In Depth

Donald Trump acquitted: why Mitt Romney rebelled

Longstanding critic spoke of God and his own place in history

Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican senator to cross the aisle and vote to convict Donald Trump, as the US president was cleared overnight in his impeachment trial.

In what CNN describes as a “stirring and emotional speech on the Senate floor”, Romney broke with his party and voted to convict Trump on abuse of power.

In doing so, he became the only senator in history to vote to remove a president from his own party in an impeachment trial.

“Wow,” tweeted Ben Riley-Smith, the US editor of The Daily Telegraph. “Just been in Senate as Mitt Romney delivered an absolutely scathing rebuke of Trump.”

He added that Romney “held hands clasped as if in prayer” during a speech “heavy with history and God”.

Romney said it was his faith that guided his decision to rebel against his party. “I am a profoundly religious person,” he said. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

He also spoke of his place in history, adding: “My promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside.

“Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history's rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

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The Atlantic reminds us that Romney “famously opposed Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and while the rest of his party has fallen in line since then, he has remained stubbornly independent”.

It says Romney found the case presented by the president’s defence team “unpersuasive” and was “unmoved” by the Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz’s arguments.

Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jnr, had his own theory for the rebellion. “Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS,” he tweeted. “He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he's joining them now.”

The president himself has held a grudge against Romney since 2016, when the senator denounced him as a “phony”, a “fraud” and warned of “trickle-down racism” if he became president.

“In our increasingly predictable partisan world”, Romney’s rebellion “was as close to a surprise as Washington is still capable of”, writes Susan B. Glasser in the New Yorker.

But she says the “wrenching truth” about Romney’s vote is that it “did not matter to the final, preordained outcome”. 

In the end, says Glasser, Trump’s acquittal “makes him the president he always wanted to be: inescapable and utterly unaccountable”.

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