Watergate, the modern template for an impeachment-worthy scandal, has informed much of the coverage of the Russia scandal, from congressional inquiries to the special counsel’s investigation into President Trump and his campaign. Central questions — Did the president conspire to illegally influence the election? Did he obstruct justice? — have clear antecedents in Watergate. And Trump himself bears more than a slight resemblance to Richard Nixon at his most paranoid and intransigent.
But while Trump’s belligerent and at times bizarre behavior may mirror that of his predecessor, he is operating in a vastly different political context than Nixon was in the 1970s. Then, the Republican Party had an influential moderate faction willing to work with Democrats. Now it’s synonymous with the right-wing. Then, fact-finding produced public consensus and eventually pushed Republicans to do the right thing. Now it heightens the partisan divide.
For this and other reasons, the Watergate example doesn’t fit the circumstances of the moment. But Iran-contra, the major scandal of the Reagan administration, does. [Continue reading…]