Trump evokes Nixon mem­o­ries

Lesotho Times - - International -

NEW YORK — Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates usu­ally beg for com­par­isons with Ron­ald Rea­gan, but Don­ald Trump’s political spirit an­i­mal is Dick Nixon.

And in true Trump fash­ion, he hasn’t been sub­tle about wear­ing his un­fash­ion­able in­flu­ence on his sleeve. The signs are ev­ery­where.

Travel through the pri­mary states and you’ll see the plac­ards plas­tered at events and scat­tered by the road­side: “The Silent Ma­jor­ity Stands With Trump.” That is, of course, a di­rect lift from Nixon’s oft-re­sus­ci­tated slo­gan, which was meant to res­onate with the “non-shouters, non-demon­stra­tors” dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

It’s no small irony that the chil­dren of th­ese “for­got­ten Amer­i­cans” now are be­ing asked to rally around the ul­ti­mate shouter in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, a bil­lion­aire who avoided mil­i­tary ser­vice dur­ing the draft. The eco­nomic and cul­tural re­sent­ments of the white work­ing class Nixon courted have only grown more in­tense in the wake of the Great Re­ces­sion amid a fun­da­men­tally more di­verse Amer­ica led by a black pres­i­dent.

But lift­ing Nixon’s Silent Ma­jor­ity slo­gan barely scratches the sur­face of the debt Trump owes Tricky Dick.

In 1968, Viet­nam was rag­ing and Nixon cam­paigned on a “se­cret plan to end the war.” Now we’re em­broiled in a multi-front war with ISIS and — you guessed it — Trump has of­fered up a se­cret plan to end the war against ISIS.

Days af­ter kick­ing off his cam­paign, he told Fox News’s Greta Van Sus­teren: “I do know what to do and I would know how to bring ISIS to the ta­ble, or be­yond that, de­feat ISIS very quickly… and I’m not gonna tell you what it is… I don’t want the en­emy to know what I’m do­ing.”

Trump’s love of blus­ter bal­anced with a com­plete lack of pol­icy de­tail doesn’t stop with war.

Take health­care: Trump is run­ning on a plat­form of “re­peal and re­place with some­thing ter­rific.” When pressed for de­tail by Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, Trump replied, “No­body knows health care bet­ter than Don­ald Trump” — re­treat­ing to Nixon’s favoured third-per­son self-ref­er­ence. “We’re go­ing to work with our hospi­tals. We’re go­ing to work with our doc­tors. We’ve got to do some­thing... We’ll work some­thing out. That doesn’t mean sin­gle-payer.”

In Trump’s world, it doesn’t mat­ter that he once backed sin­gle-payer in a book that bears his name. And of course it doesn’t mat­ter that Nixon’s own health care re­form plan was con­sid­er­ably to the left of Oba­macare. Our de­bates have been un­bur­dened by fact for some time now, and that suits can­di­dates like Trump just fine.

Nixon’s en­e­mies list is an­other dark legacy Trump en­thu­si­as­ti­cally apes. Trump is quick to at­tack crit­ics by name on the cam­paign trail — from mock­ing a dis­abled New York Times reporter to go­ing af­ter ev­ery­one from Megyn Kelly to Ge­orge Will to The Daily Beast. For a can­di­date who loves to en­gage in rough-and­tum­ble ver­bal com­bat, his thin skin is a bit of a mys­tery. But Trump’s en­e­mies list is so no­to­ri­ous that Van­ity Fair lam­pooned it back in 2011 dur­ing his birther-backed flir­ta­tion with the pres­i­dency.

While Nixon’s en­e­mies list can seem quaint al­most a half-cen­tury later, they were far from sim­ple par­ti­san score-set­tling. We now know that Nixon’s lack­eys looked at plant­ing ev­i­dence on in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Jack An­der­son, spread­ing dam­ag­ing ru­mours about his sex life and even plot­ting to kill him, with the meth­ods vary­ing from putting poi­son in his med­i­ca­tions to smear­ing mas­sive doses of LSD on his steer­ing wheel.

