History of impeachment, what previous proceedings show about political implications

Published: Nov. 13, 2019 at 5:46 PM CST
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As the first day of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump conclude Wednesday, history can help to show the implications the parties and the president are keeping in mind as the process unfolds.

There have been three prior impeachment inquiries, beginning with President Andrew Johnson in 1868, then with President Richard Nixon in 1973, and President Bill Clinton in 1998. There are a lot of similarities and differences between, the now four inquiries some of which can indicate what consequences and strategies democrats, republicans, and the president will keep in mind.

"The Nixon Administration really tried to withhold information, that was their strategy." John Blakeman, UW-Stevens Point professor and chair of the political science department said. "They weren't going to cooperate until ultimately the Supreme Court stepped in and said, 'you have to turn over the Oval Office tapes and other information to the special prosecutor."

"Clinton's strategy was to try to flip the narrative," he added. "You know, Clinton effectively admitted, 'yeah, he's not the most morally upstanding person, but the people impeaching him aren't either,' and I think Trump's strategy will try to flip the narrative too in a certain way in that, you know you're seeing republicans gravitate to the argument that, 'well, yeah what the president did was wrong, but it's not impeachable and the democrats who are trying to impeach him are simply trying to replay the 2016 election."

Blakeman noted that Trump's is the first impeachment hearing that has taken place during a re-election campaign. History shows that how this impeachment process is handled will affect the president's approval rating.

"In Nixon's case, you know, the Watergate hearings start and Nixon's approval rating is over 60% and he has just won re-election," Blakeman explained. "By the time the Watergate hearings wind down during the summer of '73, Nixon's approval rating has effectively cut in half."

"Bill Clinton's approval ratings going into the House impeachment proceedings against him were hovering somewhere in the upper 40s and by the time the Senate has decided not to remove him from office, the public has become a little more sympathetic to Clinton," he said. "And his approval rating starts to go up."

"President Trump comes into these impeachment hearings with really low approval ratings already and I think it's unlikely that his approval ratings will go up. I would suspect that they will, sort of, remain the same," he said.

However, democrats who have the House majority like the republicans did with Clinton, also have to be mindful. If public perception becomes 'the democrats are just trying to get Trump out of office for political gain,' they may have other consequences, especially if he is not impeached.

"History sort of comes into play because the republicans who led the impeachment against Bill Clinton, many of them were voted out of office at the next election," Blakeman said.

Currently, public opinion is split about whether people are in favor of impeachment, much like it was during the Clinton impeachment process.

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