Lessons from Mitt Romney's courage
Caleb Walsh illustration

Mitt Romney did a very brave thing. You know what I'm talking about. He became the first senator in the history of the United States to vote to impeach a president from his own party.

Even as Romney announced his decision, he acknowledged that he knew what came next. He would be attacked and demonized by many of his former friends. He probably also knew he would be briefly praised by his opponents. And, I suspect, he hopes that he will be remembered better for it in the history books and, as he stated, by his descendants.

Despite the predictability of it all, I still find it frustrating to watch people turn on a consistent ally because he took an inconvenient principled stance. I can't help but believe that much of the outrage is fueled by how clearly it reveals the cowardice of others.

After all, as several senators who voted to acquit noted, the facts of what the president did were not truly ever in dispute. The president attempted to leverage foreign policy to defeat his domestic political opponents. It is, as they noted, clearly impeachable.

But — and here I digress from their exact words and instead focus on what I believe to be their intentions — it was just too politically difficult for them to do the right thing and actually impeach the man.

Here's the thing, though: There are undoubtedly other politicians who have made the same calculation when facing a similar decision. Politicians who voted against impeachment of a president from their own party when surely they would have voted to convict if the same actions were taken by their opponents — and the reverse.

The choice to do what is politically easy is far too common among people whose only true success can come from accomplishing something politically hard. And yet that criticism, too, is a dangerous take on politics, as to remove concern about the public's judgment can be a first step away from the democratic instincts that have gradually improved our republic.

Nevertheless, that minor digression aside, I am often puzzled by how quickly elected officials become attached to public praise, how fast they buckle to public pressure, and how rarely they will stand for what's right when it involves even a potential personal sacrifice. In more than one way, it's these weak-kneed leaders that got us to Donald Trump — allowing him to chip away at the dignity of the presidency piece by piece.

The other challenge, of course, is that Romney's action ought not to have taken such bravery. A majority — a slim one, but still a majority — of Americans supported impeaching the president. For a variety of reasons, most of the U.S. Senate was shielded politically from this reality.

It's all frustrating, but the frustration I most often return to is how many Republicans will respond to this moment by lashing out and disowning Romney. "He isn't a real conservative." "He's just jealous of Trump." "He's never really been one of us."

The choice to do what is politically easy is far too common...

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A conservative friend of mine recently nearly begged other Republicans on social media to watch Romney's speech announcing his decision and consider how — whether they agreed with him or not — it seemed impossible to doubt his sincerity. I agree. And Romney's brave vote should be greeted with a moment of introspection rather than jeers by the right.

But perhaps the greater challenge thrown down by Romney is to the liberals cheering him on. If, like me, you believed Romney was fundamentally unfit for the presidency in 2012; if you questioned his decency; if you, even if you'd be reluctant to admit, hated him and what he represented; then perhaps this is a time for you and I to do some introspection, too.

Perhaps we need to consider how we can match Romney's bravery and, also, remember: Greatness and courage are not limited to our friends, but perhaps the most difficult courage to see is when our friends' courage requires them to stand up to us. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Council member, studied at the College of Idaho and has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.

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About The Author

John T. Reuter

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, studied at the College of Idaho and currently resides in Seattle. He has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.