Some have said that, in a fair and righteous world, the seat held by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be filled next January by the recently elected president of the United States.
But we know our world to be otherwise and the seat will be filled as soon as possible, thanks to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, whose decision not to block a vote before the election gave Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the green light to proceed with the nomination process.
It seems to be Romney’s fate to be permanently affixed to the public whipping post, no matter what he does. He’s the guy who can’t please anyone, and who, unbeknownst to most, is humble enough to accept that fate. In that rarest of qualities among politicians, his conscience truly is his guide.
I say this from having known Romney for more than a decade. Though he often has trouble connecting to voters in public venues, this private man is among the very few to whom I would ascribe noble intentions. Maybe it’s his Mormon faith, but Romney has no affinity for the easy path. Indeed, at this point, self-immolation might hold some appeal.
His choice to follow President Trump’s lead and allow the confirmation process to go forward has only earned him new enemies. In the nation’s capital, Romney remains the loneliest ranger—loved by none, hated—by turns—by nearly all.
In February, when he was the sole Republican to vote for Trump’s conviction in his impeachment trial, Romney briefly enjoyed the adoration of the left. Profiles in courage were written, and the Utah senator was feted as the right kind of Republican, one who votes his conscience even when it hurts him personally.
At the same time, the right pilloried and reviled him. Trump backers deemed him a traitor and a self-serving revenge-seeker.
That was then. Today, Romney is reviled by the left and center for clearing a way for a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court and yet the right still despises him. One thing you can say about conservatives: They are loath to liberate a grudge. Sometimes wrong but never in doubt, Republicans can zip up a tent so tight that a mosquito can’t get in. The warmer-blooded Democrats, though perhaps utilitarian at heart, will leave the flap open on the chance a potential convert wanders by.
Some might claim that Romney’s ultimate decision was never in doubt. Power is power. But this would misunderstand the man and how he operates. His closest associates have spoken often of his sometimes aggravating decision-making style, which is to tackle any issue as though he were writing a dissertation on the subject.
As governor of Massachusetts, he sought tutoring and guidance from scientists and bioethicists when considering legislation related to stem cell research. During the impeachment, he requested transcripts of testimony, studying (and praying) late into the night. People close to him during his latest deliberations tell me he was, once more, concerned about making the right decision. The stakes seemed almost insurmountable: Not only would his decision affect the high court for decades, but also the pushback, either way, would be ferocious and unyielding.
Both sides brought pressure to bear during his days of rumination, including from trusted advisers urging him to vote no.
True enough, Romney wouldn’t have wanted to help Trump win re-election. Everyone knows he’s not a Trump buddy. Since he was elected in 2016, Trump has made no attempt to conceal his contempt for Romney, whom he pretended to woo as a possible pick for secretary of state. Everyone knew that nomination was never going to happen. And when Trump rejected Romney just as most had predicted, the senator handled it with characteristic grace even if the humiliation had to sting.
It is the essence of irony that Romney should now be on the side of his nemesis. But the long-sought goal of a conservative court—to serve as bulwark against progressive domination in other branches of government—ultimately guided Romney to yes.
Someday, perhaps, Republicans may show some gratitude for what was never an easy call. Either way, the Romney I know doesn’t care. It was never personal.