When Republican Party veteran Mitt Romney voted for US President Donald Trump to be removed from office at his impeachment trial, the backlash was fast and furious.
He said he expected to be “vehemently denounced” and it did not take long.
Trump has now lashed out at him repeatedly, and Republican loyalists have called for him to be thrown out of the party.
— David Durand, MD (@DavidDurandMD) February 5, 2020
It was perhaps the closing chapter in Romney’s ambiguous relationship with Trump, who came to power in 2016 and has fostered a fierce sense of allegiance within the Republican Party.
Romney -rich, handsome and ideologically moderate- was formerly an admired grandee of the party. He was also its choice to take on Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, without success.
He even nearly became Trump’s first Secretary of State.
But he will now go down in the record books as the only Republican to vote to remove Trump, who was acquitted at the impeachment trial in the Senate on Wednesday.
“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” Romney said in his momentous Senate speech, slamming Trump’s conduct as “a flagrant assault” on US values.
Romney became the first senator in US history to vote to remove a president from his own party -breaking new ground after the impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999.
He said he had drawn on his deep Mormon faith to make “the most difficult decision” of his life.
But Trump, celebrating his acquittal, punched straight back.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said at a National Prayer Breakfast held on Thursday morning.
Trump also tweeted that if Romney had “devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.”
A fraught relationship
Romney’s relationship with Trump has been full of ups and downs.
During Trump’s election campaign, he dismissed Trump as a “phoney, a fraud.”
But he was later pictured having dinner with Trump at a restaurant in New York, discussing possibly becoming secretary of state — a post he finally lost out to Rex Tillerson.
Not a great fan of #Mitt, but it is obvious he is the only Republican with integrity left in the Senate. His vote for #impeachment compares with Obama's opposing the stupidity of Baby Bush's invasion of Iraq. https://t.co/Y3ptW2l5wD
— Mike Smetzer (@MikeSmetzer) February 6, 2020
The spat erupted again as Trump faced increased pressure over being impeached for his dealings with Ukraine.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, described Trump’s phone call to the Ukraine president that triggered the impeachment charges as “troubling to the extreme.”
Trump characteristically fought back, slamming Romney as a “pompous ass.”
On Thursday, the president re-tweeted old video footage with a voiceover describing Romney as “slick, slippery, stealthy.”
“Posing as a Republican, he tried to infiltrate Trump’s administration as secretary of state,” the voiceover said. “Now his cover’s blown… as a Democrat secret asset.”
Aged 72, Romney -who made his fortune in corporate finance- no longer has presidential ambitions, and his term as the junior senator for Utah state runs until 2025.
But now he faces a flood of criticism from within Republican Party.
“He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the GOP,” tweeted Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.
There are also moves in Utah to pass a bill to allow voters to recall senators -which could be a threat to Romney as many Republicans are furious at his stance against Trump.
Of scant comfort may be the praise he has received from Democrats, such as Senator Chris Murphy, who tweeted that Romney had stood up “when many wonder what honour is left in public life.”
Romney, in his speech to the Senate, himself reflected on his mixed feelings about Trump, and his own legacy after his impeachment vote.
“I support a great deal of what the president has done. I voted with him 80 percent of the time,” he said.
“We are all footnotes at best in the annals of history, but in the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that distinction is enough for any citizen.”