“A very large portion of my party, really doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney told biographer McCay Coppins after the deadly domestic terrorist attack on 1/6.
Leaving aside for a moment the harrowing descriptions of the terror Romney and other Senators experienced as Trump supporters attacked law enforcement and broke down doors to get to them in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election, in the Atlantic excerpt of the upcoming biography Romney: A Reckoning, Romney laid out several reasons why he believes that a large portion of his party doesn’t believe in the Constitution.
Earlier, I delved into the creeping authoritarianism the Republican worried about in terms of the political terrorism that drives his party’s votes now, and this casting aside of the foundational principles of the Constitution is the other critical buttressing element in achieving democratic backsliding.
In an absolutely compelling excerpt, we learn how Senator Mitch McConnell led his party down the path toward ignoring their Constitutional duty during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial for trying to extort Ukraine to manufacture dirt on his political opponent then Vice President now President Joe Biden.
Instead, McConnell told Republicans they needed to protect their political power at all costs, suggesting that were Puerto Rico and D.C. to be turned into states that got representation, Democrats would have a permanent majority, which is essentially an argument that if The People were represented accurately and fairly, Republicans would not be in the majority.
McConnell’s thrust against acting an impartial jurors included asking the Utah Republican to vote to end the trial, prior to even hearing the completion of the opening arguments.
In a private meeting, McConnell pushed Romney “to vote to end the trial as soon as the opening arguments were completed,” because a prolonged trial would put at risk vulnerable Republicans.
“McConnell didn’t bother defending Trump’s actions. Instead, he argued that protecting the GOP’s Senate majority was a matter of vital national importance. He predicted that Trump would lose reelection, and painted an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if Democrats took control of Congress: They’d turn Puerto Rico and D.C. into states, engineering a permanent Senate majority; they’d ram through left-wing legislation such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Romney said he couldn’t make any promises about his vote. (McConnell declined to comment on this conversation.)”
The following meeting of their GOP caucus included a visit from Vice President Mike Pence, who explained the Trump defense strategy to the Senators tasked with acting as an impartial jury.
McConnell at the next meeting upped the ante even more, telling Republicans that they shouldn’t view the impeachment trial as a trial at all. Instead, they should view it as a political process. That is to say, they should not abide by the Constitution, but rather do what keeps their party and themselves in power:
“At the next meeting, McConnell told his colleagues they should understand that the upcoming trial was not really a trial at all. ‘This is a political process,’ he said—and it was thus appropriate for them to behave like politicians. ‘If impeachment is a partisan political process, then it might as well be removed from the Constitution,’ Romney recalled muttering to Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who were seated near him. The senators politely ignored him.”
The concept of the Senate trial being “just a political process” took over the television airwaves, even though it’s not accurate, as Senator Romney found from his own research. The Boston Globe summarized it (my bold), “It is no surprise then that when senators “try impeachments,” the Constitution requires an “oath or affirmation” separate from the one they take as senators. The standard oath of office is to support and defend the Constitution. The impeachment oath is to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” just like jurors.”
While much of the Constitution lends itself to interpretation, the concept of impartial justice is not a matter of “debate” and is not a “political process.” It is, arguably, the opposite of a political process.
McConnell, however, knew that Trump had been “nailed” by the evidence and even McConnell didn’t believe Trump’s ostensible defense that he was investigating corruption by the Bidens (this part can’t be too loudly emphasized as Republicans are now trying to impeach President Biden over these same accusations sans evidence or even a whiff of suggestion):
During a break in the proceedings, after the impeachment managers finished their presentation, Romney walked by McConnell. “They nailed him,” the Senate majority leader said.
Romney, taken aback by McConnell’s candor, responded carefully: “Well, the defense will say that Trump was just investigating corruption by the Bidens.”
“If you believe that,” McConnell replied, “I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.”
This is yet another warning bell, coming from a distinguished if often times wishy-washy old school Republican. Romney’s own internal wrestling with Trump’s actions is troubling enough that he shares his wife Ann seemed unimpressed when he was going to acquit Trump. Perhaps being mired in politics for decades does this to people; they reach a point where they can’t see outside of the fishbowl. But Romney does keep pushing himself until he lands where his conscience takes him, ultimately to the place where he is questioning his own role in making a safe place for his party’s authoritarian push.
In the end, Romney focused on his own legacy and what he wanted his children and grandchildren to take from his work, a focus he might have come by naturally via his father. Romney has far too often been cushioned by his own wealth and privilege, and perhaps this contributed to his blindness about where his party was headed, but no one can say he didn’t stand up once he understood where they were going. He put his own and his family’s lives on the line to do the right thing.
Romney stood up against the autocrats who tossed out the Constitution in favor of naked power grabs. That will be his legacy, along with his eerie warnings about the inner workings of his party.