Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the only member of the Republican Party to vote with Democratic senators to convict President Donald Trump of abuse of power in a 52-48 not guilty vote after harshly criticizing Trump in his Senate floor speech announcing his intended vote.

Romney asserted that “the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor”; accused him of being “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust” for what he called “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values”; and concluded that “corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office” that he could imagine.

This was not the first time Romney publicly lambasted Trump. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post a year earlier, Romney wrote that Trump had “not risen to the mantle of the office,” adding that a president “should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect.”

Similarly, Romney sharply rebuked the president’s actions outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, saying, “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president,” implying Trump had “strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”

Granted, motives can be complex and difficult to discern, yet Romney’s personality profile offers at least a partial glimpse into his underlying motivation for bucking the GOP party line with his impeachment vote.

A psychological study of Mitt Romney conducted at the Unit for the Study of Politics during Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign revealed that “Romney’s primary personality pattern was … Conscientious/dutiful, complemented by secondary Dominant/asserting, Ambitious/confident, and Accommodating/cooperative features and a minor Retiring/reserved tendency” and characterized him as quintessentially “prudent, proper, dignified, dependable, and more principled than most personality types.”

Regarding his primary personality pattern of conscientiousness, Romney’s political-psychological profile depicts him as a principled person who does his best to uphold conventional rules and standards and to follow regulations closely, with a tendency to be intolerant of deviance and judgmental of those fail to adhere to those norms.

As stated in Romney’s profile, conscientious individuals “tend to follow standards from which they hesitate to deviate, attempt to act in an objective and rational manner, and decide matters in terms of what they believe is right.” They are often religious, and maintaining their integrity “ranks high among their goals” while “voicing moral values gives them a deep sense of satisfaction.”

As Romney asserted in his Senate floor speech:

As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.

In summary, Romney’s personality profile contains the following observations across the matrix of attribute domains comprising his overall personality composite:

  • Expressive behavior: scrupulous in matters of morality and ethics, but may strike others as prudish, moralistic, and condescending. (p. 11)
  • Interpersonal conduct: unbending in his relations with subordinates [which Trump arguably embodies in his capacity as a defendant in an impeachment trial], insisting they adhere to personally established rules and methods. (p. 11)
  • Cognitive style: concerned with matters of propriety and tends to be rigid about regulations and procedures. (p. 11)
  • Mood/temperament: dignified, serious minded, solemn demeanor. (p. 12)
  • Self-image: values aspects of himself that exhibit virtue and moral rectitude. (p. 12)
  • Morphologic organization/ego-defense mechanism: public facade of conformity and propriety may mask an undercurrent of repressed urges toward self-assertion and defiance. (p. 13)

Finally, the section on leadership implications in the report of Romney’s political personality concludes that, in his policy choices, consensus building likely plays a secondary role to the implementation of the “morally correct” policy. (p. 17)

Objective assessment of the psychological motives underlying Romney’s “guilty” impeachment vote dictates that he was simply acting in character and in accordance with his deeply held personal and religious values. However, that determination belies the probability that some of Romney’s Republican Senate colleagues possess a similar personality profile and set of values.

What, then, could account for Romney’s dissenting vote?

One clue may be implicit in Trump’s public humiliation of Romney, whom the president called “a pompous ‘ass’” who had been “fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run … and when he begged me to be Secretary of State.”

In that regard, it’s notable that Romney’s personality profile is suggestive of an individual more likely to nurse grudges than most. From that perspective, an alternative explanation for Romney’s vote might be that he gave the president a taste of his own kind of quid pro quo.


Cited report

The Political Personality of 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. Paper presented by Aubrey Immelman at the 35th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Chicago, July 6–9, 2012. Abstract and link for full-text (35 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons:


Related reports on this site

What Motivates Mitt Romney to Question Donald Trump’s Character? (Jan. 3, 2019)

Romney poster (2013)
Click on image for larger view

Mitt Romney Announces Bid for U.S. Senate in Utah (Feb. 17, 2018)

Embedded video

Mitt Romney for Secretary of State? (Nov. 19, 2016)

Mitt Romney’s Personality Profile (June 2, 2011)

As shown in the pie chart, Romney has a primarily Conscientious-dutiful personality, complemented by secondary Dominant-asserting, Ambitious-confident, and Accommodating-cooperative features and a minor Retiring-reserved tendency.

Mitt Romney’s Leadership Style (Sept. 3, 2012)

Research assistants Amanda Nusbaum and Feiran Chen presented their research on “The Personality Profile of 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney” at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., July 30, 2012.

Why Mitt Romney Won’t Be President — In Theory (Oct. 29, 2012)

Aubrey Immelman and Andrew Obritsch in Chicago at the annual scientific meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology to present their research on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, July 2012.

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