Remember Impeachment 1998? 2019 Is Strikingly Similar.

The effort by House Democrats to impeach President Trump has moved to a new phase, with the Senate likely to begin a trial in the next few weeks. While the exact process that will occur in the Senate still needs to be determined, the actions of the House should not come as a shock for those who remember previous impeachment campaigns, particularly those of 1998.

While impeachment remains rare in the broad arc of American history, efforts to remove Donald Trump occurred within 20 years of proceedings against Bill Clinton. The relatively close proximity of time and comparable sociopolitical eras in which they occurred have produced remarkable similarities. Our latest analysis examines the positions, arguments, and tactics of both political parties to find that, with roles reversed, 1998 and 2019 are interesting mirror images of one another.

Among our key findings:

  • Same Arguments, Different Parties: Republicans today are making many of the same arguments that Democrats made in 1998 and vice versa. In some instances, current members of Congress who were serving in 1998 are making arguments that contradict their previous positions entirely.
  • Activists and Donors Drove the Drive to Impeach: In both 1998 and 2019, establishment political leaders were hesitant to move forward with impeachment but eventually succumbed to pressure by the activist bases of their parties.
  •  Vulnerable Members Provided the Green Light: In both 1998 and 2019, signals from politically vulnerable members proved the final factors in launching impeachment proceedings.

Our analysis also identifies some stark differences in the processes, including different standards of deference provided to the accused and the length of time it took the House to complete its action, among others.

The consistencies and differences between 1998 and 2019 both serve to highlight the fact that despite proclamations of moral necessity, impeachment remains largely a political process with both parties operating in a highly charged partisan environment and behaving accordingly –

much as they do with any other contentious piece of legislation. That is not to say that impeachment proceedings should be taken lightly. Nevertheless, bearing these facts in mind may provide readers some perspective as they watch endless news coverage of voices proclaiming that this impeachment proceeding is the one upon which the future of our republic hinges.

If you’d like to read more, click here to access the full report.

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