Richard Nixon is one of the most infamous names in U.S. history. Since the inception of the country, few scandals have ever reached the heights of Watergate. Though never impeached, he only avoided this fate by resigning.
This year, Donald Trump seems to be on his way to reaching Nixon’s level of notoriety. Plagued with accusations since day one in office, he appears to be on a slow train toward being thrown out of office and maybe even going to jail. In many ways, he’s on a track parallel to the one Nixon followed.
The similarities begin with the presidents’ enemies. The illegal activity (or alleged illegal activity, as it is in Trump’s case) revolves around the opposition party. Nixon hired people to disrupt opposition candidates for president, spread false information under the guise of these candidates, investigated challengers and seized confidential campaign files. Trump, on the other hand, is suspected to be involved in a Russian-led plot to hack the Democratic National Committee and leak essential campaign information.
In both cases, the activities were eventually investigated. Heavy media pressure soon followed, especially in Trump’s case with the 24-hour news cycle and social media. In both instances, the White House press secretaries came under intense scrutiny. Ronald Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary, constantly fought to cope with the Watergate scandal. The White House changed its explanation over and over, and Ziegler had no choice but to try and roll with the punches, changing explanations as he went. In the Trump administration, Sean Spicer had a similar experience. Before his firing, he gave countless different explanations for Trump’s scandals. The two even each coined new terms — Ziegler called previous statements “inoperative” while Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said Spicer was simply using “alternative facts,” to label prior mistakes in response to the allegations.
The next step after media pressure came in the form of an actual investigation by the government. In both cases, the presidents fired those investigating them. Attorney General Elliot Richardson had appointed a special prosecutor in May of 1973 to investigate the Watergate scandal. Nixon ordered the special prosecutor’s firing in October of the same year, and fired the top two officials in the Justice department after their refusal to follow his orders. In Trump’s case, his administration was under serious inspection by the FBI for its involvement with Russian actors. In response, he fired the head of the department, James Comey. This immediately drew widespread criticism and comparison to Nixon, and was viewed by many as an open confession of crime. Although Trump didn’t at this time have a special prosecutor looking into his wrongdoings, now he does, as Robert Mueller has been appointed to investigate him.
Altogether, Trump’s path looks very similar to that of Nixon’s. Although Republicans — unlike in the 1970s — control the House right now, at a certain point it appears that they will have to acknowledge his illegal activity. Though as of yet his job is secure, Mueller’s investigation could prove to be the impetus for his removal. All we can do now is wait and see.