Fifty years ago the Republican Party was caught in the middle of what became the biggest political scandal in the history of the American Presidency.
Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President, was the subject of multiple Congressional investigations that led to his resignation in 1974.
Two years prior, on June 17, 1972, five individuals hired by the Nixon campaign broke into the office complex of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Frank Wills, a security guard, immediately called police when he noticed the damaged locks. The police quickly arrived and arrested the five intruders.
Over the next two years, investigations unraveled a tangled web of financial corruption in the Nixon campaign, lies, cover-up, and more lies that reached all the way to the Oval Office. Sixty-nine indictments followed spreading from the Nixon campaign to corporate America. American Airlines, Goodyear Tire, Gulf Oil, and George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, were indicted for various illegal activities related to the campaign.
Fifty years later, the Republican Party is again in the middle of what will in due time become a political scandal that will make Watergate look like child’s play. There are common parallels between then and now. During the 1960s, social and political protests became common across the nation. The counterculture, all those “long-haired hippies,” that protested with civil rights marchers and anti-Vietnam War protesters, threatened conservative voters, most of whom were Republicans. To counter this, the Nixon Campaign fell back on the time-tested campaign strategy of using anger and fear about crime in the cities and all those “radicals.”
Today, the GOP still uses the same tactics to trigger its base. Yes, both parties use emotion and exaggeration in campaigns, but the Republicans are masters at it.
The Nixon Administration clearly tried to subvert democracy and the rule of law in the cover-up of numerous crimes. However, Republicans did something that is completely alien to the party today. As more corruption and lies became public, Republican leaders in increasing numbers supported the investigation of the Nixon White House.
They did NOT spew nonsense about the “weaponization” of the FBI, the Justice Department, or the courts. Nixon, as corrupt and paranoid as he was, did not name call, intimidate, or threaten those who investigated him. He did not try to turn Americans against the Constitution and the rule of law. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a staunch conservative, along with several Republican leaders told Nixon he must resign or he would face impeachment. Rather than attempt an insurrection, Nixon resigned the Office of the Presidency. Republicans in those days had a moral compass, believed in the rule of law, and placed the good of the nation over their party.
Contrast then with now. On August 23, 2023, during the Republican Presidential Debate, the eight candidates on stage were asked, “If the Republican nominee for the Presidency is a convicted felon, would you support that person?” Six said YES. Numerous polls of registered Republicans have consistently shown that about one-third will vote Republican even if the nominee is a convicted felon. The most alarming aspect of this is the fact that very few Republican office holders at any level, national, state, or local, seem alarmed at any of this. Is it lack of integrity or cowardice? The Republican candidate for governor in Kentucky stated that he is “pro Trump” as did several of the Republican primary candidates in the 2022 legislative races. Really, what attributes do they find redeeming? Are Republican voters so partisan that they support party over country, lawlessness over the rule of law, or autocratic leaders over democratically elected leaders? A representative democracy will not survive under these conditions.
The Republican Party through much of its history was known as the “Party of Lincoln,” and it demonstrated Lincoln’s moderation for many years in its political and social policies. Unfortunately, Mr. Lincoln would not recognize the party today. Why has it changed from a party that always emphasized the sanctity of the Constitution, the rule of law, and political norms such as the peaceful transfer of power following elections? Why do so many Republican officials disparage governmental institutions, including the military? In 1994, Republican Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, and he made compromise with Democrats a “no-no” for Republicans. About this same time, Rush Limbaugh became popular with his daily attacks on anyone who was not Republican and conservative. His popularity spread from radio to television where FOX News continued the same propaganda. However, one of the lies by FOX finally caught up with them this past April to the tune of a $787.5 million dollar defamation judgment awarded to Dominion Voting Systems. Evidence presented during the civil trial clearly showed that FOX commentators knew President Biden won the election, the voting machines were accurate, and the “Big Lie” was just that.
Much of my early political teaching came from my father who was a “Rock-Ribbed” Republican to the core. I can say confidently that he voted Republican in every partisan election from the late 1940s until 2016. In poor health and unable to drive, I offered to take him to vote. He refused. When I asked him why, he replied in very colorful terms regarding the lack of character of the Republican nominee for President. Even at this stage of life, his political radar was laser sharp. Sadly, the party has continued down this path since 2016.
By Rodney White