Mitt Romney’s Impeachment Dilemma – The American Prospect
If Mitt Romney aims to be great instead of just brushing up against greatness, his moment has arrived. After his criticism of the president’s conduct in Ukrainegate and finger-wagging on China elicited predictable name-calling from the White House, Romney has become what passes for a principled Republican in Congress. Given the capricious nature of Mitt’s commitment to true leadership—he has been compared to a weather vane for good reason—that is a disconcerting proposition.
The crisis in Syria that Trump unleashed in a few hundred characters Sunday night prompted more Romney tweets and a joint press release with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. It intoned, “The President’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Northern Syria in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal that will have grave humanitarian and national security consequences. After enlisting support from the Kurds to help destroy ISIS and assuring Kurdish protection from Turkey, the U.S. has now opened the door to their destruction. This severely undercuts America’s credibility as a reliable partner and creates a power vacuum in the region that benefits ISIS.”
All the right words, but tweetstorms and press releases have limited utility. Trump is the single most serious threat to national security since World War II. With a Turkish offensive against northern Syria already under way, Trump has pushed the Middle East into a new level of peril. Senate Republicans like Romney may offer declarations about America’s role as guarantor of international peace and security, but Trump has no time for such trifles. This latest blunder is his boldest statement yet of calculated isolationism and geopolitical recklessness.
What Romney should do, though it’s unclear if he has the requisite intestinal fortitude to do it, is step away from his cowering party-over-country brethren and take a cue from the House Democratic military and intelligence veterans who called for an impeachment inquiry in a September Washington Post op-ed. He’s in a position to at least try to persuade like-minded Republicans, beginning with senators who are veterans, to publicly back the House and hold a trial in the Senate.
According to data compiled by Military Times, 19 senators have served in the military: 13 Republicans and six Democrats. Like most of the Republicans, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina served, but did not see combat and are from bright-red states.
Five senators served combat tours of duty: Martha McSally of Arizona served in Iraq and Afghanistan; Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas in Iraq; and Dan Sullivan of Alaska in Afghanistan. Democrat Thomas Carper of Delaware served in Vietnam. (An analysis of Senate Republican biographies did not find any references to service in intelligence agencies.)
All of them have criticized Trump’s Syria gambit, with Cotton, Ernst, and McSally voting earlier this year to oppose the president’s plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. (Sullivan did not vote.) Of the four, Cotton is a vocal Trump supporter.
Possible converts to Romney’s country-over-party strategy start with Sullivan, who did not support Trump in 2016 and called for him to drop out of the race after the 2005 “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood video surfaced. Then there’s McSally. Back home in Arizona, where Trump’s net approval rating has dropped 22 points since he took office and 49 percent of voters support impeachment, the junior senator faces a very strong challenge from retired astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt. The reason that Arizona is in play has everything to do with Trump.
Ernst joined her Iowa colleague Chuck Grassley in supporting the first of the Ukraine whistleblowers to come to public attention. She currently has a slight edge in her re-election race and continues to tweet Trump’s praises. But Trump’s net approval rating in the state is down 23 points since 2017. And Ernst was recently confronted by a voter at a campaign event who wanted to know, “Where do you draw the line?’
Two other Republican veterans, Mike Enzi of Wyoming (who found Bill Clinton guilty on two counts in his impeachment trial) and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, are retiring, and have no political career left to worry about. Trump net approval numbers have held steady in Georgia, but in Wyoming Trump’s net approval has declined by 23 points since the president took office.
Meanwhile, according to a recent Newsweek report, other Republicans who did not support Trump in 2016 and might support impeachment include Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Surely not all of these people are impervious to facts or the Constitution.
The most critical data point for Romney and Senate Republicans, however, is that a growing majority of Americans supports impeaching the president 58 percent to 38 percent, according to a Washington Post–Schar School poll of 1,007 adults released Tuesday. Another 49 percent back removing him from office.
A Republican Party that once trumpeted its superior foreign-affairs and national-security acumen (despite evidence to the contrary) has hit its nadir. In three years, Trump has condoned Russian election interference; pulled out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Russian nuclear disarmament pact, and the Paris climate accord; stoked a trade war with China; alienated allies; and now, sought political assistance from foreign governments and further destabilized the Middle East.
The quest for a permanent Republican majority has been predicated on Mitch McConnell’s skill as a legislative puppet master transforming conservative doctrine into law. But what effectively does it mean to be majority leader if McConnell no longer legislates but just rubber-stamps Trump’s fever dreams of grandeur? The president has actually drawn a bright-red line under the Senate Republicans’ impotence when confronted with his raw displays of executive power, topped with a dollop of “great and unmatched wisdom.”
If a Syrian worst-case scenario materializes, with a Kurdish slaughter unleashed and ISIS resuscitated, the Senate majority leader will have participated, for all practical purposes, in his own defenestration. Should Republicans maintain control of the Senate in 2020, that will no longer matter either. They will have already signed off on their permanent irrelevance as a deliberative legislative body, because the United States will no longer be a representative democracy worthy of the name.
Mitch McConnell won’t stand up to Trump, so Mitt Romney should gather the allies he can, or go it alone and declare his firm support for the impeachment and a trial and vote to convict the 45th president of the United States. Or perhaps more likely, some subset of senators needs to come forward minus Romney and make that declaration. Either way, the man who wants to be so much more than a junior senator from Utah should consider sparing the country any more of his endless equivocations.