After Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, it now looks likely that Donald Trump will be the third U.S. president in history to be impeached (Richard Nixon stepped down before it came to a vote in the House that he was sure of losing). In this update, I want to compare the communication strategies between Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
President Trump was obviously surprised when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi started the impeachment inquiry. Since then, he has gone on the counter attack. He is holding campaign rallies, bashes the media and is, in fact, very much acting as his own defender. One thing Trump is really good at is smelling weakness and exploiting it to his advantage. I was therefore not surprised to see him attack Hunter Biden in his rallies. The base loved it, but the base might not be enough to win. So far, it seems that his communication strategy is actually hurting him more than it helps him. The news about the two Guiliani associates being arrested also doesn’t help. Most polls indicate that a plurality of the voters now favors impeachment and Trump’s job approval rating is at 43%.
Bill Clinton’s communication strategy at the time was very different. He tried to avoid talking about the impeachment and focused on his job as president. While it must have taken a lot of discipline to carry out that crisis communication strategy, it did work marvelously for him. It made Republicans in congress look partisan. Remember: Right after being impeached by the House in December 1998, Clinton’s approval rating hit a record high of 73% (!). Another key difference is that Clinton (and the same is true for Nixon) had already passed reelection and was in his second term. Trump, on the other hand, will likely have to head into the election campaign as an impeached president.