Democrats of a certain age look back fondly on a semi-magical period summarized by the word “Watergate,” when (in their minds) they stood up for the Constitution and drove Richard Nixon from office. They forget that a major factor in Nixon’s demise was a collapsing economy in 1973 and 1974, set off by the first Arab oil embargo, which drove his popularity down into the 20 to 30 percent range by the time he resigned in August of 1974. Nixon made plenty of mistakes on top of that—hiring a liberal operative as White House counsel (John Dean), appointing a Kennedy ally as his Attorney General (Elliot Richardson), and taping his private White House conversations—the latter on the advice of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. But these mistakes alone would not have brought him down without the economic troubles that eroded his standing with the voters, and forced Republican leaders in the Senate to advise him to resign.
The Clinton impeachment took place in a completely different environment. The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton in December of 1998 for committing perjury before a grand jury in a civil case, after months of investigations and hearings. The Senate acquitted him on those charges in February (1999), on a party line vote. During that period, in 1998 and 1999, the U.S. economy was on a roll, fueled by favorable interest rates, a balanced federal budget, divided government in Washington, and peaceful conditions abroad. During 1998 and 1999 the U.S. economy grew by 4.5 and 4.8 percent in real (inflation adjusted) terms. The stock market advanced by 20 percent between September of 1998 and February of 1999—the five or six months during which impeachment and trial took place. Clinton’s popularity in the Gallup survey was well over 50 percent when the process began, and it improved steadily as impeachment went forward. The public, assaying the conditions at home and abroad, did not want to destabilize the situation by getting rid of the President on the basis of something that may have been a crime, but a “low” crime not important enough to justify removal. Besides, the voters saw Al Gore waiting in the wings, and decided (perhaps wisely) that they were better off with the Clinton they knew than with the Gore they did not.
A quick look at the situation today should convince everyone that the conditions now resemble those of the Clinton impeachment far more than those of the Watergate era. Unemployment now stands at 3.6 percent, close to a low for the entire post-war era dating back to 1945. Several states, including the swing states of Florida (3.2 percent), Wisconsin (3.2 percent), and New Hampshire (2.5 percent), enjoy even more favorable unemployment rates. Some nineteen of the fifty states achieved historical lows in unemployment during 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.