But Republicans had no trouble talking — or tweeting — about Romney’s announcement.
“He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote, setting the tone for conservative corners of social media, where the chorus became “Mitt Romney is a Democrat.”
By that evening, the president had shared on Twitter what amounted to a political opposition ad, attacking Romney as “slick,” “slippery” and “a Democrat secret asset.”
It was the reaction Romney himself predicted moments before he cast his quixotic vote to remove Trump, even as the outcome was all but predetermined.
“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,” Romney rightly said on the Senate floor. “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?”
When he finished speaking, #RecallRomney was trending, as Trump’s Internet acolytes pushed for the senator’s removal from office altogether.
One far-right commentator, Mike Cernovich, floated a more sweeping measure: “Can we kick Utah out of the United States?”
Romney’s Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill also sought to distance themselves from his stance.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), however, declined to say whether Romney should be booted from the party, saying only that the defection “surprised and disappointed” him.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said the party remains “unified.”
“Mitt’s flat wrong on this, and he doesn’t represent the views of any Republican in Congress,” McCarthy said.
Sen. Rick Scott, the first-term Republican from Florida, hinted in an interview on Fox News that Romney may still be feeling the backlash come reelection time, still another four years off.
“Senator Romney is wrong,” he said. “And he will ultimately be judged by the voters of Utah.”
Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee and Romney’s niece, struck a more measured note.
“This is not the first time I have disagreed with Mitt, and I imagine it will not be the last,” she said on Twitter. “The bottom line is President Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him.”
The White House, in a statement once again denouncing the impeachment process, referred to Romney, who was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012, only as a “failed Republican presidential candidate.”
Even at home, Republicans stressed that even though Romney represented them, he didn’t speak for them.
“We appreciate the service rendered to our state by Utah’s two senators,” the Utah GOP said in a statement. “As a party, we strongly disagree with the vote cast today by Senator Romney, and stand firmly behind our President.”
Romney, then, was alone. For the second time in a week, he found himself on an island, with only the opposing party there to offer kind words and encouragement.
A similar scene played out earlier in the Senate’s impeachment trial, when Romney was one of the only Republican voices seeking witnesses.
Now, as then, Democrats came to his defense.
“Having proven Trump guilty, I asked if there was just one Republican Senator who would say ‘enough,’ ” Rep. Adam B. Schiff said in a tweet. “Who would stand up against this dangerously immoral president. Who would display moral courage. Who would do impartial justice as their oath required and convict. And there is.”
Schiff later called Romney an “inspiration” whose vote will “change history.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, the Hawaii Democrat who left Romney’s speech in tears, said, “Mitt Romney was a profile in courage.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dubbed Romney’s decision proof that “impeaching President Trump was about protecting the rule of law and not party loyalty.”
Romney did see support from one Republican senator — albeit a former one.
“I have long admired Mitt Romney, but never more than today,” tweeted Jeff Flake, an ex-lawmaker from Arizona whose own criticism of Trump led to his political downfall. “What an honorable man.”
Trump was acquitted later Wednesday afternoon, in a pair of expected and near-party-line votes, 52 to 48 on the abuse of power charge and 53 to 47 on the obstruction of Congress charge, which Romney opposed. Nonetheless, his place in history was sealed: Romney is the only senator ever to vote for the impeachment of a president from his own party.
Hours later, outside the U.S. Capitol, a throng of demonstrators protested Trump’s acquittal. Amid chants of “out now" some waved signs that read “Thank you, Sen, Romney!”