When Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced on Wednesday that he would break ranks with his Republican colleagues and vote to remove President Donald Trump from office, the move shocked many as he became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to remove a president from his own party.
The choice was more remarkable that, before Trump, Romney had been the Republican presidential nominee.
But there were clues this could be coming, given Romney’s fraught history with Trump and the way the senator publicly grappled with the president’s actions in recent months.
“I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me,” Romney said on the Senate floor Wednesday before announcing his decision to vote Trump “guilty” on the charge of abuse of power.
What Romney did do was vote to remove a man he’s long been at odds with, since Trump crash-landed into American politics in 2015 when he announced his then-unlikely bid for the presidency.
“Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark,” Romney told a crowd of Republican voters in his home state of Utah in early 2016.
Some were expecting the former 2012 Republican presidential candidate to launch his own candidacy that day, but instead he made a gesture to try and stop Trump’s in its tracks: He called on Republicans to reject Trump’s controversial policies: “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics.”
Romney called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud,” and asked Republican voters to back Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead.
Trump dismissed Romney’s criticism, saying it was “just another desperate move by the man who should have easily beaten Barrack Obama” and claimed Romney called to “beg” him for his endorsement in the 2012 election.
Later, Romney — like many conservative detractors — tried to smooth over his damaged relationship with Trump, meeting with the president elect about a week after he won the 2016 election. Romney insisted they had “great” talks and speculation began to spread that he would join Trump’s cabinet, perhaps as secretary of state.
Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2016
“I know he would have accepted it if he had been asked,” Romney’s wife, Ann, told the Today show afterwards.
Instead the job went to business executive Rex Tillerson.
In 2018, Romney decided to run for one of Utah’s Senate seats and Trump endorsed him — the same man whom he, in 2016, called “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.”
Trump spoke differently of Romney in 2018.
“Big and conclusive win by Mitt Romney. Congratulations!” Trump wrote on Twitter following Romney’s Senate win. “I look forward to working together – there is so much good to do. A great and loving family will be coming to D.C.”
Fast-forward another year and Trump and Romney were at odds again, this time in the wake of the House of Representative’s impeachment investigation over Trump’s Ukraine scandal.
Romney called the president’s efforts to lobby Ukraine to dig up dirt on political rival Joe Biden “wrong and appalling,” while also noting that the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and abandon American allies in the fight against ISIS would be a “bloodstain on the annals of American history.”
“He is so bad for [Republicans]!” Trump complained, calling Romney a “pompous ass” who “never knew how to win,” referencing the Utah senator’s failed presidential run in 2012 when he lost to President Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous “ass” who has been fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run (I gave it to him), and when he begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn’t give it to him). He is so bad for R’s!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2019
The Democrats are lucky that they don’t have any Mitt Romney types. They may be lousy politicians, with really bad policies (Open Borders, Sanctuary Cities etc.), but they stick together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2019
One persistent issue for Trump was Romney’s occasional criticism rather than unfailing support.
After Romney voted to convict him at his impeachment trial on Wednesday, Trump tweeted a video calling him a fake Republican.
Earlier Wednesday, Romney told The Atlantic that he was fully expecting blowback from his decision and a furthering of their long-running feud.
“I had the hope that he would be able to say something exculpatory and create reasonable doubt, so I wouldn’t have to vote to convict,” Romney told the magazine, adding, “I did not want to get here.”
Romney insisted that he would not vote for Trump in 2020, knowing that he would remain in office following Wednesday’s long-anticipated acquittal. Instead, he told The Atlantic, he would write in his wife’s name — just like he did in 2016.
“I get that a lot — ‘Be with the president,’ ” Romney told The Atlantic. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’ ”