Of all congressional Republicans, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah may be best positioned to stand up to President Donald Trump. A former presidential candidate himself, he has a strong independent reputation, and his ties to Utah give him support in the state that Trump is unlikely to be able to diminish.
While this has led some to hope Romney might be the perfect Republican to bring a primary challenge against Trump, a new report from Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman says the Utah lawmaker is decidedly against that path. Instead, however, Sherman wrote that he sees himself as a key player in Trump's impeachment:
According to people close to Romney, he’s firmly decided against primarying Trump, an enterprise he believes to be a sure loser given Trump’s enduring GOP support. Romney has also told people that, as an unsuccessful two-time presidential candidate, he’s the wrong person to take on Trump. Instead, a Romney adviser told me, Romney believes he has more potential power as a senator who will decide Trump’s fate in an impeachment trial. “He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,” the adviser said. In recent days, Romney has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance, according to a person briefed on the conversations. “Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse. Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.” (Romney, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.)
As many have pointed out, a possible split between Trump and Senate Republicans seemed more likely on Monday than it did on Friday, as the president's latest decision to pull American protection from Kurdish forces in northern Syria infuriated many GOP lawmakers. And in addition to Collins, Gardner, and Sasse, Romney can add another potential anti-Trump ally to his list: Sen. Rob Portman. Portman came out forcefully on Monday in condemning Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. And though he argued that Trump's conduct wasn't impeachable, it's possible that new revelations could eventually change his mind.
Some have criticized Romney's previous condemnation of Trump as too weak, but I think this is a mistake. Consider, for instance, Romney's tweets from last Friday:
By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.— Mitt Romney (@Mitt Romney)1570204950.0
Not only did Romney call Trump's actions "unprecedented," "wrong," and "appalling," he argued even more importantly that "it strains credulity to suggest that [Trump's pressure campaign] is anything other than politically motivated." This is particularly damning — moreso than just using harsh adjectives — because it makes the (indeed compelling) case that Trump's behavior is not just an abuse of power, but a crime. If Trump asked Ukraine for an investigation into Biden for the purpose of benefiting his own campaign, then that's a violation of election law.
Perhaps even more important, though, is that Romney left out the caveat that Portman would later include: that Trump's actions, though bad, are not impeachable. Given the context, that omission speaks volumes. It's no wonder that, according to Sherman, it's "freaking Republicans out."