Romney, a onetime leader of the Republican Party as their 2012 presidential nominee, explained that his decision was motivated largely by his deep religious faith.
It made him the first senator in history to vote to remove a president from his own political party.
Detractors dismissed Romney as a jealous has-been, but he earned support, too, including from late-night host Stephen Colbert.
At the start of Wednesday’s episode of The Late Show, Colbert, 55, devoted much of his monologue to praising Romney for breaking with his Republican colleagues.
“On this dark day there was someone I would like to thank for giving me a ray of hope,” Colbert said of Romney, 72, whom he jokingly referred to as a “Utah senator and dad-explaining-venture-capitalism-to-your-prom-date.”
Colbert’s remarks blended humor and sincerity, connecting Romney to a larger theme of personal integrity.
“Romney’s willing to put up with whatever the blowback for this decision is. Yes, his faith compels him to vote for impeachment. And it makes sense: ’cause the Old Testament does say you should worship God not golden cows,” Colbert said.
In a Senate speech on Wednesday before the final vote in the impeachment trial, Romney explained his choice to convict Trump, 73, on one of two charges this way:
“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise ‘impartial justice.’ I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made and for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor,” Romney said. “I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”
On The Late Show later Wednesday, Colbert lauded that conviction.
RELATED VIDEO: Fran Drescher Reveals the Demand Donald Trump Made When He Made a Guest Appearance on The Nanny
“I do want to say that was an inspiring speech, because hearing Mitt Romney take his oath to God seriously was like finding water in the desert,” he said. “Because we know Republicans are lying when they say that Trump didn’t do anything wrong or that maybe he did but he shouldn’t be removed. Every person who leaves the White House and writes a book about it or every journalist who gets to peek behind the curtain … they all tell us that Republicans privately are horrified by Donald Trump and want something, someone, to do something to stop him. But they don’t have the balls to say that out loud when it matters. That’s why an oath is important.”
“Now oaths may not mean a lot to some people but when you take an oath you can’t think one thing and say another, you are asking God to witness on the pain of your immortal soul that what you whisper in your heart is what comes out of your mouth. Though most of these guys are talking out their ass.”
Colbert then turned to a literary reference to expound on the importance of Romney’s choice, in his view.
“In Robert Bolt’s [play] A Man for All Seasons, the main character, Thomas More, is the lone voice opposing Henry VIII, a bloated, golden child who none dared gainsay, who destroyed anyone who did not follow him blindly and then went ahead and destroyed a lot of people who followed him blindly anyway,” Colbert explained. “And in the play, More says this to his daughter Meg, he says, ‘When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.’ Well with the lone exception of Mitt Romney, I think the Republicans have just opened their fingers. They will be missed. So please join me in thanking Mitt Romney for being honest, for not lying to us or to himself, for serving the Constitution rather than that monstrous child in the White House.”
Colbert was not the only entertainer expressing gratitude for Romney. Celebs including Mark Hamill and John Legend did as well.
But in conservative circles, he immediately became a target. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, said Republicans should expel him from the party.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham called Romney “one failed Republican presidential candidate” who had allied himself with those leading the “witch hunt” impeachment.
In his Wednesday Senate speech, Romney foresaw all of that but said he was not dissuaded.
“This verdict is ours to render. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty,” he said. “The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ Yes, he did.”