The political reaction to the erasure of 18 1/2 minutes of the June 20 tape seriously eroded Nixon’s already-poor credibility. However, at the time of the erasure (probably the Fall of 1973) Nixon still retained at least a fighting chance of retaining enough Republican support in the Senate to prevent the 2/3 majority necessary for impeachment.
If one can imagine a modern-day President Frank Underwood, the lesson he might draw from the story of the 18 1/2 minute gap is that brazen destruction of highly incriminating evidence is the wisest political strategy. Even when the claim about how the evidence was destroyed was obviously false, there may be enough members of the President’s own party who will continue to look the other way, as long as they are not presented with a smoking gun. President Underwood might remember that Alexander Haig went on to become Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. President Underwood might also tell the public that, as with Richard Nixon, many of his opponents were cynical partisan zealots. Like the mainstream media, anti-Nixon partisans had paid scant attention when Nixon’s predecessor, Democrat Lyndon Johnson, engaged in many of the same crimes and abuses as did Nixon. By the end of Johnson’s term in 1968, he was getting a lot of criticism from the press and from his own party for the Vietnam War, but not for his domestic violations of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code.
In a two-party system, it is likely that the energy for investigations of a President of one party will come from the other party. Among the heroes of the story are the men like Baker, Richardson, and Ruckelsaus, who at a time when the Constitution was in danger, put the national interest above partisan interest.