On Wednesday, the United States Senate acquitted President Donald J. Trump. The outcome was never in doubt.
But the vote to dismiss the two articles of impeachment detailing the U.S. president’s abuses of power and subsequent obstructions of Congress was noteworthy because acquittal was not delivered unanimously by the Senate’s controlling caucus of Republicans.
Instead, one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict Mr. Trump on the first of the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power. It was not, as Mr. Romney outlined in a speech on the Senate floor before casting his lone dissenting ballot against 52 Republican votes to acquit (all 47 Democrats voted to convict), an easy decision.
"As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice," Mr. Romney told his Senate colleagues. "I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong."
He said he knew his vote would not affect the outcome of the impeachment trial, and that he’s aware he will face wrathful consequences for heeding his conscience and sense of obligation rather than following in lockstep support of the president because he’s part of "the team."
By voting his conscience rather than huddling with “the team,” Mr. Romney has put his political future in doubt.
And yet, despite the procedural futility and inevitable personal cost, Mr. Romney voted to convict Mr. Trump for abusing the power of his office.
"The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival," he recounted. "The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. ... It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine."
Mr. Romney voted to acquit on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.
But it’s his vote on the first article that will make the remaining months and years of his Senate term (his next run for re-election would come in 2024) problematic. Mr. Romney represents what political insiders describe as a "deep red" state, meaning its ideological underpinnings are hard-line conservative and its political leanings are unshakeably Republican.
Mr. Romney has deep roots in the Republican party — his father, George W. Romney, was the Republican governor of Michigan in the 1960s and later held a cabinet position in the Nixon administration, and Mr. Romney himself was the Republican presidential nominee in the 2012 U.S. election. But the current iteration of the Republican Party, having unmoored from its ideological foundations in order to opportunistically follow the whims and urges of Mr. Trump, bears little resemblance to the party that embodied the faith-based conservative values of the Romney clan.
And so, by voting his conscience rather than huddling with "the team," Mr. Romney has put his political future in doubt. In an interview with The Atlantic on the eve of his purposeful vote, he said he drew strength and comfort from a line in an old Mormon hymn: "Do what is right; let the consequence follow."
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.