Compared to Richard Nixon, President Trump arrives at his impeachment trial with everything to gain.
Part of the longevity of the Constitution adopted by the United States in 1787 is linked to how concise it is. With respect to impeachment, the rules of the constitutional game established by this seasoned democracy are limited to specifying where to hold the political trials of presidents, vice presidents and other civilian officials who have bullied their way through privileged positions in government and in the federal judiciary. With regard to how and when to conduct an impeachment trial, the Constitution does not say much more than that.
This imprecision has been further complicated by a procedural battle waged between enough Republicans loyal to Trump and the Democratic majority controlling the House of Representatives. Finally, after almost a month-long impasse, the process has been reinvigorated. The House delivered formal charges against the president – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – to the Senate. It was a short distance inside the majestic Capitol building, but it was huge politically.
This change of setting suggests that the impeachment trial will commence next week, although there is no early sign that there will be a two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to convict and remove the president. Despite vigorous comparisons, Donald Trump’s predicament is nothing at all like the one that Nixon faced, where given the prospect of a guilty verdict, he chose to resign. In 1974, the Nixonian drama was put to rest by a dire economic climate, the collapse of Republican loyalty to their president, and a monolithic kind of media.
In contrast, Trump arrives at his impeachment trial with everything to gain. Starting next week, Washington will offer a political spectacle that will be 100% political and only slightly judicial. Senators are serving as judge and jury, there are no strict evidentiary standards, there is no criminal punishment and no appeal. It is rather a more or less controlled constitutional crisis in a deeply fractured country, and it will be resolved with the help of social media and many electoral calculations.