Three Ways Richard Nixon Paved the Way for Donald Trump

Donald Trump and Richard Nixon
Donald Trump and Richard Nixon (credit: Houston Chronicle)

Donald Trump owes a lot of his political success to Richard Nixon.

Below, I outline three important ways Nixon paved the way for the rise of Trump, and why Trump may be the apotheosis in the development of the national Republican Party.

  1. White Grievance

Ever since Barry Goldwater won five Southern states in 1964 by campaigning on his racist opposition to the Civil Rights Act, the national GOP realized they could win votes by preying on white people’s racial prejudice.

The man who successfully tapped into white grievance to gain power, however, was Nixon.

By using coded appeals to “law and order” in the 1968 election Nixon appealed to a silent majority of white Americans who despised those who were protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

Our racist president is the embodiment of white grievance in politics, and he summons up Nixon’s ghost every time he tweets an all caps-lock call to “law and order.”

2. Conspiring with foreign powers to win elections

Trump was not the first candidate to explicitly seek a foreign power’s help in an election.

In the 1968 campaign, Nixon himself was directly involved to interfere with peace talks from the outgoing Lyndon Johnson administration on ending the Vietnam War. He was reportedly fearful “that progress toward ending the war would hurt his chances for the presidency.”

While Nixon did a pretty good job of hiding his tracks with this effort, Trump (as usual) said the quiet part out loud and explicitly asked Russia for help in hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails in the above clip.

3. Corruption, corruption, corruption

Nixon’s undoing was his widespread corruption, particularly by authorizing a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel in 1972 & its subsequent cover-up.

His whole philosophy in office could be summed up in this revealing clip from an interview with talk show host David Frost in 1977, in which he says the President of the United States is above the law.

Trump also clearly believes in this philosophy with his litany of corruption in office. His list of wrongdoing somehow makes Nixon look like a saint by comparison.

What does it all mean?

Trump is living embodiment of the Republican Party’s downward slope into these three categories – but there are some important differences between Nixon and Trump that are worthy of highlighting.

For example, why Nixon fell from power and Trump has not (so far). This mainly has to do with two things: the national Republican Party today does not want to hold Trump accountable for his misdeeds in the same way they did with Nixon, and Nixon didn’t have a Fox News or conservative media structure to defend him in public.

Back in Nixon’s time, most Americans all got their news from the same sources (three major TV networks and a handful of national radio stations & newspapers). Now with cable TV and the Internet, liberal people generally get their news from liberal news sources (MSNBC) & conservative folks get their news from conservative news sources (Fox News, conservative talk radio, etc.).

This fragmented media landscape plays to Trump’s benefit – he knows he doesn’t have to win over a majority of voters because they’re all not paying attention to the same news sources as they did in the 1970s.

Finally, any article on both Nixon & Trump should highlight that, compared with today’s politics, Nixon & the GOP of yesteryear was positively liberal in some respects. Nixon should be credited as the first president to emphasize protecting the environment and he even proposed an expansion of health coverage that sounds vaguely like the Affordable Care Act.

Trump, I argue, is not a historical aberration. He is the culmination of a national political party that uses coded racial language to appeal to white voters, that conspires with foreign powers to win elections, and embraces corruption.

This Week’s WTF Moment in Congress

Rep. Andy Biggs slammed Anthony Fauci & Deborah Birx for supposedly undermining the president’s agenda on cornonavirus. Truth has a well-known liberal bias so I guess Biggs is just doing his part to combat it.

Reading List

Employment won’t recover for a decade, CBO says (Politico)

This makes my article last week on the economy look like small potatoes.

Why June Was Such a Terrible Month for Trump (The New York Times)

A revealing look at how the president’s campaign has been flailing. It is encouraging to see Trump’s polling numbers so low at this point, but they should be taken with a grain of salt: four months is an eternity in political time, and they don’t call ’em October surprises for nothing.

Coronavirus Brings American Decline Out in the Open (Bloomberg)

This is a reminder that America isn’t just suffering domestically during the pandemic; as the pandemic continues, “the U.S. will be a less appealing place for high-skilled workers to live,” meaning fewer jobs & investment will come to the U.S.

Supreme Court temporarily blocks court order that cleared the way for expanded vote by mail in Alabama due to Covid-19 (CNN)

Expect more lawsuits around voting by mail to swirl before the election – this ruling is not a good omen for the right to safely vote this fall.

I hope you & your loved ones have a safe Fourth of July. See you next week.


By Tristan Fitzpatrick

Progressive blogger.

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