Mitt Romney’s unclear purpose in the Utah delegation

Since Mitt Romney’s controversial vote two weeks ago to impeach President Trump on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, he has been castigated by some on the political right as a Benedict Arnold, undercover democrat; by others as a lukewarm egotist seeking media limelight; by the political left as something of a hero-he received a standing ovation during the Democratic Presidential Debate in New Hampshire.

The polarized responses to Romney’s vote are not surprising, but his tactful evasion of reason and fact-essential duties of legislators is.

While all three branches of U.S. government were designed to check each other, the Constitution arguably granted Congress the greatest independent power of the three. But the Constitution also provided a check on congressional power: gridlock.

James Madison famously saw to it in Federalist #51 that sweeping legislation could not easily be enacted by a minority or, for that matter, a small majority. The point, then, of elected congresspeople was to live within the gridlock, to fight tooth and nail for the most moderate of gains. This is a notion that members of Congress must embrace. Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, said on his podcast last week, “I want to be right in the middle of [political fights], and the right place in our constitutional system for that is the Senate.” To be effective in these political fights, congresspeople must argue for policies based on the grounds of fact, logic, and reason.

Traditionally, Senator Romney has skirted discord and division. Instead, he has embraced a peacemaking, pacifying style of governance — a style more similar to corporate management than to congressional deliberation. This makes sense; Romney is, first and foremost, an executive, and executives work hard to be appealing.

He spent much of his professional career as the CEO of Bain Capital; he was governor of Massachusetts; he served as a bishop and stake president of his local church congregations; and he acted as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Three of the five political races he has entered have been for executive positions. Romney is a successful executive because he has high moral character and impeccable managerial skills. Unfortunately for Romney, serving in the Senate is not an executive position. He is disappointed with the minimal impact that he has and disillusioned with the job as a whole. Congress, it appears, is not what Mitt Romney thought it would be. Romney’s purpose and motivation for being in Washington at all, then, are unclear.

This fact was on clear display during the impeachment vote. Romney, perhaps sensing an opportunity to engage in his preferred style of governance, sought to be a bridge between a divided government, and he did so in a manner that is often sufficient for executives-appeals to morality, character, and religion-but wholly insufficient for legislators, who must make arguments on the bases of fact and reason.

In these crucial contexts, appeals to faith are simply not good enough (e.g. the least effective way for pro-life advocates to debate policy with pro-choice advocates is by first citing the Bible), and had Romney cited faith as a rationale for voting against impeachment, Democrats likely would have been less than pleased. Frustratingly, Romney failed to respond to the intellectual and constitutional arguments against impeachment set forth by his Republican colleagues, especially those by the senior senator from Utah, Mike Lee.

To quote a familiar Latter-day Saint hymn, Romney’s defense of his vote with faith and morals instead of logic and fact “makes reason stare.” If Senator Romney wanted to serve as an executive, he should have run for an executive office — Governor of Utah, perhaps. But he didn’t, and given that he has four years remaining in his senate term, the right thing to do now is to start acting like a legislator.

BY SAMUEL CHRISTENSEN and JACOB ZIERENBERG, Riverton