Mr. Romney was a stand-alone political brand in his own right, but his willingness to discharge antipathy for Mr. Trump made him more than just a political comeback story. On the eve of being sworn into the Senate, Mr. Romney published an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he concluded that Mr. Trump had “not risen to the mantle of the office.” This was two years after then-President-elect Trump had engaged Mr. Romney about possibly serving as his secretary of state. Mr. Romney said he most likely would have taken the job if offered, but it was not — and just as well.
“The best personnel decision he made was not choosing me,” Mr. Romney said. “I would not have lasted as long as Rex Tillerson,” he added of the eventual choice “and maybe a little longer than Anthony Scaramucci did,” referring to the White House communications director who lasted less than two weeks in the job.
Mr. Romney’s criticisms of Mr. Trump have elicited predictable counterattacks, which of course amplifies the noise. The president has deemed Mr. Romney “a pompous ass,” a “fool” “so bad for R’s!” and — because what the heck — called for his impeachment.
“I think that Donald Trump thinks a lot more about Mitt Romney than Mitt Romney thinks about Donald Trump,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican media consultant and chief strategist of Mr. Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Donald Trump is fundamentally an unhappy, angry person. Mitt Romney is fundamentally a happy not angry person.”
Mr. Romney says he’s not running for the big job again, despite periodic attempts urging him to re-re-re-consider the idea and to launch a Hail Mary primary challenge to Mr. Trump. He also sounds unbothered by Republicans who question his loyalty. “People say to me, ‘If you’re critical of the president you’re hurting the party,’” Mr. Romney said. “No I’m not — I’m laying out a path for the party post the president.”
He knows full well that one colossal decision might loom for him above all others. Impeachment votes tend to weigh heavily in legacy discussions. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, recalls the example of his late father, Lawrence Hogan, who served three terms in Congress from 1969 to 1975. He was a Republican in good standing and a supporter of President Richard Nixon. But he would always be remembered as the only Republican representative who, in a surprise, voted to recommend all three articles of impeachment against Mr. Nixon. He paid a big price, his son recalled.
“He lost friends in Congress, he lost the support of his constituents and he angered the White House,” Mr. Hogan said. People did not forgive him for decades. “But history was kind to him,” Mr. Hogan added. “He was known as a courageous guy. I think it’s the thing he is most remembered for, and the thing I’m most proud of him for.”