An Open Memo: Comparison of Clinton Impeachment, Nixon Impeachment and Trump Pre-ImpeachmentRoundup
tags: impeachment, Nixon, Clinton, Trump
Sidney Blumenthal is the author of A Self-Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel, the first two volumes in his five-volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln. The third volume, All the Powers of Earth, will be published in September by Simon & Schuster. He is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post and Washington editor and writer for The New Yorker. His books include the The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and The Permanent Campaign. He has been a senior fellow of the NYU Center on Law and Security and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.
Some commentators and politicians have suggested that any movement that leads to President Donald Trump’s impeachment will necessarily follow the straight and narrow political path of the Clinton impeachment in which the president’s popularity inexorably rose. President Bill Clinton’s case is widely assumed to set the terms for understanding Trump’s. But the facts and history instead indicate that the Clinton case bears little if any relevance to the Trump one, while the Nixon case shows similarity to Trump’s, including how President Richard Nixon, a far more popular president than the abysmally rated Trump, collapsed in public opinion as the drive to his impeachment unfolded.
In 1973 and 1974, the Democrats attacked a once-mighty but now badly weakened president with a strong case for impeachment. Nixon resigned.
In 1998 and 1999, the Republicans attacked a mightily popular president on a political upswing in his second term with a politically contrived and feeble case for impeachment. Republicans lost.
In 2019, the Democrats confront the weakest president in modern history with a stronger case for impeachment than the one against Nixon.
Since the release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report, support for impeachment of Trump has already risen to a near majority, 45 percent, with 42 percent opposed, according to the latest Ipsos-Reuters poll. That phenomenon never occurred during the Clinton impeachment, not once. On the contrary, in the Clinton case there was never any increase at any point in support for impeachment, which remained opposed by a large and solid majority of about two-thirds or more. Clinton began the impeachment process at 66 percent approval and ended the impeachment process at 66 percent approval.
By contrast, Nixon began 1973 as a president reelected with an overwhelming majority and winning 49 states. He stood at 68 percent approval. Two weeks before his second inauguration, Watergate burglars pled guilty to conspiracy and other crimes, which soon triggered congressional inquiries into Watergate. By May, when the Senate Watergate hearings began, Nixon’s standing in public opinion began to erode, a decline accelerated at each stage by his stonewalling of Congress and the courts. Public support for impeachment of Nixon, however, did not reach the level at which it already stands for Trump until near May 1974, a full year after the Senate Watergate hearings. In short, Trump now stands in public opinion where Nixon did after Senate hearings, after John Dean and others testified, after the Nixon tapes were exposed.
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