This is chill­ing stuff that smacks more of Vladimir Putin than an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. But it’s a re­minder of how much char­ac­ter mat­ters in a com­man­der in chief, be­cause tone comes from the top. In an era of so­cial me­dia mobs and hardcore par­ti­san news sites, push­back could turn to pri­vate ci­ti­zen-di­rected op­po­si­tion re­search and some­thing uglier.

The deep­est irony in the Trump-nixon over­lap has sur­faced only in the past few weeks, as The Don­ald tries to ap­pear more pres­i­den­tial. “Bring Us To­gether” was a sig­na­ture Nixon 1968 cam­paign line, al­legedly in­spired by a sign held by a lit­tle girl at a rally and ea­gerly adopted by speech­writ­ers like Wil­liam Safire. Now Trump is punc­tu­at­ing his in­ter­views and de­bate per­for­mances with the same line, promis­ing to unite the na­tion if elected, de­spite all cam­paign tac­tics to the con­trary.

Trump’s use of the line has al­ready led to some sur­real ex­changes, as when Stephanop- ou­los asked him to ex­plain how his op­po­si­tion to mar­riage equal­ity af­ter the Supreme Court de­ci­sion would lead to a more united na­tion. “It’s very sim­ple,” he replied. “We’re go­ing to bring our coun­try to­gether. We’re go­ing to unify our coun­try. We’re go­ing to do what­ever we have to do. I’m go­ing to put the ab­so­lute best judges in po­si­tion. If their views — we’re go­ing to see what their views are. I will make the de­ter­mi­na­tion at that time.”

Such rhetor­i­cal tap-danc­ing means less than noth­ing and of­fers false com­fort to some in­creas­ingly re­signed es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans des­per­ately look­ing for a sil­ver lin­ing if Trump is their party’s nom­i­nee. They hope the can­di­date doesn’t mean half of what he says, that he’s just pan­der­ing to get con­ser­va­tive pop­ulist votes. It’s a strained do­mes­tic ex­ten­sion of Nixon’s self-de­scribed “mad­man the­ory” in for­eign pol­icy, a be­lief that ne­go­ti­at­ing lev­er­age is in­creased if your op­po­nent be­lieves that you might go nu­clear. Ex­treme state­ments are all part of the art of the deal.

Per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, some prom­i­nent re­main­ing Nixon aides have been back­ing or ad­vis­ing The Don­ald.

Trump’s some­time ad­viser Roger Stone, mas­ter of the dirty trick and art­ful smear, boasts a Nixon tat­too on his up­per back. For­mer Nixon speech­writer and pa­leo-con­ser­va­tive pop­ulist Pat Buchanan, who in­no­vated many of the anti-im­mi­grant and anti-trade poli­cies Trump now ad­vances, de­clared him “The Fu­ture of the Repub­li­can Party.”

And while Trump’s once-close re­la­tion­ship with Fox News chair­man Roger Ailes has been pub­licly strained with the re­cent Iowa de­bate boy­cott, Ailes ba­si­cally in­no­vated the cozy re­la­tion­ship be­tween pol­i­tics and tele­vi­sion while work­ing for Nixon in 1968.

Per­haps Trump is a se­cret political nerd who in­ter­nal­ized all the di­vide-and-con­quer strate­gies Nixon in­no­vated at the time. Or per­haps he’s been get­ting ad­vice on the dark arts of pol­i­tics from acolytes of the for­mer mas­ter.

Trump shares with Nixon a tough-guy prag­ma­tism, a ruth­less and oc­ca­sion­ally un­hinged de­ter­mi­na­tion to win driven by deep in­se­cu­rity. Nixon also be­lieved peo­ple vote out of fear more than hope. But what­ever Nixon’s many fail­ings, he was a pol­icy wonk who loved the me­chan­ics of pol­i­tics. Trump is a blunt force in­stru­ment in pol­i­tics, a born mar­keter with blus­ter a mile wide and an inch deep.

As he aims for the nom­i­na­tion, Trump might be tak­ing Nixon’s cyn­i­cal ad­vice to “run right in the pri­mary elec­tion, then run to the cen­ter in the gen­eral elec­tion” to heart. But as Nixon and the na­tion found out, char­ac­ter is des­tiny. And Trump’s ex­ploita­tion of our worse im­pulses for political gain will also end in tears. — thedai­ly­

Don­ald Trump.

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