Nixon historians. Reporters. Democrats. Talking heads. They’ve all said the W-word. Now a Republican has dropped it too.
At an event on Tuesday night, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Donald Trump’s scandals are “reaching Watergate size and scale.”
“This is not good for the country,” he added.
McCain has been accused of talking big on Trump but doing little to check Trump during the campaign and then into the presidency. So the real test is what the top Republican does. But for now, at least, McCain’s invocation of Watergate is a significant rhetorical shift in Washington, where the Republican Party has tried to stand by Trump through a series of embarrassing and ugly scandals.
In the past 24 hours, there are signs of a shift. The chair of the House Oversight Committee said he wants documents from the FBI on James Comey and Donald Trump’s communications. Senior Republicans are telling beltway publications they are nervous. And a stream of rank-and-file Republicans are getting a bit more vocal in their worry about Trump and Russia.
There’s a lot going on
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with what all the controversies are, but there are essentially two big scandals going on at the same time.
First, there is the continuing fallout of Trump firing FBI Director James Comey as the agency was investigating Trump’s campaign for possibly colluding with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election. The most recent revelation to this end came from the New York Times, which reported that Trump pressured Comey to lay off Michael Flynn, one of the top suspects in the Russia investigation. As Dylan Matthews argued for Vox, this is the same kind of intervention into a criminal investigation that ultimately led President Richard Nixon to resign in the midst of Watergate.
Second, there is the separate news, broken by the Washington Post, that Trump leaked highly classified intelligence about ISIS to Russian officials. As one US official told the Post, Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” And, reportedly, the gaffe came because Trump bragged about the quality of his intelligence. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” he reportedly said.
The next thing to watch is whether Republicans like McCain actually act on their rhetoric. It was just last year that a video leaked in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women (“grab ’em by the pussy”) only for Republicans to muster outrage for a couple weeks before eventually falling back in line after Trump won.
McCain exemplifies this. He has repeatedly made harsh comments about Trump, and he even withdrew his support for Trump during the 2016 campaign. But according to FiveThirtyEight’s congressional tracker, McCain has voted with Trump more than 92 percent of the time.