Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose - 2020-11-01
The President was despondent. Sensing that time was running out, he had asked his aides to draw up a list of his political options. He wasn't especially religious, but, as daylight faded outside the rapidly emptying White House, he fell to his knees and prayed out loud, sobbing as he smashed his fist into the carpet. "What have I done?" he said. "What has happened?" When the President noted that the military could make it easy for him by leaving a pistol in a desk drawer, the chief of staff called the President's doctors and ordered that all sleeping pills and tranquillizers be taken away from him, to insure that he wouldn't have the means to kill himself.
The downfall of Richard Nixon, in the summer of 1974, was, as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relate in "The Final Days," one of the most dramatic in American history. That August, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon—who had been cornered by self-incriminating White House tape recordings, and faced impeachment and removal from office—to resign. Twenty-nine individuals closely tied to his Administration were subsequently indicted, and several of his top aides and advisers, including his Attorney General, John Mitchell, went to prison. Nixon himself, however, escaped prosecution because his successor, Gerald Ford, granted him a pardon, in September, 1974.
No American President has ever been charged with a criminal offense. But, as Donald Trump fights to hold on to the White House, he and those around him surely know that if he loses—an outcome that nobody should count on—the presumption of immunity that attends the Presidency will vanish. Given that more than a dozen investigations and civil suits involving Trump are currently under way, he could be looking at an endgame even more perilous than the one confronted by Nixon. The Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said of Trump, "If he loses, you have a situation that's not dissimilar to that of Nixon when he resigned. Nixon spoke of the cell door clanging shut." Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits. Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if he loses to Joe Biden. Even if Trump wins, grave legal and financial threats will loom over his second term.