With apologies to Shakespeare, hell hath no fury like a president scorned.
Dissent may be the purest form of patriotism, but not to President Donald Trump, who is viciously attacking U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican to vote Wednesday to convict the president on one of two articles of impeachment. Trump was acquitted on both counts.
“I was pretty upset about it,” Nevada’s former Republican national committeeman Joe Brown said in an interview. “I don’t know why Romney would do that. I’m disappointed in him.
“I backed him in his run for president, which I thought was a pretty poor effort.”
Romney took the wind out of Trump’s victory lap Wednesday when the Utah senator gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor in which he invoked his faith and the solemnity of the oath of impartiality administered by Chief Justice John Roberts to senators sitting as Trump’s impeachment jury.
“I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential,” Romney said as he briefly lost composure. “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.”
Romney, benefiting from heavy Mormon support, won the Nevada Republican presidential caucuses in both 2008 and 2012.
“I think he hurt himself and appeared petty by voting against Trump. There’s no upside to it for him,” says Brown, adding he believes Romney was motivated by “personal animosity.”
“He lost the election and wasn’t picked for Secretary of State. He probably thought he had a locked cinch on it,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’s without a certain amount of ego.”
But some Nevada Republicans who supported Romney’s presidential aspirations are praising Romney.
“It’s easy to throw stones when you don’t have to cast a vote,” said former state senator Warren Hardy, a Republican. “I have a lot of sympathy and admire Romney for voting his conscience. Whether I agree with him or not, I congratulate him for doing what he thought was right.”
“I’m a fan of his,” says Bruce James, who served on Romney’s 2008 campaign. “I thought he showed great integrity in sticking with his guns and voting his conscience. I’m proud of him.”
“I thought it was wonderful,” former Nevada Regent Michael Wixom said. “I support him enthusiastically. It was from the heart and I agree with him.”
Former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who spoke at the 2012 Republican convention on Romney’s behalf, did not respond to the Current‘s request for comment.
Romney is being alternately hailed as a profile in courage by Democrats and some Republicans, and condemned by others as a traitor as Trump embarks on a multi-media campaign to vilify him.
A video tweeted by the president calls Romney “a Democrat secret asset” and in a speech Thursday, Trump, without naming Romney, accused the senator of “using religion as a crutch.”
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification to do something they know is wrong, nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that is not so,” Trump said of Romney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday.
“I think he’s also going to talk about just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that,” Trump’s press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” says Hardy. “Romney did his job as he perceives. That’s Trump’s MO (method of operation). If you don’t agree one hundred percent, you’re a bad actor.”
“I thought it was juvenile and silly and not unexpected,” Wixom said of Trump’s reaction to Romney’s vote and the administration’s message of exacting revenge on his political opponents.
How will history view Romney’s vote?
“I think it enhances his legacy in the long term. Short term, I don’t know what it will do,” Wixom said. “There’s been all sorts of speculation.”
“I have LDS friends in Las Vegas who are furious with Romney,” Brown said, declining to identify his friends but noting some are elected officials. “He made some long term enemies. Assuming Trump is re-elected, he can forget going to the White House for any favors.”
“I don’t think it will affect Romney’s legacy,” says James. “He doesn’t have to run for another four years and whether he’s going to want to do it again, I don’t know. I think his legacy is firmly planted. I think he’s a great American and has proved that countless times.”
The incident could widen a rupture in the GOP that has manifested since Trump’s presidential campaign.
“I don’t recognize the Republican party anymore,” said Wixom. “I’ll continue to be a Republican. Whatever that means.”
Political consultant Ryan Erwin, a top Nevada adviser during Romney’s presidential campaigns in the state, declined to be interviewed.
Here is Romney’s speech explaining his impeachment vote: