Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah twice ran for president.
On Wednesday, he found himself sitting in judgment of one.
In a speech filled with references to religion, the founders, constitutional oaths and principles, Romney laid out the case for why he’d be the lone Republican to break with his party and vote in the Senate’s impeachment trial to remove President Donald Trump.
“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” Romney said. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
Romney laid out the case against Trump, saying asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company was an “extreme and egregious” act. At the same time, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid.
“The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival,” Romney said. “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.”
Although Romney acknowledged he would be “vehemently denounced” for his vote, he said he cast it to avoid “the censure of my own conscience.”
Reaction from Romney’s home state was mixed.
“There will be ramifications,” said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. But “people do ultimately care about what he says, even if they don’t agree with him.”
Shelly Cluff, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mother in suburban Riverton, is a Republican who’s never been a fan of Trump. She was pleasantly surprised at Romney’s stance.
“I was greatly impressed by his integrity, his willingness to put so much on the line in order not to violate his conscience, in order to stand with a clear conscience before God,” Cluff said.
Still, she knows that not all her neighbors feel the same, including several who didn’t vote for him in 2016 but have since come around.
“I’ve been taken aback by how many people have been really upset and disappointed in Mitt Romney,” she said.
Count among those voters like Ray Clark, a 71-year-old electrical contractor in rural Kanab. He said he’s “furious” about Romney’s vote, and chalks it up to the senator’s personal dislike of the president.
Still, he’s not sure if Romney will ultimately suffer any true political consequences in Utah.
“Right now, I’d say he doesn’t stand a chance. Four years from now, who knows?” he said.
Two have a history
Wednesday’s vote capped a fraught history between Romney and Trump.
In 2012, Trump endorsed Romney for president in an event held at Trump Tower in Las Vegas. “There are some things you just can’t imagine happening in your life. This is one of them,” Romney said at the time, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Later, Trump would famously say Romney “choked like a dog” during the 2012 race against then-President Barack Obama.
During the 2016 election, Romney unsparingly criticized Trump in a speech that warned Trump lacked the temperament required for the presidency, calling him at one point “a con man” and a business failure.
“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from (the now defunct) Trump University,” Romney said.
After the election, Trump repaid Romney by very publicly inviting him to a dinner at which the job of secretary of state was ostensibly on the table.
A photo of the meal shows Trump smiling mischievously and Romney looking decidedly uncomfortable. A Vanity Fair headline summed, “Romney eats crow at three-star dinner with Donald Trump.”
Romney did not get the job.
However, their relationship seemed to warm slightly when Romney declared he’d run for the Senate from Utah, although some reports said Trump had been trying to get then-Sen. Orrin Hatch to reconsider his announced retirement.
Once Hatch definitely said he would leave, and Romney declared for the seat, Trump tweeted his support: “He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!”
Romney won the seat, which led him to the Senate, where he cast his vote Wednesday to remove Trump from office.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the amount of military aid President Donald Trump withheld from Ukraine. It was nearly $400 million.