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OPINION

Mitt Romney among the Republican Lilliputians

John Bolton's tell-all reflects well on only one GOP senator.

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Globe file photo; Adobe

His written words may not say so, but it’s not just Donald Trump’s character that John Bolton illuminates in his dish-and-sell tale of a president who repeatedly put his political interests above those of the nation.

One hidden winner here is Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. Not only was he the lone GOP senator to vote to convict Trump on an impeachment count in February, but he is also one of few Senate Republicans regularly willing to speak candidly about this president’s outrageous conduct.

The hidden losers? Almost all the other Republicans in the US Senate.

The Senate, of course, had a chance to hear from Trump’s erstwhile national security adviser during the impeachment trial. During House proceedings, Bolton had signaled he would battle a subpoena in court; fearing a protracted legal process, the House went forward without him. But after impeachment moved to the Senate, Bolton issued a statement saying he would testify if subpoenaed. Still, Romney and Susan Collins of Maine were the only Republicans to vote to call witnesses.

The rationalizations other Senate Republicans offered for voting against doing so would have embarrassed the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys.

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It was a shameful abnegation of senatorial responsibility, one that has left that yellow-bellied bunch looking ridiculous in light of Bolton’s various revelations. Among them: Trump sought the help of President Xi Jinping of China in winning the upcoming election, told Xi he was OK with China building concentration camps for Uighur Muslims, and linked foreign aid to Ukraine to that country taking actions that would help him politically.

Romney, contrariwise, can hold his head high. His impeachment vote was an act of conscience and courage — and one that ruined Trump’s hoped-for story line. To wit, that impeachment had been nothing but a partisan exercise. With the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee voting to remove its current president from office, that’s a claim that can’t credibly be made.

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Nor is it all Romney has done.

In mid-May, as Trump went about ousting inspectors general who had the temerity to do their jobs, the former Massachusetts governor-cum-Utah senator labeled his actions “a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.” In late May, as Trump was pursuing one of his most outrageous acts of character assassination — the utterly unfounded insinuation that congressman-turned-TV-host Joe Scarborough murdered a 28-year-old aide, who actually died from a heart condition that had caused her to fall and strike her head on a desk — Romney took to Twitter to denounce his “vile, baseless accusations.”

More recently, he criticized the Trump team for forcefully clearing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park to make way for the president’s awkward Bible-hoisting photo op.

And while many conservatives have embraced Trump’s effort to portray the mostly peaceful demonstrations over the captured-on-video police killing of George Floyd as episodes of lawlessness, looting, and thuggery, Romney, whose father, George Romney, marched for civil rights in the 1960s, participated in a Black Lives Matter protest. He did so, the senator said, to help “end violence and brutality” and “to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah marched in Washington on Sunday, June 7 against police abuse against people of color, making him the first Republican senator known to do so.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah marched in Washington on Sunday, June 7 against police abuse against people of color, making him the first Republican senator known to do so. Michelle Boorstein/Associated Press

I’d like to see Romney put it all together in a Senate speech like Margaret Chase Smith’sDeclaration of Conscience” address calling out the scurrilous conduct of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Still, make no mistake, Romney has played an admirable and important role. In a Senate Republican caucus whose members embrace the part of Trump enablers or emulate tiny and timid church mice, he stands increasingly tall as an independent, outspoken, and uncowed figure, someone actually worthy of the title US Senator.

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I met George Romney, the former progressive Republican governor of Michigan, during Mitt’s first campaign for the US Senate, in 1994. Even in his mid-80s, he was a force to be reckoned with, and someone his son clearly idolized. The last time I spoke with Mitt Romney at any length was after a column in which I compared his seemingly sempiternal political calculation unfavorably with the consequences-be-damned courage his father had possessed.

The column obviously stung. When we sat down to clear the air a day or two later, our discussion devolved toward an abrupt and angry end.

I’ve often thought about that heated encounter as I’ve watched Romney conduct himself in the US Senate.

These days, Mitt Romney is doing his father’s legacy proud.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh