In 2019 there is a reasonable possibility that Donald Trump will be impeached. There is likely to be evidence that he, at the very least, had knowledge that members of his campaign team (including relatives and in-laws) were meeting with Russian actors. That Trump did not immediately purge his campaign should provide a legal argument that he colluded with Russian operatives. Also, Democrats are likely to control at least one of the houses of Congress. Futthermore, in the probable event of damning evidence, moderate Republicans will likely be forced to act under public pressure and advocate impeachment proceedings.
Nonetheless, impeachment is no ‘gimme.’ Not one US president has been directly impeached successfully. And the fallout from one president, Richard Nixon, forced out indirectly by impeachment procedures, may make uncomfortable reading for those who oppose the ‘America First’ agenda.
About a decade and a half after Nixon’s resignation, two figures from that administration would herald a new dawn in American politics, one that is now bearing fruit (if it is a bitter harvest). These men were Pat Buchanan and Roger Ailes, Nixon’s senior adviser and his so-called ‘Executive Producer for TV,’ respectively.
Ailes’ contribution as the architect of Fox News is an obvious milestone in American public life. Fox has come to not only shape American conservatism, but also bring right-wing politics mainstream. Ailes plotted Fox News in the deep recesses of the Nixon administration as he correctly determined that the Republican party would fail without an energetic media platform (American TV in the 1970s was absolutely in the hands of liberal interests or functioned in a way conducive to those interests).
Buchanan, on the other hand, was a less successful architect in his own cause but he would design a political platform which would be significant in shaping American politics. Buchanan responded to both rising immigration from non-European countries and the emergence of a ‘new world order’ by which America effectively integrated with the rest of the world (downplaying its particularism and exceptionalism) by going rogue. At the turn of the last century he argued that America should only agree to deals confirming American superiority, he called for a Southern border wall and an end to mass migration, he advocated economic nationalism, a withdrawal of the US from the Middle East, and accused the media of waging a culture war. He enjoyed moderate success in Republican circles but failed to convert his radical politics into nationwide electoral success. Many at the time criticized him for being too out-there, including one Donald Trump.
By 2015, Trump took the rejected stone he (and most of America) once scorned and built his entire campaign in Buchanan’s nationalist image. By this time, Roger Ailes had helped transform the political landscape. It was ok to be against immigrants, you could argue for police brutality, you could reject civil discourse, and trumpet America’s superiority chauvanistically.
The moral of the story is that two of Nixon’s allies were able to build a powerful political movement on the ashes of an impeached and disgraced presidency. If what seems inevitable does happen, and Trump is forced to resign – say around 2022 – that will not be the end of the matter. There are the Bannons, the Millers, the Sanders, the Conways, and maybe even figures outside the limelight, who will carry the ‘America First’ torch forward. They have insider knowledge, they know the cracks in the system, the tactical advantages, and the areas of expansion. They have connections, are recognized opinion leaders, and have value as political operatives. So, the impeachment of Trump might just kick the can of American triumphalism down the road. The ghost of an impeached president may rise up again.