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How Might Trump’s Supporters React to the Mueller Report? The Story of Nixon’s Resignation Offers Clues.

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The Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., is pictured in 2002. In 1972, burglars used eavesdropping bugs to listen in on the Democratic National Committee with offices in the Watergate by setting up shop in the nearby Howard Johnson Hotel. They were caught in the act, with the scandal leading up to the resignation of then-President Richard Nixon.

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has filed his long-awaited report, one of the most important questions in the country is how President Donald Trump‘s supports will react if the report reveals serious wrongdoing by Trump.

The prospect of a sitting president being implicated in federal crimes is not unprecedented: To gain a historical perspective on how Trump and his closest allies—both in government and in the electorate—might react if the Mueller report proves damning, one only needs to look as far back as 1974. 

Richard Nixon’s presidency eventually collapsed under the weight of the Watergate scandal, and he resigned in August of 1974. But for the first half of that year, Nixon and his supporters launched a scorched-earth attack against those who accused the president of orchestrating the scandal. Their strategy can be broken down into two main components: First, Nixon and his allies minimized the crimes and accused the press of trying to overturn the results of the 1972 election; second, they fanned the flames on conspiracy theories, and tried to blame the federal bureaucracy—what some today call “the Deep State”—of trying to take out the president. 

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