President Trump and his followers take a different path from Bill Clinton’s, who has fallen out of favor with Richard Nixon. He refuses to recognize any wrongdoing in Ukraine as a strategy to prevent sentencing and removal. A little bit of regret can do a lot.
Clinton became more popular after he pledged himself to Monica Lewinsky’s indiscretions. Once Clinton and his followers were ready to admit mistakes, the steam was largely taken from the sails of independent lawyer Kenneth Starr and the House of Representatives who were trying to remove the president. When this impeachment drama began in the late 90s, I remember speaking to a six-foot nun who was the headmistress of the school my children attended. She pulled me aside and said, “At least Clinton admitted it. Why don’t they leave him alone now so he can do his job? “I told Clinton about this story during an interview and said to him,” I knew that if you won the 6-foot nun to get away, you would never get enough votes. “He smiled and praised the nun for her common sense before acknowledging his own repentance. Clinton found it difficult to admit the blame. Nevertheless, he was able to complete his presidency with a productive, positive note.
Nixon’s approach was dramatically different. He saw himself as a political pugilist who was constantly fighting against enemies. He refused to turn the damn tapes of his oval office conversations to the end. Only after he ordered the release of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox at the infamous Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 and the pioneering US Supreme Court decision against Nixon to release the tapes did his presidency dissolve.
Even after Nixon resigned, he fought adversely to admit guilt. He even struggled with his own lawyer, Herbert “Jack” Miller, and initially refused the proposed pardon when President Gerald Ford’s lawyer Benton Becker informed him that a 1915 Supreme Court decision, Burdick v. The United States, accepted a pardon found a confession of guilt. Even after signing a contract, Nixon almost changed his mind about accepting the pardon just hours before Ford was supposed to announce it on national television because he didn’t want to apologize. To the bitter end, Nixon fought against admitting misconduct of any kind.
So far, Trump’s stubborn refusal to recognize inappropriate behavior has worked for him as much as it originally did for Nixon. In the end, however, it’s a dangerous move. The American public may love a pugilist and cheer him on. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for his supporters to defend him further, and more and more facts are being exposed to the public in a Senate trial.
One of the most moving moments in my interviews with Clinton was in 2005 when I asked him how he was looking at the scandals that had affected his presidency. Clinton looked out the window thoughtfully and said, “There were some really positive things. I mean, you know, if you live a busy life, you risk the fact that much of your life goes unchecked, both the good and the bad parts of it. And then we all have secrets and we have a right to it. But if you have been publicly humiliated like me, you really think you have nothing to hide. It doesn’t really matter what people ever say about you for the rest of your life. And it’s a kind of liberation. “
Clinton concluded that his temporary fall from grace was painful, but oddly therapeutic for him. He said: “I would give anything if I hadn’t done it and everything if it hadn’t happened – but there were some incredible touching moments. As well as the bigger fact that my family came through them and the public stayed with me is. “
Since the Republicans could not reach a simple majority in either impeachment process, Clinton prevailed in the Senate process. He did so in part because he, his White House lawyers, and his Senate defense lawyers stopped apologizing for these wrongful convictions and decided not to reject them. Repentance allowed Clinton to seek forgiveness and a way to salvation, which the American public always seems willing to generously grant.
Trump’s most effective way is not just to win impeachment, but to end this ordeal and create a strong position from which to govern to follow the Clinton model rather than the Nixon way.
It would be a wise, sensational, and admittedly completely atypical move for Trump to express remorse and urge the American public to stand up for the good of the nation. In particular, given the recent, damned information from Lev Parnas that Trump’s involvement in the Ukrainian affair, the president’s blanket rejection sounds hollow and doesn’t advance his cause. It is true that a man who buried himself in the publication of the “Access Hollywood” tapes and whose mentor, lawyer Roy Cohn, lived by the creed: “Always attack. Never apologize. “So a poignant, heartfelt apology would have a strong and effective effect. Trump should step into a microphone during the impeachment process in the rose garden and say,” I have had time with my family to think about these things in the past few weeks, and now I see I call the President Volodymyr Zelensky was not a perfect call. In fact, I admit that it was a bad idea and I can assure you that it will not happen again. “If he did, the approval rates would be from Trump would jump up and the impeachment process in the Senate would end – just as it did for Clinton – when popular support shifted sharply against conviction and distance.
Of course, it is easy to write these penitent words on paper and imagine a way out for this president. But only Trump can really speak it.
Ken Gormley is President of Duquesne University. He is the author of a Book on Watergate and “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr” about the Clinton investigation and impeachment.
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