According to one count, in 1998, the editorial boards of 115 newspapers called on then-President Bill Clinton to resign. The Democrat was, of course, caught up in a sex scandal, which led to his impeachment, and major dailies -- including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- said Clinton was so tarnished by his personal misconduct that he needed to vacate the Oval Office. The then-president ignored the advice and finished his term.
More than two decades later, another president, who was also impeached, has found himself embroiled in a series of far more serious scandals. Today, the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald said it's seen enough. The headline reads, "To President Trump: You should resign now."
[A]sk yourself – can this country take five more months like the last five? You are a president supported by a minority of the people, and your only path to victory in November is to further divide the nation. This campaign could do even more lasting damage than you have done already. We know that you are not much of a student of history, but you recently said that you "learned a lot from Richard Nixon." That's good, because he set the historical precedent for what you should do now.
The editorial coincides with Trump's visit to Maine today. (Gov. Janet Mills raised concerns about the trip, which the president ignored. Sen. Susan Collins, facing a tough re-election fight this year, announced this week that she's busy and won't travel with the president to her own home state.)
The Press Herald's argument is compelling, though one of the most striking aspects of it is the larger context: why is it that we've seen so few editorials like this?
If several dozen newspaper editorial boards called for Clinton's resignation, and even more demanded Nixon step down, why is it that Trump has faced so few similar calls? Especially given the increasingly inescapable realization that he's simply not up to the job?
The Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau recently explored a handful of possible explanations ranging from defeatism (Trump would ignore the pressure) to defensiveness (Republicans would seize on the editorials as proof of a "liberal" media, Clinton-era calls notwithstanding).
The truth is probably a combination of the two, though part of me also wonders about editorial boards fearing isolation: as is also true among politicians on Capitol Hill, people often feel a temptation to do the right thing, but no one likes going first.
Well, in this case, the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald stuck its neck out. Will others follow its lead?