On impeachment, N.C. deserved a Mitt Romney. We got Thom Tillis and Richard Burr instead.

On impeachment, N.C. deserved a Mitt Romney. We got Thom Tillis and Richard Burr instead.

Senator Mitt Romney (L) and Senator Thom Tillis (R)

Mitt Romney is, in this moment, the Republican that Americans and North Carolinians deserve.

But he is not the Republican that most of us received. On this cold, drizzly D.C. day, most us did not get the Utah senator who broke with his caucus and voted to convict President Donald Trump of abusing his power. Most of us received a Thom Tillis or Richard Burr, politicians who after their careers conclude will not be remembered for strength in these trying times but for something else entirely.

It is, for at least the second time in his career, that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, did something many political observers didn’t believe possible. 

In 2012, Romney, a Mormon, proved the GOP presidential nominee could be something other than a Protestant Christian. And in 2020, he proved a GOP senator in the Trump era can be something other than a servile party loyalist. 

Of course, let’s not canonize Romney, a man who stood for universal health care in Massachusetts in 2006 and demonized the notion while running for president in 2012, a man who only nourished conservatives’ ill-gotten and offensive perception of liberals, particularly liberals of color, as freeloading do-nothings, the sort of idea Trump’s weaponized again and again.  

But we should appreciate in these perniciously partisan moments a lawmaker who understood something more than the value of a CPAC bid or endorsements or the massive, churning, money-spewing major party apparatus behind him.

Perhaps Romney understood that he did not need the delusional drivel coming from the Republican National Committee these days. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, Romney’s niece, said Wednesday that Trump “did nothing wrong,” an almost inconceivable belief knowing what we know about the Ukraine scandal. 

Or perhaps the senator, in a fit of romanticism, had an epiphany in these troubled days and saw this ethically and factually troubled president for what he is, a mess in need of cleaning up.

Trump was once just a Republican problem, the inevitable result of a party that satiated the most xenophobic American populists, but he has since 2016 become America’s problem. 

For his part, Romney did get one thing wrong Wednesday. 

“The Constitution established the vehicle of impeachment that has occupied both houses of our Congress these many days,” he said on the Senate floor. “We have labored to faithfully execute our responsibilities to it. We have arrived at different judgments, but I hope we respect each other’s good faith.”

Mr. Romney, many of us do not, at all, respect the “good faith” of GOP senators who declined to consider anything but acquittal regardless of the damning evidence that turned up in these last few months.

Still, we might acknowledge that, even if we do not agree with the ethos, Romney may be a reminder that it is not conservatism that is broken, but the Republican Party in D.C.

We might not be able to estimate the U.S.’ loss in global esteem, but we can easily survey the political damage this fiasco has wreaked in the U.S., the stains this polarizing trial placed on political civility and the stains Trump’s rise has put on civility of any kind.

Spare us all the ludicrous perspective that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s almost certainly premeditated physical rending of Trump’s divisive State of the Union speech Tuesday is in the same hemisphere as the physical violations Trump boasted of in his infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. 

Civility has nothing to do with it. There has never been a president less civil, and to tolerate, normalize or encourage such a president is wholly uncivil.

Tillis and Burr, who cannot possibly in their hearts believe Trump innocent of these charges, have forgotten North Carolina’s motto “Esse quam videri,” which, translated from the Latin, means “to be rather than to seem.” We need that more than ever these days.

This is not the end. The audience impeachment sought to reach in 2020 was not Mitch McConnell or a couldn’t-be-bothered Richard Burr or a political waif like Thom Tillis. It was meant then as it is meant now to convince the American people. 

Impeachment, in the end, wasn’t simply about removing or shaming a shameless man. It was about reviewing the odious body of work for this credibility-deprived, jumped-up reality TV star and stating, loudly and unequivocally that, even if senators Tillis and Burr and McConnell do not, we object.