Enough with the Nixon Impeachment Comparisons

The tendency to use 1974 as a predictor of outcomes in 2019 becomes pointless

Publisher’s Riff

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Not only is this 2019, but it’s truly not 1974.

It should be a useful exercise to engage in a review of the impeachment hearings against then President Richard Nixon as a way to educate the public about how impeachment works. And the hearing rooms look similar. Yet, what we’re seeing quite a bit of now is observers feeling compelled to re-assess the Nixon impeachment inquiry as a prediction tool on two questions:

  1. At what point will public opinion swing dramatically against President Trump?

  2. And at what point will Republicans in both the House and Senate begin converting over to the side of Congressional Democrats?

Each question is based off two specific trends back in 1974, including the evolution of public rejection of Nixon over the course of that crisis, as Pew explores here

How Watergate Changed Public Opinion of Richard Nixon

And how the opinions and partisan loyalty of Republicans in Congress at that time gradually swung against their standard bearer, as FiveThirtyEight explains here

But, the tendency towards a 1974 throwback in an anxious effort to soothe or calm the uncertainty is pointless. Particularly when public support for or against impeachment looks like this

That’s pretty much a virtual tie once margin of error is added. In addition, there’s still quite a few undecideds, check YouGov for example …

Public opinion, along with House and Senate position, on the question of impeachment and removal is entrenched (as you can see from the Democratic and Republican voter totals above). It’s probably more logical to compare 2019 to the actual 1998 impeachment of President Clinton - but, fewer observers, for some reason, don’t like to bring that up as much. It’s difficult to characterize this current inquiry as a “fact finding mission.” There is a reigning mythology that somehow additional facts paraded before the American people will convert Trump voters and Republican lawmakers. That’s not going to happen, especially in an age where everyone has multiple media tools at their disposal to counter facts while turning lies into such. Already, Republicans are pushing the message that Democrats have wanted impeachment since the day after the 2016 election, so they finally got their moment, a so-called “sour grapes” argument that’s always worked with that base. And as much as the facts clearly show injurious conduct by the president, including corruption, bribery and other crimes, Democrats have now satisfied their base’s demands - but, will details of the Ukraine scandal resonate? Will the larger public get it?

Does it matter given the hyper-partisan environment we’re in? Probably not. It’s misguided to think that this will unfold similar to Watergate through multiple Republicans suddenly having a fresh moment of conscience “as more facts come out.” Too many smoking guns have already been fired; if that moment hasn’t happened by now, don’t expect it anytime soon. These impeachment hearings are a battle of stage performances, a battle between respective partisan bases and a battle to see which message resonates with the “Not Sures” … or those perpetrating as such.