Nixon’s Ouster and the Attempt to Remove Trump

President Trump’s enemies are escalating their comparisons of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion to the resignation of President Richard Nixon after Congressional hearings that set the stage for his impeachment 4 ½ decades ago. Are these comparisons valid?

The answer is yes – and no. Notwithstanding the 45 years separating the two presidents, there are some major similarities and some obvious differences, as well.

I was a young student journalist in the nation’s capital during the Watergate investigations and impeachment period. Armed with an official D.C. Metropolitan Police press pass, I was able to cover and report on political events in Washington, D.C. like any accredited mainstream journalist – including on occasion the Nixon White House, and the Watergate hearings. With the energy of youth and an insatiable interest in politics and current events, I took full advantage of the access that the pass afforded me.

President Richard Nixon, The White House, June 29, 1972 Photo © Peter Barry Chowka

One similarity of the political climate then and now is that the left and much of the mainstream media began to oppose Richard M. Nixon as soon as he declared his candidacy on February 1, 1968. Same thing when Trump announced his intention to run in June 2015. Opposition to Trump was more vehement and increased exponentially as time went on. I don’t recall any leading celebrities, for example, suggesting during Nixon’s presidency that he should be assassinated or have his head cut off.

Nixon, however, was criticized and caricatured by leading MSM commentators and political cartoonists alike, as he had been since he burst onto the national scene in the early 1950s. “Tricky Dick,” a label slapped on Nixon by his Democrat opponent in the 1950 race for the U.S. Senate in California, was the most commonly used sobriquet. Cartoonists emphasized Nixon’s prominent nose and dark eyebrows to give him a sinister and devious look.

Detail of anti-Nixon cartoon circa 1970

The left, which was well organized, extremely influential, and highly visible in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, hated Nixon and routinely attacked him, especially in the large, frequent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that took place around the country in the sixties and into the next decade. One of them in Washington, D.C., in October 1971, was titled “Evict Nixon.” The event’s organizers, including Chicago 7 defendant and leftist superstar agitator Rennie Davis, predicted that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would descend on the nation’s capital and march to the White House to physically “evict Nixon.” The demonstration was a bust when only a few hundred people showed up, their numbers dwarfed by government security forces. In a flashback to that era, demonstrations of various sizes and intensities today continue to target Trump.

Evict Nixon button 1971

Evict Nixon demonstration poster 1971

Similarly, Donald J. Trump has been widely mocked and dismissed – not only by the left and the press, but by many members of his own Republican Party – after he declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. The criticism of Trump has escalated since he was elected and took office, on a scale never seen before in modern times. Although the attacks on Trump are more intense than the ones lobbed at Nixon decades ago, the similarity is that both men have been subjected to frequent and sustained attacks by their enemies. The result has been a cumulative weakening of support for President Trump, evident in his falling approval numbers according to recent public opinion polls.

Anti-Trump Political Cartoon

A major difference then vs. now involves the nature of the political climate and the demographic makeup of the country in the early 1970s compared with today. While the left made a lot of noise 4 ½ decades ago, the country as a whole back then was more homogeneous and center right and far less polarized (except among the youth). It had taken a sharp, temporary left turn in 1964 with the election of Lyndon Baines Johnson to his first full term as president, but that was due to a number of anomalous factors. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated less than a year before the 1964 election, and by the time the 1964 presidential campaign got underway only months after JFK’s death, the nation was still in shock. Johnson reassured the nervous and unnerved electorate, promising stability and continuity.

The defining line from Johnson’s first address to the Congress and the nation on November 27, 1963, only five days after JFK’s assassination, led to it becoming known as the “Let Us Continue” address. Partisan presidential politics in this milieu came across as unseemly. Meanwhile, the 1964 Democratic National Convention that nominated LBJ resembled a four-day memorial service for the slain president, complete with a spontaneous 22-minute-long emotional ovation for Robert F. Kennedy when he took to the podium on the convention's closing night.

