As we finish this momentous week of impeachment, and so many days of listening to indignant, Constitution-spouting Republicans and Democrats, an exhausted America could be forgiven for switching the dial, at least briefly, to sports-talk radio.
America seemed stranded at week’s end between House and Senate, between competing versions of outrage, and between the trench warfare at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the divider-in-chief at the other. The only shred of bipartisan agreement was that everyone should go home for the holidays.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s most memorable moment was the quick hand gesture after the impeachment vote that told fellow Democrats: Don’t clap; don’t gloat; don’t act as if this nightmare is over. Pelosi delayed in actually sending the articles to the Senate. Does she perhaps wonder if she should have stuck to her initial position that impeachment was a mistake? We’ll probably never know.
And then, attention shifted to the Senate, which the Constitution specifies “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” Would that body fulfill its solemn role and weigh the evidence against the president? Dream on, America.
Leave it to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the master of high-minded doubletalk, to find a way to make things worse. After blasting House Democrats for “partisan rage,” he put his thumb firmly on President Trump’s side of the scale and insisted: “There is only one outcome suited to the fact that the accusations themselves are constitutionally incoherent.”
Who might deliver us from this national train wreck? Who could restore a sense of balance to the Senate trial so that, whatever its outcome, it doesn’t feed Trump’s false narrative of victimisation and populist rage? There’s one obvious answer: Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and custodian of what remains of his party’s moral and political balance.
History is knocking on Romney’s door. This is his moment to step away from a president who holds him in contempt and speak for principle — by insisting that the Senate conduct an actual trial and weigh the House’s allegations that Trump abused power and obstructed Congress. This simple stand for an impartial trial (if backed by several more brave Republicans) would restore sanity to this process. Trump would probably still be acquitted, but it wouldn’t be in a firestorm of partisan rage.
Romney’s collision course with Trump was set long ago. Romney tried initially to make peace after the election, but every time he has expressed an independent opinion, Trump has lacerated and belittled him.
Romney said in October that it was “wrong and appalling” for Trump to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump tweeted in response that Romney was “a pompous ‘ass'” and a “fool” and urged Utah voters to dump him, “#IMPEACHMITTROMNEY.”
Romney is laying low for the moment. Asked this week whether he favours calling witnesses, he had the mumbles: “It’s not that I don’t have any point of view; it’s just that I’m not willing to share that point of view.” He told The Salt Lake Tribune, his hometown paper, “I will act as a juror and will be unbiased in evaluating the cases that are presented.” But he hasn’t explained yet what that will mean.
Romney and other Republicans might add to their holiday reading lists a little book called “Profiles in Courage,” by President John F. Kennedy. It tells the stories of eight senators who resisted party pressure to do what they thought was right — from John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, the only member of the Federalist Party to support the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, to George Norris of Nebraska, who broke from his Republican Party in 1928 to oppose Herbert Hoover for president, fearing that his economic policies would be ruinous.
You’re probably sick of quotes from the Federalist Papers, but try just one more, from Alexander Hamilton about the Senate’s role in impeachment: “Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?”
Read that passage carefully, Sen. Romney. Hamilton is talking across the centuries to you.
Sometimes politicians find a moment when their actions — their willingness to suffer criticism to do what they believe is right — can play a decisive role in the fate of the country. Such a moment is approaching for Romney.
—The Washington Post
David Ignatius is an American journalist and novelist. He is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post