Nixon was chased from office in the 1970s after what his supporters deemed a “third rate burlgary” evolved into discovery of presidential tape recordings during the Democratic Impeachment hearings. They tapes lifted the curtain on a president who sounded like more like a foul-mouthed organized crime don than a man elected twice to the nation’s highest office. The final nail in the president’s Watergate coffin was hammered by Rhode Islander Jack White, then a Providence Journal reporter who discovered that the president was a common tax cheat. Nixon resigned after top Senate Republicans, including conservative Barry Goldwater, the GOP 1964 presidential candidate, trekked to the White House and told Nixon that support had crumbled within his own party.

In the 1990s, Republicans went after Clinton. His crime did not involve putting national security at risk. It was lying about an extramarital affair with a young intern. Clinton’s lies were widely seen as an abuse of power and an attempt to save his marriage. He was impeached by the House, but the Senate declined to convict him. Some Republican senators, including Rhode Island’s John Chafee, voted against Clinton’s conviction. In an era of economic growth, Clinton’s job approval ratings stayed high and Republicans lost House seats in the 1998 midterms.

The Trump impeachment unfolds in a far different environment. Nixon and Clinton were both in their second-terms and could never run again for the White House. Trump is the first modern president to be impeached in his first term. Indeed he is running for reelection at the same time evidence against him unspools in televised House hearings.

So voters of all stripes have no precedents or roadmaps to follow this time. The other seismic difference is the vortex of social media and Trump’s embrace of the Twitterverse, which allows the president to tweet and slam witnesses in real time. And gives his opponents a shot at influencing voters during every news cycle, which lasts about 12 seconds now. Another contrast is the extreme Red-Blue division in the nation, arguably as stark as anytime in the history of the Republic, except perhaps at the time before the Civil War.

In the early going, this partisan, digital impeachment climate clashed mightily with an earlier era in Washington, a time of respect for the foreign policy establishment and a Cold War consensus devoted to containing the old Soviet Union that harkens to the days of George Kennan.

Old Washington was on display on the first day of the impeachment. The proceeding that pitted serious, self-effacing diplomats and sober State Department hands against Trump House supporters who did little to answer the specific charges that the president corrupted foreign policy to dig up dirt on former Vice-President Joe Biden’s family.

So far, Trump’s Republican strategy has been to lambaste the hearings as something between a hoax and a witch-hunt. California Representative Devin Nunes described the impeachment as a conspiracy fomented by deep state bureaucrats, Democrats and a corrupt, anti-Trump media. On Fox Business News, one talking head said the Democrats were in thrall to George Soros.

At this point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have the votes to send impeachment to the Senate for a trial. But there is no indication that the Republican-controlled Senate would convict Trump, absent some new revelations.

So if the proceedings roll along as predicted, Trump gets impeached but gets off in the Senate. That sends the entire matter back to the bedrock of democracy, the voters. We’ll find out during the campaign if voters consider Trump a cancer on the Consitution’s checks and balances or whether they view Impeachment as more inside-the-Beltway histrionics.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and at 5:44 in the afternoon. You can also follow his analysis at our web site at Thepublicsradio.org