Donald Trump woke up on Wednesday morning believing Senate Republicans would provide him a unanimous acquittal vote on impeachment. Weeks earlier, White House ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had even promised the vote would be bipartisan, drawing some Democrats over to Trump's side.
But that wasn't to be. Instead, the White House—completely blindsided by Sen. Mitt Romney's declaration—abruptly blocked reporter access to Trump's meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó that the press corps had originally been invited to attend.
In an instant, Romney's vote to convict changed the entire trajectory of how the history books would be written, the headlines that would flow from acquittal in the days that followed, and the way ads would be written in the 2020 cycle as the general election heats up. Instead of impeachment being an entirely partisan affair—a Democrat-driven witch hunt, as Trump likes to call it—Romney affixed a permanent asterisk to Trump's acquittal, making him the only president in history to draw bipartisan support for his conviction.
Just below the Washington Post's giant "Trump Acquitted" banner topping its site Wednesday night, Romney's vote of conviction attracted no less than four headlines that wouldn't have otherwise been there. One read, "No senator ever voted to remove a president of his party from office. Until Mitt Romney."
But Romney didn't just change the story and the way the story would be told, he also changed how that story would reverberate through the 2020 election cycle. Trump, who will target Romney incessantly between now and November, will deprive himself of the talking point that it was Democrats and Democrats alone who took issue with his so-called "perfect call" and voted to convict. In addition, Democrats' discipline as a caucus which included some brave votes from Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia robbed Trump of declaring his acquittal was a bipartisan consensus.
Romney's Senate floor speech also included some attack-ad friendly phrases like "appalling abuse of public trust" and "flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values." Those damning assessments will surely make their way into some ads aimed at unseating Romney's vulnerable GOP colleagues.
Romney may only be one person, but on Wednesday he provided an unexpected and much-needed crack of light in an otherwise very dark episode in the nation's history. Perhaps it was the beginning of a reckoning for the GOP.