If you praise someone’s great moral character when it is in your best interest but refuse to do so when it is not, you aren’t doing it right.
That’s what I thought after Utah Sen. Mitt Romney collected a wheelbarrow full of fair-weather friends in the wake of his vote to convict President Trump during his impeachment trial. It took America’s liberals about .00009 seconds to heap praise upon the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, a man they once pilloried as: a murderer, a tax cheat, a felon, a robber baron who destroys jobs and hates workers, a misogynist who would return women to the 1950s, and a joke for worrying about Russia’s malign influence on the world.
Romney was reborn a liberal hero when he explained his impeachment thinking like this: “As a senator juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.”
This is a perfectly fine way to arrive at a decision of this magnitude — laudable, even — and wholly consistent with the way Romney approached his politics in 2012 when running against President Obama. It’s surprising that Democrats would suddenly get on board with such a faith and politics rationale.
If you are a liberal extolling Romney today, ask yourself this question: What if Romney’s declaration had been about a vote to upend Roe vs. Wade? The pro-life Romney once wrote: “I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother.”
Or do a gut check on yourself if he were announcing his position on same-sex marriage.“As a society,” Romney said in 2012, “I think we’re better off if we encourage the establishment of homes with a mother and a father.” He said that same-sex marriage isn’t “appropriate and needed for a strong society.”
And, finally, ask yourself this: What if Trump gets another Supreme Court vacancy to fill and Romney casts the deciding vote for a justice that fits his socially conservative worldview? Will you stand with Romney on that day and praise his “moral courage”? After all, the vote to confirm would have been born of the same faith that led Romney to convict the president.
Still on the Mitt bandwagon, liberals? I didn’t think so.
I worked my heart out for Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and came to believe that he was indeed a compassionate man possessed of great moral courage who would have been a terrific commander in chief, who deeply loved his family and country, but who lacked the intangible, next-level political skills required to win a presidential campaign. (It’s true — he just isn’t as good at campaigning as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama or Trump.)
Many in my party are also proving to be Romney’s fair-weather friends, or perhaps bad-weather enemies. They vehemently disagree with his conclusion that the president is guilty of abuse of power and should be thrown out of office and off the 2020 ballot. But just as liberals are wrong to cravenly adopt Romney now that it serves a political purpose, the GOP is wrong to organize an outrage mob against him.
Of course, Republicans and Trump have every right to feel angry. In his post-impeachment news conference, the president accused Romney of using “religion as a crutch” and he predicted that Romney’s poll numbers were “going down … big.” His unhappiness is understandable.
But just as Democrats haven’t gained a caucus member, any loose GOP talk of excommunicating Romney is not just wrong, it makes no sense as Republicans seek to hold the White House, the Senate and to retake the House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has learned to play the long game with his conference members, even when they go the wrong way on things. Although he was “surprised and disappointed” in Romney, McConnell took a wise posture when asked how long Utah’s junior senator would be in the doghouse:
“We don’t have any doghouses here. The most important vote is the next vote,” McConnell said.
Romney is a Republican. His vote against the president doesn’t change that, even though it robbed Republicans of their narrative that Democrats pursued a completely partisan impeachment.
Even without that talking point, however, the president is in a terrific position: He has the highest job approval of his presidency and his ratings on handling the economy are better than any president since George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11, according to Gallup. The Democrats’ primary is in disarray and they may even nominate a socialist to run against him. One impeachment vote to convict — soon lost to history, even if it came from a principled Republican — won’t hinder the former or help the latter.
Scott Jennings is a former advisor to President George W. Bush and Mitch McConnell and a CNN contributor. He is a contributing writer to Opinion. Twitter: @ScottJenningsKY