American audiences love the suites. If you liked or hated the Mueller Report, you’ll love or hate the Congress sequel as the public impeachment hearings begin on November 13. Donald Trump seemed to get away with electoral interference “opposite” in 2016. Can he start again in 2020? If so, will it go for a third or fourth sequel?
But there is more. The Trump episodes are a repeat of the Nixon dramas of 1968 and 1972. President Johnson and senior officials around him knew that Nixon had succeeded in interfering in foreign policy in 1968 and thus won the election thanks to de international dirty tricks. Though unknown at the time, the Watergate robbery was a domestic political sequel to Nixon’s successful meddling in 1968.
While the outcome of the ongoing impeachment drama remains uncertain, three historical lessons can be learned, although their results cannot be predicted at this time. Contrary to what you hear, history does not repeat itself. But certain themes and patterns return, taking unexpected forms that raise new dangers and possibilities as in the case of these three lessons.
Lesson 1: Parallelism. Nixon was arrested during his second term for illegally interfering in an election he was sure to win. He had escaped illegal interference in the 1968 election as President Johnson sealed the evidence for national security concerns. Donald Trump meddled in the 2016 campaign in front of television cameras. The investigation into his actions has been kept under wraps even as investigations into his opponent impacted the campaign. Trump undermined the effectiveness of the Mueller report by attacking it for two years and then having his attorney general undermine it when it was released. Despite the evidence that should have led to impeachment, it emerged that interference during the 2016 campaign might not prevent Trump’s re-election.
The parallel with Nixon becomes clear after the Mueller report. Needing more Russian help to win re-election, Trump began investigating his most feared opponent in 2020 using congressional-funded military aid to extort the Ukrainian president. This was not done in front of the cameras but in the presence of seasoned diplomatic professionals who understood the dangers to our national security.
Appearing to have escaped interference for a first term, as Nixon had also escaped, Trump was caught doing the same for a second term. The whistleblower’s complaint resulted in the botched robbery of Watergate. Both events shed light on events believed to occur in secret. Investigations then brought conscience-stricken individuals into cameras exposing presidential deviousness to the world.
Lesson two: predictable or unpredictable outcome. Media commentators and political scientists behave more like football announcers when they focus on the political game to predict the outcome of this impeachment process. The outcome of Bill Clinton’s impeachment became clear when Senate Democrats stood behind him, agreeing with most Americans that he had done wrong but should not have been impeached. The outcome for Nixon, however, was not predictable. He was not charged or tried because support collapsed to the point that he resigned rather than endure the process. Therefore, if Trump’s impeachment fails, it will predictably happen as Senate Republicans follow Mitch McConnell and hold the line. If the impeachment is successful, she will most likely take a course not planned at the moment and demonstrate Nancy Pelosi’s skill at negotiating impossible situations.
This impeachment process depends on the contest between Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. This may be the last battle in the war between them since the Affordable Care Act (ACA). McConnell held the Republican line in the Senate when the ACA passed with a 60-vote Democratic majority. Shortly after, the Democrats lost one of those seats and it appeared certain that the House would never accept the Senate version. That’s when Pelosi did the impossible, coming closer when it counts – even when it meant losing a majority in the House. McConnell then used the ACA to defeat the Democrats in four consecutive congressional elections. But eliminating the ACA only became possible after the 2016 victory with Trump’s victory. It was then that public opinion turned as it became clear that there was no Republican alternative to the benefits that millions would lose. Mitchell McConnell seems to have the upper hand if impeachment goes to trial in the Senate. No one doubts his intention to stand by the party rather than the country – he already committed to that choice in the 2016 election when he refused to support President Obama’s actions against Russian interference.
However, Nancy Pelosi manages to manage the process before it is sent to the Senate. She has an impressive record of victories when engaging in fights and should not be underestimated. She also demonstrated her commitment to the country more than the party. If his strategy leads to successfully bringing down Donald Trump, it will almost certainly follow a path that no one can predict at the start of the public hearings.
Lesson Three: Russia and China. Nixon meddled in two elections while we were at war in Vietnam. Our enemy was North Vietnam, but we knew they were a proxy for China and Russia. Nixon has also been extremely adept in reorienting national policies towards China and Russia in ways that clearly promote world peace and not undermine our international alliances.
Any true follower of Nixon republicanism must be shocked that the Nixon revenge team of Roger Ailes, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone used Russian aid to elect Donald Trump. Interference in Ukraine also helps Russia while showing other allies that we cannot be trusted.
Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan would turn in their graves (if such a thing were possible) at the prospect of a Republican president single-handedly towing a cow to Russia, attacking our European allies, undermining the trust of South Korea and the United States. Japan, and sending our farmers into recession by a trade war with China that has permanently undermined agricultural supply chains. These first-term achievements will be followed by more serious disasters if the current election interference results in a second presidential term for Trump.
Conclusion. Richard Nixon undermined peace efforts in Vietnam as part of his presidential bid in 1968. Lyndon Johnson withheld this act from the public for the sake of national security. Nixon meddled in the 1972 election, was arrested, and had to resign to escape impeachment. Three revenge-ready Nixon followers (Roger Ailes, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone) helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election with Russian backing. It was known that Trump’s opponent was under an FBI investigation, but news of a more serious Trump investigation has been kept under wraps. The FBI investigation resulted in the work of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller who was successfully hindered. Mueller’s results played by the rules in a way that seemed to reward obstruction. With the help of a compliant attorney general, it looked like Trump had escaped. Then came news of a whistleblower, like the startling news of the Watergate robbery. This led a series of professionals to speak the truth to Congress and sparked an impeachment inquiry.
Like Nixon, Trump was caught with a smoking gun in his hand. Both have committed murder for the first time. Will Trump escape for the second time?
The answer depends on the American people and Nancy Pelosi. The public is about to hear the truth. Are we going to recognize that and demand the removal of this president? If the impeachment is successful, it will happen thanks to the insight and integrity of Nancy Pelosi and her team. And the result will be something none of us can predict at the start of the public hearings.
References on Nixon’s election interference in 1968:
Peter Baker, “Nixon Tried to Spoil Johnson’s Vietnam Peace Talks in ’68, Notes Show”, The New York Times (January 2, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/02/us/politics / nixon-tried-to-spoil-johnsons-vietnam-peace-talks-in-68-notes-show.html.
John A. Farrell, “When a Candidate Conspired with a Foreign Power to Win an Election,” Politico Magazine (August 6, 2017), https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/06/ nixon -vietnam-candidate-conspired-with-a-foreign-power-win-election-215461.
Robert Johnson, “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968?” What the New LBJ Tapes Reveal, ”History News Network, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/60446.
Charles Wheeler, “The Lyndon Johnson Tapes: The ‘Betrayal’ of Richard Nixon,” BBC News Magazine (March 22, 2013), https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668.