Donald Trump enters history: His obituary will say he was impeached

Donald Trump enters the history books – but not for the reason he wants: 45th president is only the THIRD to be impeached and the first ever Republican president to be put on trial

  • The first line of President Donald Trump’s obituary has been written like Bill Clinton’s and Andrew Johnson’s before him 
  •  ‘It’ll be impossible to look back at this presidency and not discuss impeachment,’ said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton presidential historian 
  • He is the third president ever to be impeached: Andrew Johnson, a Democrat was first, then Bill Clinton – meaning he is also the first Republican
  • Nixon, the Republican most associated with disgrace, quit before he was impeached 
  • Unlike Clinton and Nixon he is impeached at the same time as going for re-election; Nixon’s disgrace and Clinton’s trial were in their second terms 

The first line of President Donald Trump’s obituary has been written.

While Trump is all but certain to avoid removal from office, a portion of his legacy took shape Wednesday when he became just the third president in American history to be impeached by the U.S. House.

The two articles of impeachment approved along largely partisan lines on Wednesday stand as a constitutional rebuke that will stay with Trump even as he tries to trivialize their meaning and use them to power his reelection bid.

‘It’ll be impossible to look back at this presidency and not discuss impeachment. It is permanently tied to his record,’ said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. ‘Trump now always becomes part of the conversation about misusing presidential power. Ukraine will be his Watergate. Ukraine will be his Lewinsky.’

History books will add Trump to the section that features Bill Clinton, impeached 21 years ago for lying under oath about sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Andrew Johnson, impeached 151 years ago for defying Congress on Reconstruction. 

Richard Nixon, who avoided impeachment by resigning during the Watergate investigation, is there, too.

Trump himself is keenly aware of the impact that impeachment may have on his legacy.

Into history: Donald Trump is the first impeached Republican president, and only the third to wear what presidential historian Douglas Brinkley called the ‘medallion of shame’

First impeached president: Andrew Johnson came to power when Lincoln was assassinated and proved a bitterly unpopular figure. He stood in the way of Reconstruction and Republicans moved against him. He survived the Senate trial by just one vote

How they watched: The 1868 spectacle of Andrew Johnson was a public spectacle in an age when only eyewitnesses could watch it unfold in real time. 

Allies in recent months have described him as seething over the prospect, taking impeachment more as a personal attack and an attempt to delegitimize his presidency than a judgment on his conduct. 

Trump said Tuesday that he took ‘zero’ responsibility for his expected impeachment.

‘Few people in high position could have endured or passed this test,’ Trump wrote in a fiery six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of his impeachment. ‘You do not know, nor do you care, the great damage and hurt you have inflicted upon wonderful and loving members of my family.’

The letter, rife with exclamation points, random capitalizations and scores of grievances, portrayed the president as the victim of an unfair and politically motivated attack.

‘One hundred years from now, when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another President again,’ he wrote.

With Republicans in control of the Senate, Trump’s acquittal in a January trial there seems assured.

He has asserted that a public backlash to impeachment may help him politically by firing up loyal supporters and attracting more independents to his cause. He’s mused about taking a post-verdict victory lap, a veritable ‘Not Guilty Tour’ akin to the ‘Thank You Tour’ he conducted during the 2016 presidential transition.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham said impeachment will make Trump ‘the first insurgent incumbent president in American history.’ 

He compared the reflexive partisanship of this moment to the 19th-century tribalism that surrounded Johnson and Reconstruction, requiring a divided nation ‘to assess what’s being said instead of simply saluting the person saying it.’

Uniquely able to command attention, Trump has held sway over his adopted Republican Party, reshaping it in his image even while defying its orthodoxy. 

He has thrilled his base of supporters with his confrontational style and tough rhetoric, using his combative Twitter account to fight political rivals and dispute from the outset accusations of foreign electoral interference during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Close escape: Richard Nixon may be the most disgraced of presidents, but he was not actually impeached, choosing to quit as it become clear that the House would approve the articles against him. 

The human stain: Bill Clinton’s legacy is permanently etched with impeachment, say historians. He survived the Senate trial on charges which included lying to a grand jury

Lies which define a legacy: Bill Clinton’s denial of sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was at the center of his impeachment

While Trump escaped that episode with his grip on power unchanged, the Ukraine story stunned the White House with the speed that it overwhelmed Washington. Trump fell back on the same playbook — deny, delay, denounce — but could not avoid an impeachment inquiry at the hands of the Democratic-controlled House.

Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, on Wednesday rejected the notion that Trump believes his legacy will be tarnished by impeachment.

‘No, he doesn’t,’ Conway said. ‘He sees it as a stain on the legacy of people who have been so focused and hell-bent on removing him from office’ or on their own personal gain.

While Clinton apologized for his behavior and Nixon stepped aside, Trump has remained unbowed, sticking to his contention that he had a ‘perfect’ phone call with Ukraine’s president. 

Trump and many of his Republican defenders have rejected the testimony of a parade of government witnesses who testified about Trump’s efforts to push Kiev to investigate potential election rival Joe Biden.

At a rally in Michigan that began mere minutes after the House began its historic vote, Trump tried to publicly downplay the stain on his record.

‘It’s impeachment lite. With Richard Nixon, I could see it as a very dark era,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m having a good time. But I also know we have a great group of people behind us in the Republican Party.’

The president’s approval rating has largely remained unchanged during the impeachment inquiry, his pugnacious personality and populism helping cement his hold with supporters.

Extraordinary polarization around impeachment is not new, but the fierce partisanship this time has been heightened by a unique aspect of this moment: Trump is standing for reelection, while Clinton and Nixon were halfway through their second terms when they faced the threat of impeachment.

The outcome of that election may alter how Trump’s impeachment is ultimately remembered.

‘Donald Trump is now going to be synonymous with impeachment. There is no way to market it like a badge of honor. It’s a medallion of shame,’ said Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian at Rice University.

‘But if he wins, the impeachment looks somewhat smaller. It means he defied it and remade the modern Republican Party in his own image and kept them loyal.’


In 1,414 words, the articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives Wednesday lay out two charges against President Donald Trump.

Article I: Abuse of Power

Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.

Accused: Donald Trump has two articles of impeachment against him

He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.

President Trump also sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.

President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit. In so doing, President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.’

Article II: Obstruction of Congress

As part of this impeachment inquiry, the Committees undertaking the investigation served subpoenas seeking documents and testimony deemed vital to the inquiry from various Executive Branch agencies and offices, and current and former officials.

In response, without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. President Trump thus interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.


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