Comey isn’t the reason Trump is the GOP’s Nixon Nightmare
The comparison between the Comey-Russia investigation and possible wrongdoing by Trump and Watergate wrongdoing by Nixon is badly overblown. There was smoking-gun proof in Nixon’s recorded White House conversation tapes that he aided, abetted, covered up and obstructed justice in the Watergate break-in and assorted other illegal acts. This easily topped the high bar necessary to bring impeachment counts against Nixon. The GOP Senate leadership in that day saw this, and gently pushed Nixon toward a resignation. They did it for the plain reason that a severely damaged Nixon was wreaking havoc with the GOP’s image and agenda.
Barring any tapes or memos that show Trump actually told former FBI director James Comey to back off from probes of his Russia ties and election meddling and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s involvement with this, there’s no smoking gun proof to nail Trump. But Trump and the GOP leadership is still on the Nixon hook. The Trump taint, as with Nixon, wreaks havoc on the GOP’s image and especially its hell-bent legislative drive to wipe off the map every vestige of the eight years of the Obama administration accomplishments.
The day after Trump’s White House win and the GOP’s capture of the Senate, it was a near certainty that the Affordable Care Act was finished, a big tax cut scheme for corporations and the obscenely wealthy was a done deal and the Dodd-Frank financial rules would be a thing of the past. But long before Comey took the spotlight about Russia and Flynn, the GOP’s legislative victory lap was in trouble.
Trump’s disastrous Muslim ban roused the furor of nearly everyone who had access to a microphone and reporter’s notepad. Some GOP leaders publicly denounced and distanced themselves from it and him. Many others privately held their heads in between groans. This was more than a public relations nightmare for the GOP. It was the first real warning sign that Trump’s antics could be a crippling distraction for the GOP when it came to doing business with him. This entailed keeping GOP Senate members in line on the crucial legislative issues, and winning support from some red state Democrats for at least parts of the GOP agenda. It didn’t take long for that nightmare to become reality when Democrats were near unanimous in opposing Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, pounded his cabinet nominees in confirmation hearings, and forced the GOP-controlled Senate to slow to a crawl on work to repeal the ACA. GOP leaders have had to watch night after night news reports of some new Trump bumble, stumble and embarrassment, and then they have to duck and dodge reporters who follow them everywhere screaming questions about Trump, not the work of the Senate, but Trump.
Then there’s the problem of Trump’s never-high poll numbers that have plunged to historic lows for the first few months of an incoming president’s term. This alone wouldn’t mean much to Trump and the GOP. But what does mean something is the methodical march downward of his poll popularity among the group that put him over the top; namely, non-college degree, blue collar and rural white males. It’s not a big drop yet, and many still are keeping the faith with him, no matter what. However, the point is the number of them who view him favorably aren’t growing and maybe won’t.
This would be a disaster for the GOP in the 2018 mid-terms. GOP leaders not only worry out loud about not being able to get much done in Congress, but maybe even losing Congress in 2018. There are a couple of dozen or more congressional districts that are deemed in play for the Democrats. Tens of thousands in the swing districts bought Trump’s fight for the forgotten working class and middle-class guy, his clean the Beltway swamp pitch, and loathing of Obama. They stampeded to the polls in 2016 to back him. There’s no Obama in 2018. The swamp is just as polluted, and all those jobs supposedly flooding back from overseas to the Rust Belt are nowhere in sight. That, and a badly tainted Trump, doesn’t exactly make for a lot of happy campers ready to dash to the polls to back GOP candidates and incumbents battling for their political lives in those contested districts.
The Comey tit-for-tat is not even close to the massive government near meltdown of Watergate. And Trump may not have blatantly broken the law as Nixon did. However, the lesson from Watergate is that a damaged-goods President is the ultimate liability for his party, especially a party that made a lot of promises and raised a lot of expectations that it would deliver on promises of totally wiping clean the Obama years initiatives. This is the real GOP Trump nightmare.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.