Liberals can't shake Watergate 'hangover'

A very interesting piece in Bloomberg today by writer Sam Tanenhaus about how liberals are trying to relive their glory days by drawing parallels between Watergate and the effort to impeach Trump.

Tanenhaus, author of "Death of Conservatism," tries to disabuse liberals from their  impeachment fantasies by showing some of the false parallels between Watergate and Trump's troubles today.

At the time of Watergate, prominent conservatives like Ronald Reagan came to Nixon's defense, leading to harsh criticism for defending a lawbreaker.

Reagan didn’t care. “You can count on us,” he told Nixon in August 1973. “We’re still behind you out here.” He “stuck with Nixon during the Watergate scandal long after his advisors had concluded that the president was a liar and a lost cause,” writes Reagan’s biographer Lou Cannon.

It looked foolhardy. But in fact there were two Watergates. One had come to an end when Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, assured the country: “Our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” This was the version later romanticized in the movie “All the President’s Men.” Its heroes were the intrepid reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. (Last year’s film “The Post” reiterated this theme.)

The second Watergate lived on for conservatives who believed it was really about what the revisionist Nixon scholar Joan Hoff has called “the insatiable desire to ‘get’ Richard Nixon on the part of a tiny group of New York and Washington reporters.”

Post-Watergate politics was, in effect, a referendum on these two competing versions. Liberals emphasized the rule of order, and the dangers of an increasingly imperial and corrupt presidency. Conservatives argued that the country was under siege from the people who had brought Nixon down, a “new class” or “elite” who disdained the values and ideals of middle America.

Initially, liberals had the advantage. Nixon resigned in disgrace, and a new generation of reform Democrats were swept into office, first in the post-Watergate midterm elections and then in 1976, when the squeaky-clean Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected, undoing Nixon’s landslide in 1972.

But those victories were short-lived. Many of the “Watergate babies” in Congress came from affluent suburbs, where good-government issues, like campaign-finance reform, resonated. But they didn’t speak to a lot of voters, including blue-collar Democrats, who had voted for Nixon and then been slow to accept his guilt in Watergate — as had the three in four people who, in a poll published before the Senate Watergate hearings began, agreed with the statement “Nixon’s campaign people were no worse than the Democrats, except they got caught.” Carter too failed to connect with those voters.

Four years later, the Republicans roared back, led by Nixon’s staunch defender, Ronald Reagan.

In heartland districts like Michigan’s Macomb County, outside Detroit, “Reagan Democrats” rejected their old party. It happened again in 2016, when Macomb voters who had helped elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 switched over to Trump.

Tanenhaus notes that while rank and file liberals today want to reenact Watergate and impeach Trump, many of Trump's most vociferous critics like Rep. Adam Schiff are warning against pushing an impeachment agenda. The resulting conservative backlash would almost certainly swamp any Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.

There is also the fact that the party makeup of Congress today is a lot different than in was in 1973. Then, Democrats owned a huge majority in the House and Senate, making Nixon's political position intenable. Today, even with a Democratic takeover of the House, it would be impossible for Democrats to gather enough votes to convict Trump in the Senate. (This assumes there is no smoking gun that would make Trump's position as perilous as Nixon's was in the Summer of 1973).

Some on the right hope the Democrats commit political suicide and try to impeach Trump for anything less than treason for colluding with the Russians. In fact, as Tanenhaus points out, the liberal "hangover" from Watergate could actually be their downfall.

A very interesting piece in Bloomberg today by writer Sam Tanenhaus about how liberals are trying to relive their glory days by drawing parallels between Watergate and the effort to impeach Trump.

Tanenhaus, author of "Death of Conservatism," tries to disabuse liberals from their  impeachment fantasies by showing some of the false parallels between Watergate and Trump's troubles today.

At the time of Watergate, prominent conservatives like Ronald Reagan came to Nixon's defense, leading to harsh criticism for defending a lawbreaker.

Reagan didn’t care. “You can count on us,” he told Nixon in August 1973. “We’re still behind you out here.” He “stuck with Nixon during the Watergate scandal long after his advisors had concluded that the president was a liar and a lost cause,” writes Reagan’s biographer Lou Cannon.

It looked foolhardy. But in fact there were two Watergates. One had come to an end when Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, assured the country: “Our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” This was the version later romanticized in the movie “All the President’s Men.” Its heroes were the intrepid reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. (Last year’s film “The Post” reiterated this theme.)

The second Watergate lived on for conservatives who believed it was really about what the revisionist Nixon scholar Joan Hoff has called “the insatiable desire to ‘get’ Richard Nixon on the part of a tiny group of New York and Washington reporters.”

Post-Watergate politics was, in effect, a referendum on these two competing versions. Liberals emphasized the rule of order, and the dangers of an increasingly imperial and corrupt presidency. Conservatives argued that the country was under siege from the people who had brought Nixon down, a “new class” or “elite” who disdained the values and ideals of middle America.

Initially, liberals had the advantage. Nixon resigned in disgrace, and a new generation of reform Democrats were swept into office, first in the post-Watergate midterm elections and then in 1976, when the squeaky-clean Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected, undoing Nixon’s landslide in 1972.

But those victories were short-lived. Many of the “Watergate babies” in Congress came from affluent suburbs, where good-government issues, like campaign-finance reform, resonated. But they didn’t speak to a lot of voters, including blue-collar Democrats, who had voted for Nixon and then been slow to accept his guilt in Watergate — as had the three in four people who, in a poll published before the Senate Watergate hearings began, agreed with the statement “Nixon’s campaign people were no worse than the Democrats, except they got caught.” Carter too failed to connect with those voters.

Four years later, the Republicans roared back, led by Nixon’s staunch defender, Ronald Reagan.

In heartland districts like Michigan’s Macomb County, outside Detroit, “Reagan Democrats” rejected their old party. It happened again in 2016, when Macomb voters who had helped elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 switched over to Trump.

Tanenhaus notes that while rank and file liberals today want to reenact Watergate and impeach Trump, many of Trump's most vociferous critics like Rep. Adam Schiff are warning against pushing an impeachment agenda. The resulting conservative backlash would almost certainly swamp any Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.

There is also the fact that the party makeup of Congress today is a lot different than in was in 1973. Then, Democrats owned a huge majority in the House and Senate, making Nixon's political position intenable. Today, even with a Democratic takeover of the House, it would be impossible for Democrats to gather enough votes to convict Trump in the Senate. (This assumes there is no smoking gun that would make Trump's position as perilous as Nixon's was in the Summer of 1973).

Some on the right hope the Democrats commit political suicide and try to impeach Trump for anything less than treason for colluding with the Russians. In fact, as Tanenhaus points out, the liberal "hangover" from Watergate could actually be their downfall.