BOSTON (CBS) — Mitt Romney’s been trying for years to live up to the legacy of his late father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney.
When I profiled the newly-elected governor for Boston Magazine in late 2002, he was eager to draw the comparison. “My dad always said the most important thing a man can have is character,” he said as he scrolled through a scrapbook of his dad’s obituaries.
Politics and sterling character don’t always mix, and there have been some glaring occasions in Romney’s public life when he’s come up a bit short. The flagrant flip-flop on abortion rights as he morphed from governor of Massachusetts to presidential candidate; the head-spinning transition from harsh Trump critic to wide-eyed supplicant for a cabinet post.
But today, George Romney would have been proud of his son. Mitt took to the Senate floor and, by announcing his decision to convict the president for abuse of power, opened himself up to the full wrath of the right-wing choir.
NEW: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) to vote to convict Pres. Trump, breaking from party; "The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. What he did was not perfect. No. It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values." pic.twitter.com/ncTGHz7RpX
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) February 5, 2020
“My promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside,” he said. To look the other way at Trump’s undisputed (except by himself) guilt would be to “expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
Romney’s somber remarks weren’t entirely candid. At one point he alluded to his lone-wolf status within the ranks of Senate Republicans and said “I trust that we’ve all followed the dictates of our conscience.” Senator, if you really do trust in that, there’s some beautiful beachfront property 10 miles due east of George’s Island I can get you a good price on.
Skeptics will reasonably wonder if Romney, still yearning for the presidential victory that eluded first his father than himself – twice – is merely taking the only path he has left to the Oval: a bet that this fall’s election will wash away Trump and Trumpism, leaving himself the senior survivor amid the Republican Party wreckage.
But as anyone who has spent a lifetime hoping to meet the standards set by a beloved mentor can attest, it could well be that, at age 72, Mitt Romney simply said to himself dang it, what would George do?
From that late-November evening in the Romney home that left me impressed but jonesing for a beer came this vignette that may help you understand why he did what he did today:
“Leafing through the pages, he reads the headlines: ‘Citizenship Set George Romney Apart’ . . . ‘The Last Lion.’ His voice trails off as Romney murmurs, “Well . . . ,” and turns away, brushing his eye with the back of his hand. “That’s what you aspire to – to be known as someone of principle and character and purpose.”