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Measuring current White House turmoil against Watergate

May 18, 2017

The troubles surrounding President Donald Trump are leading to some heated rhetoric, including Sen. John McCain saying the Russia probe is becoming “Watergate size,” and Rep. Al Green calling for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor.

Jeremy Mayer, an associate professor in George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and a presidential scholar, said that while Trump is being accused of wrongdoing equal to or greater than that of Richard Nixon, we are not yet at a Watergate-level crisis.

“But only because the Republicans are in the majority in both houses of Congress,” he said. “There was not a whiff of foreign involvement in Watergate. Here, we have one of America’s principal geostrategic adversaries involved in a potential plot to intervene in an American presidential election, allegedly working with a presidential campaign.”

Regarding the firing of FBI director James Comey, Mayer added: “Nixon never fired an FBI director, an almost unprecedented act.”

Mayer noted how Nixon’s fall led to devastating losses for Republicans in the 1974 midterm elections. He said Republicans likely would suffer the same fate if Trump were removed before the 2018 midterms.

“Until Republicans in Congress believe that sticking with Trump is worse than that electoral disaster, most of them are likely to put their own political futures ahead of any theoretical concept of national good,” Mayer said.

Added James Pfiffner, University Professor of Public Policy in the Schar School: “So far, Republican members of Congress have distanced themselves from Trump, but they still want him to sign bills into law that congressional Republicans want to become law. The big risk is if there is a national emergency, a terrorist attack or war, that will intimidate Congress and keep them from trying to thwart his actions.”

Jeremy Mayer can be reached at 703-993-8223 or jmayer4@gmu.edu.

James Pfiffner can be reached at 703-993-1417 or pfiffner@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.