Anyone who listened to the president speaking in the Rose Garden shortly after he was impeached would have to conclude that Bill Clinton has every intention of remaining in office until the end of his term.
I thought his words were shaped by a bit of bravado, too. We were hearing from so-called "insiders" that the president was putting on this brave front, at least in part, to nip in the bud any effort, from any quarter, to pressure him to resign.
I think the president means to hang on and on - and once again weather the storm. And maybe he will be able to cling to office, despite being stained by the disgrace of an impeachment that, for most mortals, would of itself be enough for them to leave the presidency.
This president is counting on the public opinion polls to keep him afloat - along with his hope that tarring the impeachment vote as an unprincipled partisan act will devalue and defang the punishment he has just received.
So, if his departure is ever going to happen, it's probably going to take a group of Democratic senators to go over to the White House and say, "Leave office now, Mr. President, and save the country from having to go through this trial." Then they would give him this jarring message: "There are at least 12 Democrats now who will vote to convict. You will be forced out of office." Now that's the kind of information that would quickly cause Clinton to revise to-the-bitter-end intentions and announce his resignation.
I am reminded how Barry Goldwater headed the small group of GOP leaders who persuaded President Nixon to resign. By that time, the "smoking-gun" evidence had surfaced in the Nixon tapes, and the judiciary committee had sent articles of impeachment over to the full House. These top Republicans told Nixon that he could save his country, his party, and himself a lot of grief by resigning. And then they gave him this chilling message: "You will be forced out of office." And so a Nixon, who also had been very adamant about staying in office, within a few hours announced he was leaving.
Actually, Senator Goldwater, accompanied by Sen. Charles Percy, had met with Nixon a year earlier. At that time these senators, according to Mr. Percy, recommended to Nixon that "he tell the American people how unfortunate and unnecessary the Watergate incident had been and how he truly regretted it." Nixon's answer: "The only thing wrong with that recommendation is that I know nothing about Watergate."
Some readers always complain whenever I cite the Nixon case as a reference for what might happen to Clinton. True, Clinton's lying under oath doesn't come close to the level of Nixon's misdeeds. But Clinton is in a mess of his own making that seems likely to seriously divert his attention from running the country during his final two years in office.
And here is where the Clinton and Nixon situations are particularly similar: They both involve presidents who failed to keep the trust of the American people. Back in 1973, when Goldwater was blasting Nixon in a Monitor interview, comparing his scandalous behavior to "Teapot Dome," this highly respected Republican went on to say: "I see the issue out of this as 'Can you trust Dick Nixon?' It gets right down to that."
Starting from the beginning of Clinton's presidency and continuing right up to now, the public has given Clinton low marks when asked if he is to be trusted. People like him, but they don't trust him. This creates a political climate in which some top Democratic senators might be able to persuade Clinton to throw in the towel - but probably only if they could also give him a list of 12 or more fellow Democratic senators who were ready to toss him overboard.