Our Opinion: Romney's welcome voice in GOP wilderness

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The acquittal of President Trump on impeachment charges by Republican senators who put party over nation was inevitable, which doesn't make it any less dispiriting. There was one bright moment in the darkness, however, in the vote to convict the president of abuse of power by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a vote that the Utah senator backed with an eloquent and impassioned speech that put his Republican colleagues to shame.

The Eagle editorial page was often harshly critical of Mr. Romney when he served as governor of the state and when he successfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination. As governor and as a presidential candidate, Mr. Romney was prone to flip-flopping on his positions, such as abortion and health care reform, depending on whether he was portraying himself as a moderate or as a conservative to the audience of the moment. But this was a much different Mr. Romney on Wednesday, when he shredded the case for acquittal on both the facts and on the sworn duties of the senators serving as jury in the president's impeachment trial.

The senator first noted the obvious: the president was guilty as charged by the House. "There's no question that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his political foe," he said. "There's not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that's what the president did." His Republican colleagues were forced to either deny the obvious or acknowledge it while claiming that the president's actions were not serious enough to merit his removal from office. There is little doubt that every Republican who voted to acquit Mr. Trump would have voted to convict a Democratic president who committed the same crime.

Sen. Romney observed that he and every senator had sworn an oath to exercise "impartial judgment," as demanded by the authors of the Constitution in establishing the article of impeachment. It appears that swearing and abiding by oaths is regarded by many politicians as an old school ritual, but in his emotional speech, Mr. Romney made it clear that he takes it seriously.

It's unfortunate, of course, that Sen. Romney, the first senator in history to vote to remove a president of his own party, couldn't find any Republican allies among the likes of Marco Rubio of Florida, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the perennially disappointing Susan Collins of Maine, all of whom had at least appeared open to the possibility that the president was guilty of abusing his considerable power as chief executive. They were left to torture logic and the language in statements that were no more than rationalizations for their failure to do right by the Constitution and the nation.

Mr. Romney acknowledged that there will be consequences for his vote, and Donald Trump Jr. didn't take long to demand that the senator be drummed out of the Republican Party for voting to evict his dad from office. It is not clear that there is any provision for tossing someone out of the party but dissent is not welcome in this Republican Party. The president is known for his vindictiveness, and the Trump cult, whether Republican congressmen or hard-core supporters, won't abide criticism of their leader, even though the right to free speech is fundamental to America and should be cherished by people who regard themselves as patriots.

Regardless of what the future holds for Sen. Romney in terms of politics, however, he can be forever proud of his courageous vote and the case he made for that vote. His 52 Republican colleagues, who avoided the wrath of the president but didn't win his loyalty, will have to live with their votes as best they can, but they will never find pride in them.

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