In the end, the evidence was inescapable. “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process,” Romney said. “And really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one's oath—that I can imagine. It's what autocrats do.”
According to Romney’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on impeachment in “Federalist No. 65”—which he says he’s read “multiple, multiple times”—Trump’s attempts to enlist the Ukrainian president in interfering with the 2020 election clearly rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” (He told me he would not vote to convict on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.)
Romney’s vote will do little to reorient the political landscape. The president’s acquittal has been all but certain for weeks, as Republicans have circled the wagons to protect Trump. But the Utahan’s sharp indictment ensures that at least one dissenting voice from within the president’s party will be on the record—and Romney seems to believe history will vindicate his decision.
He also knows his vote will likely make him a pariah on the right. Already, he says, he’s experienced firsthand the ire of the base. At an airport recently, a stranger yelled at him, “You ought to be ashamed!” During a trip to Florida with his wife this past weekend, someone shouted “Traitor!” from a car window.
Eight years ago, he was the leader of the Republican Party, its nominee for president. Today, he has become accustomed to a kind of political loneliness. Romney famously opposed Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and while the rest of his party has fallen in line since then, he has remained stubbornly independent—infuriating Trump, who routinely derides him in public as a “pompous ass” and worse. As I wrote last year, this dynamic seems to have liberated the senator in a way that’s unlike anything he has experienced in his political career.
Read: The liberation of Mitt Romney
Still, when the senator invited me to his Capitol Hill office yesterday, I was unsure what he would reveal. Romney had been largely silent throughout the impeachment proceedings, giving little indication of which way he was leaning. I half-expected to find a cowed and calculating politician ready with a list of excuses for caving. (His staff granted the interview on the condition that it would be embargoed until he took to the Senate floor.)
Instead, I found Romney filled with what seemed like righteous indignation about the president’s misconduct—quoting hymns and scripture, expressing dismay at his party, and bracing for the political backlash.
Romney confessed that he’d spent much of the impeachment trial hoping a way out would present itself: “I did not want to get here.” In fact, that was part of the reason he wanted former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify about what Trump had told him. “I had the hope that he would be able to say something exculpatory and create reasonable doubt, so I wouldn't have to vote to convict,” Romney said.