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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jan/Feb 2019 > The Nixon playbook

The Nixon playbook

Forget Watergate. In the second half of Trump’s term, there are other lessons he could learn from the Nixon years. Like reaching out across the centre-ground to strike deals— and do something practical for forgotten America

In January when the new Congress convenes, the next phase—I almost wrote season—of the Trump Era will commence. The mood is expectant. The “blue wave” in the midterm elections swept in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and with this much will change. For the first time, President Trump will face organised opposition, and if recent history repeats itself, he could find his presidency all but paralysed.

The obvious precedent is also the most recent one: President Obama, who lost control of government in 2010, when the Tea Party captured the House and swept in a new cadre of ideological zealots. Yet Obama had something Trump conspicuously lacks: healthy personal approval ratings. Trump has yet to reach the threshold of 50 per cent and is currently in the low- 40s. Like Obama, he can still count on the Senate, after modest gains that were produced by the tilt of the electoral board this year which strongly favoured the Republicans. Even so the Democrats easily won the cumulative vote nationwide and came very close to winning Senate as well as House seats in solidly “red” states that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.

The question now facing House Democrats is whether they will devote the next two years to prosecuting Trump for a well-documented record of illegalities and misuses of office—the congeries of misdeeds the special counsel Robert Mueller has been looking into since May 2017. It is surely tempting: Trump’s anxieties could not be more obvious.

The morning after the midterms, he sacked Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General—”my attorney general,” as Trump liked to call him. Sessions’s crime had been to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election of 2016: pro forma rule-following, but to Trump a personal affront. It’s not just ego. Mueller’s sweepingly broad probe, modelled on criminal racketeering prosecutions, poses a genuine threat to Trump and at least one of his sons, who during the election—evidence shows—actively sought damaging information from a foreign source on Hillary Clinton. This likely violated US election law.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January/February double issue: A host of writers and personalities explain what they think will be the most important thing we need to learn in the new year. From Justin Welby arguing for new emphasis on learning to forgive and Lord Neuberger on the importance of a free judiciary to Hannah Fry on AI and Cathy Newman on what happens next for #MeToo—Prospect has it all. Elsewhere in the issue: Fintan O’Toole looks at Brexit from an Irish perspective, Wendell Steavenson dishes the dirt on what really happens to the waste you want to recycle, Frank Close questions why—half a century after our last visit—we’ve not been back to the Moon. Also, Michael Blastland argues that we’re ignoring the upsides of having an alcoholic drink and Clive James explores the life of Philip Larkin.