When the Celestial 2x4 comes swinging at your head, don’t forget to duck.
It’s always been an interesting study. The public supported Nixon (re-elected him, which is the highest form of public support) despite evidence that the White House may have been involved with the Watergate break-in prior to the election.
Sept. 15, 1972: Seven men, including two former White House aides, are indicted in Watergate break-in.
So, as the story went at the time, these former White House aides were acting on their own, and had nothing to do with anything Nixon.
The public bought that, and re-elected Nixon. However, as time went on, and it became clear that a well-definable illegal act (a burglary, which is easy to understand and a “big deal” in the minds of people) had been committed with the foreknowledge and approval of the President of the United States, his approval ratings crashed.
When approval ratings crash, so does your political support in Congress. Thusly, three articles of impeachment were drafted and passed: Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Power, and Defiance of Subpoena. The articles passed with bipartisan majorities. Boxed in with no way out, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. At the end, his positives were in the low 20’s.
Fast forward to Mr. Clinton. Mr. Clinton, ultimately, was impeached (Nixon resigned prior to the event) on four grounds: Perjury, Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Power, and Lying to a Grand Jury. However, none of these, in the public’s mind, rose to the “big deal” level of supporting a burglary. Also, Mr. Clinton’s public support had risen during this process, with approvals hitting the 70’s at their zenith. Therefore, the Democrats had no reason to support the articles of impeachment; the articles were passed without a single Democrat vote. Clinton remained in office.
There are numerous similarities and dissimilarities between the above cases and the current situation with Mr. Trump. A few that are top of mind:
- Mr. Cox and Mr. Mueller were both retained to investigated what appeared to be an attack on our political system; their investigations led them to the White House, although that was not their original charter.
- Mr. Starr (who was hired to investigate Whitewater, and ended up investigating semen on blue dresses) and Mr. Mueller have both been accused of having charters which are overly broad, and turned into “witch hunts”. (No offense meant to current Wiccan practitioners.)
- The Clinton matter and the Trump matter both focus on allegations (obstruction, campaign violations, etc) which, if the Clinton matter is any guide, not likely to be a “big deal” in the minds of the voters. (This, of course, may change, but the point here is that unless the President is caught holding a smoking gun like Nixon was, the voters are unlikely to support the removal of the President).
But, the big one, and the one leading to my “big deal” comments above, is this:
The popularity of Clinton rising, even while irrefutable evidence against him was being unveiled, could be attributed to two variables, probably both to some degree. The first variable was a booming economy, which is currently being enjoyed by Mr. Trump as well. The second variable is a public perception of an investigation gone wild, and focusing in on matters that the public does not believe warrant removal from office.
Hence, an increase in the approval ratings of the President.
Now, Trump hitting 44% is not the same as Clinton hitting 73%, obviously; but trends matter, and they especially matter to politicians, as they gaze into their crystal balls and decide what to do (and not do) with regards to their constituents.
Perhaps the best way to compare the three events is this:
- Nixon. An obvious crime had been committed. When the president was tied to it, his approvals crashed.
- Clinton. Nothing as obvious as a burglary took place. Absent any destruction of evidence, “obstruction of justice” is a tough one to gain public support around. “Lying under oath” is evidently not considered consequential by the public unless you’re lying about something that is itself consequential (sex didn’t cut it).
- Trump. At this point, the Trump matter looks more like the Clinton matter, where allegations fall short of the “big deal” of the Nixon impeachment; and his approval ratings increase indicates that the public sees it that way, as well. The “obstruction of justice” suggestion appears as obtuse as the one levied at Clinton, and the overall set of allegations are made even weaker by the fact that, at this point, a President who has never testified under oath cannot be accused of lying under oath.
I’ve said from the beginning, that unless it were proven that Trump knew the Russians were committing a “big deal” crime (hacking the DNC, which of course would require the Feds to show their evidence that firmly established beyond doubt that it was the Russians, which could be interesting in and of itself), Trump would not lose support of his base, and therefore the GOP would not support removal from office.
Obviously, something may yet surface that attracts the public’s attention in a negative way, but to date, nothing that has been suggested or alleged measures up to the Watergate matter. And unless something is shown to be true that DOES measure up to the Watergate matter, Mr. Trump completes his first term in office.