On Wednesday, 52 Senate Republicans voted to acquit President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined every Democrat in a vote to convict, making Trump the first president ever to face conviction votes from senators in both parties.
That alone is a mark on his presidency. But as ex-Pentagon General Counsel Ryan Goodman wrote for Just Security, the defections go deeper than that. Many of the senators who voted to acquit Trump are on the defensive — and some of them have acknowledged the president's misconduct even while declining to remove him, making for a majority of senators who have condemned him.
"Remember this: A bipartisan majority found that the factual allegations for Trump’s impeachment were proven," wrote Goodman. "That includes: Senators Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, and Ben Sasse."
"But what about the fact that a majority of the Senate voted to acquit? Is that not a 'win' for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as so many commentators will say?" continued Goodman. "There is good reason to see it otherwise. As I commented before the Senate trial began, McConnell faced a no-win situation. If the Senate held a fair trial, it would be devastating for Trump. If the Senate held a sham trial, it would mean that the acquittal would be best understood as illegitimate, and no rightful claim could be made for 'exoneration.'"
"The more important point is the overwhelming evidence presented showed that President Trump did it: He wrongfully conditioned military assistance to Ukraine on a commitment to announce an investigation into Joe Biden," concluded Goodman. "He was guilty as charged according to a clear bipartisan majority of the Senate. Yes, a majority did not support invoking the penalty of conviction and automatic removal from office, an outcome for which they can claim an immoral victory if they like."