Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — a man of uncommon decency and honor who, in my estimation, could have been an excellent president — earned a line in history by defying the president of his own party. The history books will record: The former Republican presidential nominee voted to remove a president who, the overwhelming weight of evidence showed, abused his power and betrayed his country.

Romney, now the only person in history to vote to remove a president of his own party, was eloquent as he calmly delivered his speech from the floor after so many other Republicans had embarrassed themselves with transparently ridiculous excuses for acquittal. He explained, “My own view is that there’s not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that’s what the president did.” With that he dispelled the rationale that this was not impeachable conduct. It was the most impeachable conduct imaginable.

He told his colleagues and the country that “leaving it to the voters” was a dodge. "The Constitution doesn’t say that if the president did something terribly wrong, let the people decide in the next election what should happen,” he said. “It says if the president does something terribly wrong, the Senate shall try him. And so the Constitution is plain.” Indeed it is, although his colleagues would delude themselves into thinking the trial itself was punishment.

Romney patiently related the key facts: “The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. 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.” He concluded therefore that “the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”

In poignant terms of a political martyr, he explained, “I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced. I am sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?”

One had to have a heart of stone not to well up with his conclusion:

I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.
We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

Romney will get more than a footnote.

His vote and more importantly his speech matter greatly, if only as reminders that every American has the capacity for greatness, the ability to stand on principle and the spine to refuse the entreaties of the mob. His obvious faith and earnest reading of the Constitution remind us that the document is not simply words on a page, nor are the House managers’ arguments background noise to be ignored. They have the power to command us all to be bigger than ourselves and our party and to honor the sacrifices of those who have given the last full measure for others’ safety and freedom.

In our bleak, angry and cynical time, we should all find inspiration in a singular act of integrity. Romney deserves the highest compliment I can pay a politician: He was McCain-esque.

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