With the constant tumult of the first six-plus months of the Trump administration, there’s been one consistent refrain from many commentators: comparing Donald Trump to the only president to ever resign in disgrace, Richard M. Nixon. As understandable as that may be, it’s intellectually dishonest and lazy, and it’s not really fair.

That is, it’s not really fair to Richard Nixon.

For one, Nixon had enormous experience when he first ran for the White House (unsuccessfully) in 1960. This was a man who’d been vice president, a United States senator and a congressman. He had a great deal of familiarity with politics and government. He knew how Congress worked, and how to pull the levers of the federal bureaucracy to achieve his goals. He had more experience in government than Barack Obama did, let alone Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, was quite possibly the least experienced major-party presidential nominee in American history. Before launching his campaign, he’d never once run for political office – not even school board or city council. He hadn’t ever worked for an elected official, or served in the military, or held any kind of public office.

He was, instead, used to the business world, and a privately held business at that. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a background in business as well as in government; that’s common for many presidents, especially Republicans. What’s less common – indeed, virtually unprecedented – is to have no governmental experience whatsoever before being elected president.

This is important, because it’s easy to forget now, but Nixon accomplished quite a bit as president before being swallowed up by Watergate. He had a successful first term, opening relations with China, signing bipartisan environmental legislation and landing men on the moon. He was able to do all this despite Democrats having control of Congress throughout his entire presidency, finding enough common ground to get things done. All of that led to his easily winning a second term in 1972, which means the Watergate break-in was not only an illegal abuse of power, but also completely unnecessary.

It’s necessary to remember Nixon’s accomplishments, because it places in proper context the scandal that proved his downfall. Nixon didn’t need Watergate to win – he was a skilled enough politician to manage that anyway. Instead, he had his aides commit the break-in and subsequent cover-up out of enormous hubris, in the belief that he and his associates were above suspicion. To be sure, hubris is something that Nixon and Trump seem to have in common, but in Nixon’s case it was fed by accomplishments in government, not in real estate and reality television.

Nixon’s extensive background in politics also meant that, when scandal did hit his administration, he had real support in Congress – at least at first. It was difficult for Republicans to betray him or ignore him, because he had decades of good will within the Republican establishment, both in Congress and nationally. Republicans across the country had been voting for Nixon for years, and he had long-established conservative bona fides.

Trump, though, only recently became a Republican; in the past he’d given money to candidates in both parties. That leaves him bereft of good will in Congress, where even members of his own party can’t trust him to make good on his promises.

That’s a big part of the reason that the push to repeal Obamacare failed: Members of Congress didn’t trust the process because they didn’t trust the administration. This was also evident in the recent overwhelming, bipartisan passage of tougher sanctions against Russia. Republicans who favored a tougher line against Russia did not fear angering the White House, as many of them got more votes in their state or district than the president did.

Trump’s lack of experience, accomplishments and longtime political allies is ultimately as likely to be his undoing as any scandal. Even if the investigation into Russian interference in the election doesn’t directly implicate Trump or unearth any impeachable offense, it may nonetheless do permanent damage to the relationship between Congress and the White House.

It’s easy to imagine Congress – even if it’s under Republican control – taking further steps to limit the president’s power, as they did with the Russia sanctions. They could make it impossible for him to fire the special counsel, for instance, or limit his control over the implementation of Obamacare. In the end, Trump might see not his term cut short, but his powers – and that could affect presidents for decades to come.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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