Republican Senator Mitt Romney announced today that he’s voting to convict and remove Donald Trump. He’ll very likely be the only Republican Senator to do so, meaning Trump will still be acquitted. But this is nonetheless a big deal, both in terms of GOP dynamics and in terms of the 2020 election. So why is Romney really doing it?
The reality is that Mitt Romney is in something of a unique position among Republican Senators. He’s from a state that likes him more than it likes Donald Trump – and he doesn’t have to run for reelection for another five years anyway. By that time Trump will be out of the picture, and Trump’s political movement will have lost momentum. In other words, Romney is about as safe as can be. He’ll face major blowback from the Trump-loyal faction of the GOP (which at this point is most of what’s left of the GOP), but his seat isn’t at risk.
That said, the safer move for Romney would have been to quietly vote to acquit, along with all of his Republican colleagues. He says his conscience wouldn’t allow him to do that. You can each decide for yourselves if you think Romney really is doing this out of conscience. But there’s another factor to consider. Romney clearly still has his eyes on the presidency.
If Donald Trump loses in 2020 and the resulting vacuum leaves the GOP in freefall and trying to figure out how to regroup, Mitt Romney surely sees himself as the party savior and the de facto Republican nominee for president in 2024. By voting to convict, Romney is preventing Trump from being able to brag in 2020 that his party unanimously acquitted him. The Democrats will be able to campaign in 2020 on the premise that Trump is such a criminal, there was a nominally bipartisan vote to remove him from office.
In other words, regardless of what role Mitt Romney’s conscience may or may not have played in his vote today, the reality is that he just hurt Donald Trump’s already-weak 2020 prospects even further. It’s worth noting that Romney made a point of emphasizing today that Joe and Hunter Biden didn’t commit any crimes. Romney is actively trying to make life easier for the Democrats in 2020 (Trump will try to hit the Democratic nominee with the fake Biden scandal whether the nominee is Biden or not).
So with this vote, Romney is doing a lot to help make sure Trump loses in 2020 – if perhaps only because he wants a clear path to run for president in 2024. It’s worth considering that if Trump were to win in 2020, he’d still have control of the Republican Party infrastructure heading into 2024, and he could change the rules to prevent Romney from having a shot at the nomination. In other words, Romney is putting his chips down on the premise that his vote to convict will help ensure Trump loses in November.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report