There wasn’t a log­i­cal mo­tive be­hind the Water­gate bur­glary.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

In ret­ro­spect, the bur­glary of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters at the Water­gate of­fice com­plex in 1972, or­dered by the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion, seems bizarre. Af­ter all, as politics scholar Elaine Ka­marck at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion points out, “Nixon’s vic­tory was never re­ally in doubt, as the Demo­cratic party was in the mid­dle of a rather spec­tac­u­lar civil war. So why go to the trou­ble of break­ing into their head­quar­ters when they were crum­bling from within?”

But this view is premised on hind­sight. The break-in at the Water­gate took place June 17, when the ques­tion of whom Nixon would face in the gen­eral elec­tion was still very much up in the air — as it was un­til the con­clu­sion of the Demo­cratic convention in July.

The most im­por­tant events pre­cip­i­tat­ing the break-in were a pair of meet­ings in the of­fice of At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Mitchell in Jan­uary 1972, in which Nixon cam­paign aide G. Gor­don Liddy pre­sented an elab­o­rate plan to ha­rass and sab­o­tage the Demo­cratic Party, and a sub­se­quent meet­ing shortly there­after, in which Mitchell ap­proved a scaled-down op­er­a­tion. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the polls be­tween Nixon and the var­i­ous Demo­cratic con­tenders, es­pe­cially Sen. Ed­mund Muskie, were rel­a­tively close. Nixon es­pe­cially feared the prospect of fac­ing Alabama Gov. Ge­orge Wal­lace; the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt that in­ca­pac­i­tated Wal­lace oc­curred May 15, long af­ter Liddy and Mitchell agreed to the breakin. In­deed, gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence on how the DNC planned to dis­trib­ute the del­e­gates Wal­lace had al­ready won might have been one mo­ti­va­tion for the break-in.

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