Thursday, 9 Apr 2020

Opinion | Happy New Year

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It’s been a while since the United States has faced a year like the one that I expect 2019 to be.

This year appears as if it will be dominated by presidential scandals — and the question of whether President Trump can survive those scandals. If he does, 2019 could feel a lot like 1998, when President Bill Clinton did indeed survive. If the danger continues to mount for Trump, 2019 could instead end up resembling 1973 or 1974. The presidency of Richard Nixon, of course, did not survive 1974.

Tellingly, some senior Republicans now share these expectations for 2019. The Washington Post recently quoted Steve Bannon predicting that this year would be one of “siege warfare” for Trump. The story ran under this headline: “Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils.”

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

To prepare for the coming political battles, I recommend some history — of the battles over the Clinton and Nixon presidencies. Three recent hit podcasts have covered this history, and I enjoyed all of them.

Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man” focuses on Spiro Agnew’s resignation in the midst of Watergate. As she notes, many Americans now have very little knowledge of the Agnew story, and it’s pretty incredible. The other two podcast come from Slate’s Leon Neyfakh. The first season of his podcast “Slow Burn” covered Watergate, and the second season retold the story of Clinton’s many sex scandals, culminating in his impeachment.

All three convey a sense of history-making drama, and I suspect we are about to enter another such period.

If you want to read a few recent pieces that put the Trump scandals into perspective, I linked to several in a recent newsletter.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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