Sunday, February 09, 2020

Hot take: Mitt Romney Made a Calculation


Mitt Romney was the first US senator ever to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial.

And... there's been a lot of praise for him. Here's Stephen Colbert, for one example.

And for the record, here's Mitt Romney's speech about why he would vote to impeach on one of the articles of impeachment. He talks about posterity and his vow before god.

I'm not interested here in re-litigating Trump's guilt... it seems pretty clear the Republican Party has decided that he's guilty but it doesn't matter, because they have the power to make it not matter. This is a pretty damn dark time for US democracy, and from there, for the world, as over the last century or more USA has positioned itself as the city on a hill for democratic process and principle, and is now telling everyone who looked to that city on a hill, "Naw. We said rule of law matters, but it doesn't. There's just power now, and who has it." This will speed along the end of America's half-century of post-WWII hegemony faster than anything could, short of catastrophic war or economic collapse. It's amazing watching a country blow off whatever moral capital it had previously claimed so enthusiastically.

That said... I'm not entirely persuaded by Mitt Romney's vote, either, and here's why:

Voting for impeachment in ONE case (Did he also try to rally other Republicans to take a moral stand? Was he energetically working on the purple state senators like Susan Collins to join him?  Or did he only vote for himself?) is the bare minimum of moral courage a Republican can show here: it is a token act by someone still cowed by Mitch McConnell, or perhaps the Trump-rabid electorate.
Romney made a calculation:

When Trump goes down, there is a not certain but substantive chance he will go down HARD.

Given that he doesn't do anything temperately, if Trump crashes, I think he will crash spectacularly - it won't be a slow drip. It'll happen dramatically, deafeningly, and fast.

When? Hard to say, because the people who like him ride hard for him, and if an impeachment where even his defense acknowledged he was guilty of his crimes didn't do it, it is pretty clear nothing can change their minds. His 2020 campaign might fall apart (especially if it turns out Democrats, knowing that impeachment would die in the senate, have been sitting on some really explosive, verifiable facts to start leaking in the run-up to the November election).

If he wins in 2020, he's going to take that as free rein to do whateverthefuck he pleases and he might pick the wrong policy or say the wrong thing (finally), or the economy might finally take a turn for the worse, either of which might lead to his voters finally turning against him. If the scandals get so egregious his voters turn on him, you better believe Mitch McConnell (the ultimate survivor) and the rest of the Republican party will cut bait on him in a heartbeat.

He might leave office in 2024 with the Republican party a compromised shamble and with dozens of criminal investigations catching up to him. If the Senate decides not to protect him, and the right kind of scandal comes along, it's not hard to imagine the electorate dumping Trump en masse, and in an act of collective amnesia, suddenly pretending they never liked him all along.

There is a very strong chance that once he is no longer protected from scandal and reckoning by the White House, the senate, and/or Bill Barr, a series of scandals and investigations and prosecutions will make public JUST how corrupt he was, and make it pretty obvious many in the top echelons of the Republican Party could not possibly have been unaware, and Trump will drag them down with him. Don't think Trump is loyal: he'll rat every single one of those guys out if he thinks it would benefit him, or just for petty revenge because they turned on him. Or just because whatever keeps his name trending on Twitter is an absolute good in his mind.

Any of these scenarios would leave the Republican party a shambles that had clearly, unequivocally chucked its claimed moral principles for a grab at power, and the morning-after shame (among the American Evangelicals in particular) after backing THIS guy, is going to sting.

Into this chaos: that one vote to convict will be Romney's case to be the new face of the Republican party going forward. He can position himself as the moral center of the Republican party's future, as well as the bridge between the GOP's past and its future, as a former presidential candidate himself.

It's not a far-fetched bet that Trump will go down in scandal and drag a huge part of the GOP infrastructure with him in self-defense or spite. It's not that risky for Romney to bet on it, and give himself a "last man standing" escape hatch. Romney has done the minimum he can do to dissociate himself from that scandal and corruption, at whatever time in the future that corruption becomes a political liability. Which it almost certainly will. And it'll probably work.

Here's Romney having his feet held to the fire by Chris Wallace on Fox News.

He'll frame it as an act of courage. Ehh, it might be. He'll catch hell now, for a while, from his team. He also has years before he is up for reelection, and there's a much higher than nonzero chance he'll be vindicated in the interim. If he doesn't stand for reelection or leaves the Republican party, I'll take this all back and announce he was showing moral courage. But I have seen too many people get too much praise for too-small acts of defiance against the moral rot in US politics to take my hat off to him yet. Call me cynical, but in my imagination, Mitt wrote "#Romney2024" on his impeachment ballot.

Final point:

Trump's impeachment is a screamingly, solid case why politicians should not have the final say on impeachment - in South Korea the National Assembly voted on impeachment, and a constitutional court of judges convened to make a final ruling. Judges whose lives and careers were based on knowing and interpreting Korea's constitution, and who did NOT HAVE AN EYE on their reelection chances. Not a single Republican in the Senate cared whether Trump was guilty, and they were brazenly honest about the fact they would not judge fairly, because for them their impeachment vote was a political calculation, not an attempt at moral or factual rightness. They have made US government and the principles of its founders into a mockery, and the world sees.

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