Democrats dominated the impeachment process until now and unearthed important new information implicating Trump — yet the polls barely budged. Indeed, one new poll (by a Republican-affiliated firm) shows Trump improving in the crucial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And when the impeachment effort reaches the Senate, it will be Republicans in the driver’s seat.
In 2016, the Brexit vote in Britain was a harbinger of Trump’s election as president. There are many differences, but Boris Johnson’s ability as a deeply flawed conservative to win a solid majority in Thursday’s British elections, including many working-class voters, is sobering for Democrats.
Yet back in the United States, put aside the politics and look at the merits of the impeachment cases, and everything looks different.
Republicans said that the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was different because he committed the crime of perjury, even if only about sex. But that’s not clear: A 33-page article in 2004 in the Chicago-Kent Law Review concluded that Clinton misled a grand jury but may have managed through brilliant lawyering to avoid the technical offense of perjury.
Republicans at the time made much of the argument that Clinton’s misconduct made him morally unfit for the presidency. But if that’s the standard for impeachment, then what do we make of a president who is a serial liar, apparently committed tax fraud, has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 25 women, and paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money to keep their affair from voters? Or who just this month was forced to pay $2 million after “a shocking pattern of illegality” involving the use of his charity to promote his own interests?
The big difference is that Trump, shielded by congressional Republicans, has been more successful than Nixon in his stonewalling of investigators. The verb “to stonewall” was popularized in the Nixon era, but in the end he did not go as far as Trump in refusing to cooperate with investigators.
Another difference from Watergate is that Nixon’s abuses did not directly damage national security or cost lives. In contrast, Trump’s suspension of vital military assistance may have added to the Ukrainian death toll and certainly helped Russia.
After the Watergate break-in, there was no immediate epiphany about its seriousness. Nixon was re-elected that fall by a huge margin. A year later, more Americans said they were more concerned by Chappaquiddick (where a young woman in Edward Kennedy’s car drowned) than by Watergate. It wasn’t until just before Nixon’s resignation that a majority favored his removal from office.
Yet now we regard Nixon’s behavior with widespread revulsion, and someday I believe we will feel similarly about Trump’s.
Writes for New York Times.