Concerns by Democrats of a backlash like that experienced by Republicans after the Clinton impeachment if they proceed with impeachment hearings against Trump are unfounded.
The difference between the Clinton impeachment and impeachment of Trump is that Clinton was an effective president with loose morals and his impeachment by Republicans was viewed by most as purely political. The basis of the impeachment, lying to a grand jury about his extramarital activity, was considered by most as not preventing him from effectively carrying out the responsibilities of his office.
The impeachment of Trump will be more widely accepted, if not out and welcomed by voters, due to his blatant unfitness for office, his attack on established presidential protocols and his relentless dismantling of democratic institutions. The voters made their feelings about Trump’s unfitness for office abundantly clear with the results of the 2018 midterms.
A comparison to the circumstances of the only other impeachment of a president in our history, which of President Andrew Johnson, also falls a bit short.
While the basis of Johnson’s impeachment was related to fitness for office, specifically his resistance to enforcing post-Civil War legislation to provide and protect rights of the recently freed slaves, his actions, though job-related, were not necessarily illegal.
The actual basis for the impeachment dealt with a violation of a law concerning the selection of his cabinet and the Secretary of War, and the law was specifically enacted to provide a legal basis for the impeachment. That apparently was not enough to result in removal from office, but the threat of impeachment did result in Johnson falling into step with enforcing post-Civil War legislation.
A much more similar set of circumstances is found in the impeachment that did not happen. The threatened impeachment of President Richard Nixon is a much more suitable comparison to the potential impeachment of Trump. Like the case against Trump, which is fraught with revelations that Trump was directly involved in criminal behavior including campaign finance violations, the case against Nixon likewise was fraught with evidence of illegal activity including obstruction of justice.
It was when Republicans in Congress finally turned against Nixon, and it was clear that there was enough support to result in removal from office that Nixon avoided the impeachment hearing and resigned from office. As with Nixon, it will take abandonment of Trump by Republicans for an impeachment hearing to move forward. Unlike Nixon, however, don’t expect Trump to spare the nation an impeachment hearing.
To put it another way, it will take more than just Democrats to proceed with impeachment; it will take Republicans as well. That, however, will only happen when keeping Trump in office becomes more of a liability for Republicans than removing Trump from office as with Nixon,
The question is whether there is enough of a basis to remove Trump from office than there was to convince Republicans to remove Nixon from office. The answer to that question is a resounding yes!
The actions by Nixon to quash the Watergate investigation pales in comparison to the actions by Trump to obstruct the Mueller probe into the Russian influence in our 2016 election. Add to this Trump’s campaign finance violations as captured in the sentencing documents for former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
If that is not enough, also add in Trump’s longtime obsession with currying favor with Russia for personal business opportunities and his and his campaign’s openness to receiving any support from a foreign entity to win the election. This obsession manifested itself with campaign violations and the continual effort to mislead investigators to hide this interaction and keep it from the voting public. The corruption of Trump makes Nixon look like a choir boy.
There is one major difference. Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story entitled “The Purloined Letter.” The plot of this story revolved around the search for a letter. The search for this letter continued throughout the story until finally it was noticed on a shelf in plain sight.
The difference between the Nixon corruption and the Trump corruption is the difference between hiding the corruption and doing it in plain sight. Just because Trump does not hide what he does and finds it so easy to lie over and over again no matter how many times he is caught in those lies does not make those lies any more credible. Just because Trump says there is nothing wrong with obtaining information from a foreign entity on an opponent does not mean that receiving that information is not in violation of campaign laws. Just because Nixon did a better job of hiding his transgressions doesn’t make them any more egregious.
Just because Nixon used an intermediary to dangle pardons and Trump dangles them in full view doesn’t mean that Trump’s dangling is any less obstruction of the ongoing investigation.
Let the games begin; let the impeachment hearing begin; let the American people hear and understand all of the information on the activities of their president so that they can determine for themselves, as Nixon once so eloquently stated, “whether their president is a crook.”
Follow Paul K. Schwartz on Twitter: @PKSpaul