No, this is not ex­actly 1974

But Trump’s elec­toral ma­jor­ity could turn the same way that Nixon’s did if he isn’t care­ful

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By David A. Keene David A. Keene is editor at large at The Wash­ing­ton Times.

It was 1974. Richard Nixon was in the White House fight­ing for his po­lit­i­cal life and James L. Buck­ley, who had been elected to the Se­nate on the Con­ser­va­tive Party line in New York four years be­fore was pri­vately won­der­ing whether he could in good con­science con­tinue to sup­port a pres­i­dent who he be­lieved had be­trayed his prin­ci­ples, the pres­i­dency and the na­tion. As the Water­gate rev­e­la­tions built, Democrats were de­mand­ing the pres­i­dent’s head, but most Repub­li­cans were still ner­vously de­fend­ing their pres­i­dent.

I was at the time on Sen. Buck­ley’s staff af­ter hav­ing served in the Nixon White House as an as­sis­tant to his vice pres­i­dent, Spiro Agnew, un­til Mr. Agnew re­signed. I knew enough to sus­pect that my new boss’ con­cerns were le­git­i­mate and par­tic­i­pated in sev­eral meet­ings with him and some of his clos­est friends to dis­cuss his stance. I kept ar­gu­ing that while I be­lieved his con­cerns were le­git­i­mate and that the pres­i­dent was prob­a­bly as in­volved in the cover-up of the Water­gate bur­glary as his crit­ics be­lieved, there was no pub­lic ev­i­dence to jus­tify a with­drawal of sup­port.

I re­minded the se­na­tor that he was elected by the very vot­ers who made up what in those days was called the “silent ma­jor­ity” and that to his base sup­port, po­lit­i­cal loy­alty was very im­por­tant. He could not po­lit­i­cally af­ford to aban­don a pres­i­dent based on his feel­ings rather than real ev­i­dence.

By the early spring, I felt there was enough out there to al­low him to with­draw his sup­port for Mr. Nixon with­out look­ing ei­ther pan­icky or fool­ish in the eyes of his sup­port­ers and I said so at our next meet­ing on the sub­ject. On March 19, Mr. Buck­ley told re­porters gath­ered in the Se­nate Cau­cus Room that he be­lieved Richard Nixon owed it to the coun­try to re­sign as pres­i­dent. The only other “Repub­li­can” se­na­tor to have aban­doned Mr. Nixon at that point was Ed Brooke of Mas­sachusetts. Mr. Buck­ley’s act was uni­ver­sally seen as more im­por­tant be­cause he was the first con­ser­va­tive to jump ship.

The po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences of what he did soon be­came ap­par­ent. The work­ing class con­ser­va­tives who made up his New York base were out­raged, but when the Nixon tapes came out, he be­came some­thing of a hero not so much in New York, but in the Mid­west. New York­ers may have been more fa­mil­iar with and will­ing to excuse the pres­i­dent’s lan­guage, but his pro­fan­ity out­raged the more but­toned down Mid­west­ern­ers, many of whom seemed more up­set with his lan­guage than the sub­stance of what he was taped say­ing.

The same dis­tress was felt by the re­li­gious vot­ers of the South who had voted for him. The Rev. Billy Graham, con­sid­ered a close Nixon con­fi­dant, told Bob Halde­man, the White House chief of staff, that he was “ab­so­lutely crushed” by the way the pres­i­dent of the United States talked in the Oval Of­fice. He and oth­ers viewed the lan­guage it­self as an af­front to the of­fice.

This isn’t 1974. We know to­day that pres­i­dents are hu­man; we’ve wit­nessed Mr. Nixon’s suc­ces­sors do far worse than use pro­fan­ity in the Oval Of­fice and our cul­ture to­day is more ac­cept­ing of what would have been con­sid­ered to­tally beyond the pale back then. But Pres­i­dent Trump and his peo­ple should re­al­ize that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are of­fended when lan­guage they may them­selves may use in pri­vate is pub­licly ut­tered by pub­lic of­fi­cials who they be­lieve should be held to a higher stan­dard.

This ex­plains the out­rage at Mr. Trump’s com­ments at the Boy Scout Jam­boree re­cently and at the stunned si­lence from many of his sup­port­ers when they heard and read of his new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor’s pro­fan­ity-laced di­a­tribe against those on the White House staff he would like to fire.

In 1974, the “ex­ple­tive deleted” from the re­leased tran­scripts of Mr. Nixon’s con­ver­sa­tions were in­cred­i­bly mild when com­pared with what An­thony Scara­mucci had to say about White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump ad­vi­sor Steve Ban­non. In 1974 no re­spon­si­ble pub­li­ca­tion would have printed them and even Mr. Nixon would have fired the man on the spot. But that, of course, was then.

Mr. Trump’s elec­toral ma­jor­ity last year was the re­sult of sup­port from the very same voter groups in the Mid­west and South that elected Richard Nixon and stuck with him un­til they de­cided by the mil­lions that he was cul­tur­ally and morally un­ac­cept­able. They cast their votes as they did be­cause of the cul­tural val­ues they sought to main­tain and de­serted the man thus elected be­cause they were con­vinced by his words as much as his deeds that he didn’t share them.

By in­sist­ing that Mr. Scara­mucci be re­moved as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor af­ter so short a time, Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff did the pres­i­dent a real fa­vor. The pres­i­dent should be care­ful. Sur­round­ing one­self with the likes of Mr. Scara­mucci is more dan­ger­ous than he might re­al­ize.


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