From the outset of his accidental presidency, Johnson pretended to be a moderate Democrat when in reality he had transformed himself from a back-slapping, good ol’ boy icon of the conservative South to a big government ultra-liberal statist. In his push for a War on Poverty, Medicare, and civil rights legislation after he was sworn in on January 20, 1965 for his first elected term, Johnson finally started to show his true colors. He thought that by championing civil rights and poverty programs more passionately than his predecessor JFK, he would go down in history as a modern day Abraham Lincoln. But instead of finishing the job that Lincoln started but was never able to complete, Lyndon Johnson – in one of the greatest miscalculations of all time – only made it worse by advocating and institutionalizing an endless number of expensive new government programs that in reality compounded the problems facing African-Americans.

Johnson’s Republican opponent in 1964, Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, the leading  conservative voice in the country, was anathema to mainstream Democrats and Republicans and the powerful East Coast Establishment.  Goldwater was demeaned and lied about in 1964, including in MSM stories that were demonstrably fake. With ongoing help from the media, Johnson won the ‘64 election in a landslide. His subsequent mishandling of the Vietnam War during the next three years, however, helped to destroy his presidency.

Having lost two previous elections – for president in 1960 and California governor in 1962 – Richard Nixon in 1968 laid the groundwork for a remarkable comeback after remaking himself as the “New Nixon.” With his cadre of fresh expert advisors, Nixon skillfully used the television medium, which had not been kind to him in his campaign against JFK in 1960, to his advantage. Nixon in 1968 was actually more telegenic than his opponent, the frumpy old school Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey, who was additionally saddled with the tarnished legacy of the Johnson Administration that he had loyally served and defended.

“New Nixon” campaign poster 1968

After Nixon assumed power in January 1969, the Silent Majority, as his administration termed it – defined as mainstream, traditional center right Americans –emerged as the dominant political force in the country, notwithstanding all the noise and periodic demonstrations and street violence from the left. Proof positive of this fact was Nixon’s landslide victory in November 1972 against his Democrat opponent, the progressive anti-war candidate Sen. George S. McGovern. Nixon ran as a moderate center right incumbent. The result was that McGovern won the popular vote in only one state, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

Another similarity between then and now involves the role of the media in the unraveling of the Nixon presidency and the attempt to do the same for President Trump. After the bungled Watergate break-in – the attempted bugging of Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972 by Republican operatives – it was a slow but inexorable drip, drip, drip of damaging information until the Nixon regime was eventually taken down. Unlike the totally hostile media climate facing Trump since day one, with every new story positioned as his coup de grâce, the media was initially slow to advance the story of the Watergate scandal. The Washington Post, whose editor, loyal Democrat Ben Bradlee was one of JFK’s best friends, initially spearheaded the coverage and made superstars of its two crusading metro section reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Eventually, the rest of the MSM caught up with the Post’s preoccupation with Watergate, and it was only a matter of time before Nixon’s support was whittled away and he was made ripe for impeachment efforts at the hands of the Democrat opposition, which controlled both houses of the Congress.

Ultimately, Nixon handed his enemies a smoking gun: the secret tapes he had recorded of his interactions in the White House and on the telephone with his aides over a period of years. Nixon was heard in his own voice on the recordings suborning perjury and obstructing justice. It remains to be seen if the ever-escalating myopic concentration of the MSM on Trump and his supposed crimes, with purported obstruction of justice now being run up the flagpole, will bear similar fruit.

After the failure of a year of the “Russia collusion” narrative to produce a viable Nixon-like smoking gun to implicate Trump, his enemies are now proffering several new narratives, currently centering around obstruction of justice involving the POTUS.

President Donald J. Trump

Where this is all going remains to be seen. Where it will wind up cannot be predicted. Anyone among the commentariat who claims that she can predict the ultimate outcome is lying or spinning a political meme. It seems that we are not even to the mid-point of the relentless and growing attempt to remove President Trump from office, one way or the other. The left’s unstinting dedication to the success of this “resistance” scenario (the left today encompasses almost every major element of American society) is similar to the one that took Nixon from a historic electoral victory and high approval ratings in November 1972 to his certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and an ignominious resignation from the presidency less than two years later.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. Follow Peter on Twitter @pchowka.

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