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Trump Beware: Support for Impeaching Nixon Was Below 50 Percent Until the Week He Resigned

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s press conference turns up the pressure on Democrats to impeach or get off the pot, it’s worth noting that public opinion on removing Trump from office isn’t the security blanket it seems to be. Support for removing Richard Nixon from office never reached 50 percent until the week he resigned.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mueller delivered remarks that many are taking as a clear indication that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Although the remarks essentially hewed closely to the contents of the Mueller report — as Trump and his supporters have pointed out — the fact that Mueller chose to reiterate certain of his findings is compelling.

Of particular interest was Mueller’s declaration that “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” as well as his reiteration of the fact that he views indicting a sitting president as against Department of Justice policy, so “charging the president with a crime was therefore an option we could not consider.”

At the same time, many Democratic voters and mainstream media pundits remain convinced that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other elected Democrats are afraid to impeach because they fear the political consequences. An oft-cited reason for this reticence is the low public support for impeachment.

But there is little reason for Democrats to fear public opinion at this stage. In the run-up to Nixon’s resignation on August 8, 1974, according to Gallup polls at the time, support for impeaching and removing him from office never got above 50% until the week he resigned, and even dipped a bit from May to June of that year.

In fact, it was only days after the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach that support for removing Nixon soared to 57%. Another poll that week, from Harris, showed 66 percent favoring impeachment. Support for impeachment was only at 19% when the Senate began the Watergate hearings.

During that time, though, Congress conducted investigations, held televised hearings, and presented evidence to the American people, and support for impeachment steadily grew. And to those fretting about Pelosi’s alleged reticence about impeachment, this is the exact plan that she has explicitly been laying out for months.

Polling on impeachment this time around is being used by some as an excuse to hold off impeachment, and by Trumpworld as a shield, but the numbers aren’t that different today than they were in the Nixon era. An April poll showed 37% of Americans favoring impeachment, versus 56% opposed.

Another poll released in May was touted as showing 65% opposition to impeachment, but the actual question that was asked provides an unsubtle hint as to the problem with following polls instead of the U.S. Constitution.

“Do you think the Democrats in Congress should initiate impeachment proceedings against President Trump if the special counsel’s investigation does not implicate him personally in any wrongdoing?” the question read, a mighty big “if” in this environment.

Trump and his defenders had a big head start on the truth when Attorney General William Barr released a summary of the Mueller report that has now been discredited, and had weeks to go around crowing about “total exoneration” before the actual Mueller report came out.

Aside from some intense grilling of Barr at a Senate hearing, Democrats have had little opportunity to present evidence to the American people that would counteract that early lead. And the fact that Democrats haven’t begun an impeachment inquiry may, in fact, be working against them. Americans who haven’t read the Mueller report may be thinking that if Trump were really impeachable, Democrats would be impeaching him.

There’s also little in the polling to indicate that opposition to impeachment is a voting issue for anyone but Republicans. Will Democrats lose even a single Democratic vote over impeaching Trump? And how many of the 60 or so percent of independents who don’t favor impeachment are going to switch their vote over it? And as the Nixon polling indicates, how much will the polling shift in Democrats’ favor as the process plays out?

Many of the people who argue against impeachment also cite the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate would almost certainly never vote to remove Trump, a process which would require 67 votes. Neither this nor the polling numbers should dissuade Democrats from doing what is right, a point that Elizabeth Warren made astutely when she observed “there’s no political-convenience exception to the US Constitution.”

But even that bit of wisdom is politically and substantively flawed.

Senate Republicans vowed, this week, to use their powers as the majority to quash any impeachment proceeding that comes out of the House. Those powers are considerable, and include the ability to set all of the rules for the trial, and to exclude evidence. However, Democrats would need only a simple majority to overrule those decisions, meaning they’d need to peel off just four Republicans to get their evidence in.

That’s a tall but not impossible order, which The Hill notes “would mean winning over moderates like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) or vulnerable senators in swing states, namely Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.).”

And the one thing that Senate Republicans cannot quash, no matter how much they might like to, is a vote on removing Trump. It is not completely impossible that by the time such a vote occurred, enough evidence will have come out and enough public opinion will have swung to put 67 votes within reach. Those are big “ifs,” to be sure.

But again, Elizabeth Warren said it best when she summed up both the moral and the political consequences of such a vote during her CNN town hall last month.

After describing the obstruction outlined in the Mueller report, Warren said “If there are people in the House or the Senate who want to say that’s what a president can do when the president is being investigated for his own wrongdoings or when a foreign government attacks our country, then they should have to take that vote and live with it for the rest of their lives.”

Conversely, if Democrats squander a moment in which Robert Mueller has all but engraved them an invitation to impeach, and a House Republican is stealing truckloads of headlines by making the moral and constitutional case for them, they will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.

Watch Warren’s comments above, via CNN.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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