President Trump's sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey
, just after a former fired Justice Dept official, Sally Yates, had been giving damning evidence to Congress, is an extraordinary event. But not unprecedented in style.
Trump has fired Comey while Comey is overseeing an investigation into Trump's links with Russia. Back in 1973, Republican president Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox while Cox was investigating Nixon's links to the Watergate break-in. Reports have not been slow to raise the links
, and Democrats on the Hill have quickly referred to the Comey firing as "Nixonian".
Nixon's actions led to his eventual impeachment. But enemies of Mr. Trump shouldn't be too keen to expect significant retaliatory action against him. Here's why.
1. Nixon's actions came after a slow-burning revelation of the internal paranoia of his presidency through initially unregarded reports in the Washington Post. By the time Cox was fired, the Nixon White House was already in a state of siege.
2. Nixon faced a Democrat controlled House and Senate ready to use their significant constitutional power to investigate him.
3. Trump faces a House and Senate controlled by virtually supine Republican leaders utterly in thrall to his presidency. Ryan, McConnell, Nunes, Grassley and others have all shown their willingness to roll over in front of Trump if it furthers their judicial or economic agenda.
4. Trump still retains a strong support from his voting core. This won't budge. He has already faced down public protest over a range of other unorthodox or unethical moves in his frist 100 days; this is simply one more.
5. The presidency was still regarded as having to work by understood ethical and political standards under Nixon. He breached those, and thus began his downfall.
6. There has never been an understanding that Trump will use the presidency in a dignified or ethical way. Media and political opposition have failed to shift this narrative, due to Trump's continuing hard-line support from his activists and an extraordinary abdication by Republicans of any thought that they will offer independent scrutiny of the president.
7. Popular pressure is all, but it has to be seen to be large and widespread. After Nixon's firing telegrams and messages poured into Congress and the White House from concerned citizens. It suggested a general shift in the public mood away from the president. Trump can remain secure in the knowledge that the base which put him into office still would so again. Millions of opponents in Calfifornia or New York will have no impact on him.
8. The Democrats have colluded in undermining Comey, notably Hillary Clinton herself. She has consistently blamed him for her own election defeat and been supported in this view by supporters such as Chuck Schumer. This makes any opposition they now express to Comey's firing extremely suspect. They should have kept quiet and understood the need to coalesce around an independnet minded Director who was, after all, appointed by a Democratic president.
No-one can tell how this latest abuse of presidential power will run. Trump is still at the beginning of his presidency, he enjoys support where it matters, and neither the media nor Democrats have yet found a way of seriously challenging him. They may still not have managed to do so in four years' time.