Outside of the friendly confines of Utah, Mitt Romney is not a very popular figure in the Republican Party just at the moment. His vote to convict President Donald Trump on one charge during the impeachment debacle cemented a severe distaste that most conservatives developed as a result of his Never Trump antics.
Romney suffered those slings and arrows without much complaint, stating the reason he received so much ire is his principled conservatism. As Trump moves to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Romney’s principles should make him a yes.
In the immediate aftermath of Ginsburg’s passing things looked bad for those hoping Romney would vote for a new justice. Reports from high-level anonymous sources came out saying that Romney was a no. But as is so often the case on days ending in ‘Y’, the source (if it existed) was flat out wrong, as Romney’s communications director made clear on Twitter. Romney himself followed this up with a lovely tribute to Ginsburg on Twitter that also made no mention of his voting plans.
— Liz Johnson (@LJ0hnson) September 19, 2020
Romney’s criticisms and attempt to convict Trump were admittedly overwrought and well out of step with general conservative opinion. But his positions have made sense within his own unique moral and political framework. I have no doubt that the 2012 GOP nominee really did believe that Trump abused his power during a phone chat with the Ukrainian president. I disagree, as do almost all Republicans, but I understand how by Romney’s standards the president’s words went too far.
When it comes to confirming a Supreme Court nominee before the election in November, however, there really is no principle that Romney would be upholding by refusing to do so. Romney joined the Senate in January 2019 so he had nothing to do with decision in 2016 to refuse a hearing for Obama nominee Merrick Garland; he has no skin in that game.
Romney insists that his highest duty is not to party but to the Constitution. That is a worthy sentiment, and is exactly why the Utah senator should vote to confirm a qualified candidate. That’s because it is what the Constitution calls for.
When a Supreme Court Justice dies or retires, it is the role of the sitting president to fill the seat, and of the Senate to advise and consent. The Constitution makes no exception for election years. In fact, myriad justices throughout our history have been confirmed under such circumstances.
This is a time for Romney to choose who he really is and what role he wants to play in conservatism in the coming years. He can choose the path of Never Trumpers like the Lincoln Project pocket liners, or the once conservative woke converts of the Washington Post whose only principle is a seething disdain for Donald Trump. Or, he can prove himself to truly be principled by accepting there is no reason Trump should not fill this seat and that another conservative justice on the court will advance the freedoms that he has spent a career promoting, including for the unborn.
The fact is that for many Republicans Mitt Romney will forever be a persona non grata, especially should Trump lose in November. He will never again be a presidential nominee, or a trusted figure within the party. But a prudent and principled vote to ensure the sitting president and the Senate of his party the chance to secure the court would go a long way towards making him something other than a pariah.
Romney is decidedly a Republican of the old guard, freer on trade, less strict on immigration, and generally more willing to accept the possibility of working with Democrats rather than crushing them. That is all fine, it may even be a good and useful thing for the GOP which at times resembles Trump perhaps a bit too exactly. But if that old guard is to have influence, and honestly they should, it will require an honest sensibility that supports Trump when he is right, even if it disparages him at other times.
Ultimately, the choice Romney faces is whether the final act of his political career is going to be about his principles, or be about Donald Trump. Will he stick to his guns on protecting the Constitution, or out of spite, like so many others, will he deny conservatives a vital seat on the highest court out of personal animosity towards the president.
A lot of people think I’m crazy, but I hope and believe that Romney will choose what is best for his country, not what is worst for Trump. A commitment to consider Trump’s nominee would be a very big deal and would make clear that his opposition to the president is not rooted in anything but his love of his nation.
All we can ask is that he allows his conscience to be his guide, as he has done throughout his career. If he does that now, there is no reason that he should deny the president and the American people a timely replacement to make the Supreme Court whole again.