They will never trust him again. Some may now hate him.

But who can deny he did so with an eloquence worth carving into stone: “In the last several weeks,” Romney said, “I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, ‘I stand with the team.’ I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the president has done. I have voted with him 80% of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Even more damning from the rank-and-file GOP perspective, the former Republican presidential candidate did something else with his lonely vote: he imbued House Democrats’ impeachment with historical credibility.

“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ Yes, he did,” Republican Romney said.

Pro-Trump media will eat him alive for that.

Anyone who recognizes bravery should pray for Romney’s strength.

He just became the leader of the Republican Party in many, many eyes. He is our conscience.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.