Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clinton both started out with far more popular support than Mr. Trump has ever had. At his peak during Watergate, Mr. Nixon had an approval rating of 67 percent in Gallup polling before tumbling to 24 percent before he resigned. Mr. Clinton’s approval was around 66 percent through much of fall 1998 and surged to 73 percent in the days after his impeachment.
Mr. Trump, by comparison, remains stuck at 42 percent in the latest Gallup survey, and unlike Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clinton, is in his first term and facing an election. Both Mr. Trump’s supporters and some Democrats think an impeachment would backfire against Democrats and energize his core supporters to vote in droves next year, assuming a Senate acquittal, as in Mr. Clinton’s case.
And as Mr. Trump considers how to fend off the attacks, he faces a radically different environment than either Mr. Nixon or Mr. Clinton did. As dark and polarized as it felt in the 1970s and 1990s, the omnipresence of cable news and social media, like Twitter, makes this a much more highly charged political arena.
Mr. Trump will still have opportunities to show that he is pushing ahead with his agenda, whether with Congress or not. He leaves on Friday for Japan, the first of four overseas journeys he will make before the end of summer, and he has leeway to operate in foreign affairs regardless of lawmakers, most notably in his trade war with China.
But that will not keep him out of the fray on Capitol Hill, no matter what the script says. Staying “presidential,” as Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clinton sought to do, might not work as well as it once did. And in reality, being “presidential” has never been Mr. Trump’s approach to the job.
“The president’s style is hands-on, and I doubt he would delegate this impeachment fight to aides and lawyers,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a friend of the president’s. “This is a man who in 2016 eschewed pollsters, campaigns staffs and advisers, running the campaign basically himself. He won, so that’s his playbook.”