Former President Richard Nixon saw the writing on the walls as they closed in around him. He ultimately decided to bail on the presidency instead of dragging down his administration. While Nixon might have possessed the humility and self-preservation to cut a deal for a pardon, President Donald Trump's pride could be his greatest barrier.
In a comparison of the two men, Newsweek columnist Jeff Stein described a Washington blanketed with fridged cold as hushed holiday cocktail conversations meandered toward speculation on whether the president will go down. Stein questioned whether Trump would leave the White House if "prompted" to or whether he'd only be removed through indictment or impeachment.
“The people would revolt” if he were impeached, the president proclaimed in the Oval Office. He's speculated whether he could change laws to give himself a lifetime term similar to Chinese President Xi Jinping, though the White House swore he was "joking." Would white-supremacists and MAGA-hat-wearing coal miners flock to the U.S. Capitol to threaten an anti-government uprising on protest signs? Would armed militias be called to a Timothy McVeigh-style attack on federal buildings in an anti-government mutiny?
“There is potential for a lot of street violence,” retired three-star Army General Mark Hertling told Stein.
In her new book, former New York Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman described her experience on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon and how it compares to the Trump investigations. She prophesied the same dire warning as Hertling.
“Many tremble at the idea, fearing how Trump’s supporters will react to an impeachment inquiry, worrying that it will further polarize an already deeply divided nation or that there will not be enough votes in the Senate to convict him, even if the House votes to impeach,” she wrote.
Nixon had the same fantasy of his people rising up to rescue him against the evils of Congress. It never happened, however. Trump's following is growing increasingly cultish while splitting the country into his ardent followers and everyone else.
“Mr. Trump, with no government experience, and little knowledge of how the federal government works, has been a free if malevolent spirit, less likely than even Nixon to observe boundaries,” Watergate chronicler Elizabeth Drew wrote in her 1975 book.
Holtzman, by contrast, thinks Trump will leave when it appears impeachment is inevitable.
“He’s a lot of bravado, but in the end he’s a coward and a wimp," she said.
Trump has spent his two years in office and the year on the campaign trail working to bring down government institutions he deemed part of the "Deep State." Nixon's final days put the system to the test, but Stein noted the American government "is in for a whole lot of shaking before Trump exits."
The president's scandals stemmed from Russian President Vladimir Putin's effort to destabilize the United States. It begs the question if Trump's final days will give him the success he sought, with the president as an eager accomplice.
Holtzman has faith in the strength and stability of the U.S., saying she believes it will work and withstand whatever Trump and his cadre of ambulance chasers manage to do to it.
"If the evidence is so strong that we have the votes, then he better listen to that," she said.
“The big question,” said Drew, “is whether there will turn out to be a major difference between the two men when it comes to honoring the decisions of the law, or of the public.”