A Monmouth University poll released Monday found that more people support impeaching Trump now than supported Nixon’s impeachment just as the Watergate scandal began to unfold in the summer of 1973. At present, 41 percent of the public believes Trump should be impeached, while 53 percent disagree. After the existence of the Nixon’s White House tapes was revealed in July 1973, only 26 percent of the country believed he should be removed from office.
This comes at a time when Trump’s approval ratings are at an all-time low, just 6 months after taking office. A Washington Post/ABC poll released Sunday put Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent, down 6 points from April. A Bloomberg poll from Monday, meanwhile, puts him at 40 percent. These results also mirror Nixon’s own ratings at the same point in his presidency — 39 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval.
1973 was a critical year for Watergate. It is the year Senate hearings were televised, a special prosecutor was appointed (and later fired in the “Saturday Night Massacre” which additionally led to resignations of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General), and Nixon declared that he was “not a crook.” All the while, his approval ratings did not reach the level of Trump’s current ratings until after the “Watergate Seven” were indicted, 4 months before Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
Trump has one advantage that Nixon did not: a shield of Republican lawmakers in Congress. Nixon had to contend with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate. This is critical since impeachment proceedings are entirely political.
What hurts Trump, however, is what was also damaging to Nixon: a looming midterm election. Republicans, in an effort to distance themselves from a potentially poisonous president and save their congressional seats, turned against Nixon. As the 2018 election approaches, the pressure Republican lawmakers may face from their constituents could change their calculus.
Articles of impeachment have already been filed by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) on the basis that Trump obstructed justice when he fired former F.B.I Director James Comey during an ongoing investigation into his campaign’s collusion with Russia. Rep. Green and Rep. Sherman have acknowledged it will be an uphill battle, but hope their actions will inspire some of their other colleagues in Congress to take a more aggressive posture.