Virgil: Richard Nixon’s Lessons on Beating Impeachment
Virgil has channeled the thinking of Richard Nixon, as he watches the latest impeachment hearings.
Yes, I died in 1994, but I still keep up with the news—especially, of course, news about impeachment.
In 1974, after I was railroaded out of the White House by partisan Democrats, hypocritical liberals, and self-righteous reporters, I made a vow: Never again let that sort of railroading happen to a Republican president. That is, I would share lessons learned about protecting the presidency, always—whether I was in this world, or the next.
Happily, my advice has been working, both for Ronald Reagan and, now, Donald Trump.
These thoughts came to mind yet again on December 3, when I read a boo-hoo column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by liberal journo Will Bunch. In his piece, Bunch complained that the Iran-Contra “scandal” of 1986–87, during Reagan’s second term, did not turn out the same way as Watergate—that is, the Republican president getting run out. And Bunch’s further lament was that now, “Ukraine-gate” is shaping up to be less like Watergate and more like Iran-Contra. That is, the Republican president survives the attack—and flourishes.
Iran-Contra is, in fact, a fading memory, and yet at the time it was announced, in 1986, the Democrats thought they could do to Reagan what they did to me. Indeed, Ben Bradlee, the oh-so-righteous editor of the Washington Post—hero of endless MSM shows on Watergate—chortled during Iran-Contra, “I haven’t had this much fun since Watergate.”
As the Inquirer’s Bunch recalled, “Yes, there were nationally televised hearings in Congress, and an aggressive prosecutor who criminally charged a number of key Reagan aides and other players.” In other words, the Dems had the whole thing cued up.
Reagan holds up a copy of the Tower Commission report on the Iran-Contra affair while posing for photographers after his nationally televised speech from the Oval Office August 13, 1987. Reagan said he was “mad as a hornet” about damage to his administration from the Iran-Contra affair. (Ron Edmonds/AP Photo)
Unfortunately for Bunch’s scenario, the intended sequence—of the Republican president being shipped off to perdition—didn’t work out:
Reagan was protected in Iran-Contra by a solid GOP wall led by a Wyoming Republican named Dick Cheney, who insisted “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ‘the rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or cover up.”
I might add that Cheney got his start in politics working for me in the White House. He learned a lot; he’s a good man.
In the meantime, poor Will Bunch is having a sad. Even now, three decades later, he’s unhappy that Cheney helped stoke the Republican “tribalism” that kicked in and saved the Gipper.
“Tribalism” is the word that liberals now like to use to describe when Republicans stick together. And it’s intended, of course, as a pejorative (one day the Politically Correct Police will step and demand that a different word than tribalism be used, but that language-purge hasn’t happened yet). Yet for the time being, “tribalism”—as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus calls it, “unrelenting, reflexive tribalism”—is the new bad thing.
Meanwhile, when Democrats stick together, it’s called “loyalty” and “doing the right thing.”
I’ll add that another alumnus of my administration, Pat Buchanan, was also a fierce defender of Reagan. In fact, Pat was working as the 40th president’s communications director when Iran-Contra broke. For a couple months there, in November and December 1986, the Reagan administration was reeling, and the Gipper’s approval rating was plummeting. Why? The core of the problem was that the clueless White House chief of staff, Don Regan, was trying to figure out how to save himself, paying no mind to what was good for Reagan, or for the institution of the presidency.
So at high noon on Monday, January 5, 1987, Buchanan took matters into his own hands. Ignoring Reagan’s orders to keep a low profile, Buchanan strode across Pennsylvania Avenue to stand before conservative activists in Lafayette Park and declare, “The left is not after the truth, it is after the president!” Glaring at the reporters covering the event, Pat added, “You will not bring this president down!”
Pat Buchanan speaks at a rally, Monday, Janurary 5, 1987, in Lafayette Park, Washington, across from the White House, in support of Reagan against critics of the Iran-Contra affair. (Dennis Cook/AP Photo)
Buchanan’s speech clarified the matter for Republicans: It’s time to fight. Us or them. Thanks to Pat’s efforts, the hemorrhaging stopped. Or as that liberal columnist Bunch would say, the GOP asserted its “tribalism.”
Later in 1987, a telegenic lieutenant colonel in the Marines, Oliver North, was called to testify before a Democrat-controlled Congressional inquisition committee. And while North was polite, he was so earnest and effective in his responses to questions that he smoked all those Democrat jackals. Thus did Ollie North become a national hero, and deservedly so.
As a result, Bunch lamented in his column, “There was never any serious appetite for impeaching the Gipper.” Sad!
In fact, the Democrats’ Get-Reagan effort failed so badly that not only did Reagan’s popularity rebound, but the Gipper’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, won the 1988 presidential election in a landslide. (Bush, too, had worked for me in various capacities, as ambassador to the United Nations, and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.)
So we can see: The Iran-Contra “scandal” didn’t work out at all as the Democrats had planned. Thus the Inquirer’s Bunch was crying tears for both reporters and the Democrats when he wrote this month, “Some 32 years later, the square peg of Trump’s impeachment won’t fit into the round hole of Watergate, and maybe that’s because the GOP is running the Iran-Contra playbook of massive resistance.”
What Bunch calls “massive resistance,” I call smart politics.
And the truth is, impeachment is always about politics. Don’t let ’em kid you. Yes, of course, the Democrats said that I committed high crimes and misdemeanors during Watergate, but as my fan Victor Lasky pointed out in a great book from 1977, It Didn’t Start With Watergate. That is, my Democrat predecessors did things that were much worse, and nothing happened to them. During Watergate, the Democrats weren’t looking for justice, they were looking to take me down.
Yet even I hadn’t realized the full depths of the Democrats’ trickery until I read a 2015 book by Geoff Shepard, yet another alum of my White House. After years of combing through archives and reading court transcripts, Geoff published The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot that Brought Nixon Down, in which he documented that the Watergate investigation was simply a Democrat plot, concocted by Kennedy loyalists, all with the aim of electing Teddy Kennedy president in 1976.
It didn’t work out for Teddy, of course—drowning that woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, proved to be more of a negative than they realized—and yet Team Kennedy did all they could. Getting rid of me was the one part of the plan that they did manage to accomplish.
Okay, so now to Trump and impeachment. The Democrats hoped that they could revive the Watergate playbook and impeach and convict Trump, just as they started to impeach me, although I resigned first.
Yet in 2019, the precedent that was followed was Iran-Contra, and not Watergate. That is, during Watergate, too many Republicans scattered, and that was the end of me. And yet as that lib Bunch recalled in his mopey column, by the time of Iran-Contra, a decade later, Republicans had learned: they were organized, and they stuck together and fought as a team.
And that’s why Reagan met a different fate than I did. And it looks like a sure bet that Trump, too, will pull through.
So now here are five lessons to be kept in mind as this Trump thing plays itself out, as well as for the next time that the Democrats try a political coup d’etat. Take it from me, Dick Nixon—who was on the national ticket for four wining elections, from the ’50s to the ’70s—that this is the way to do it:
First, stick together. Back on November 10, my pal Virgil wrote that if Republicans stay united, they’ll be fine in this messy process, and so will Trump. The same, of course, was true for Reagan in Iran-Contra: Unity is power. By contrast, during Watergate, Republicans went every which way, and so I was sunk.
Second, fight, fight, fight. Republican stalwarts, including Reps. Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Devin Nunes, and Doug Collins, have fought the Democrats over everything, pointing out Democrat hypocrisy—and it’s worked.
For instance, during the House Judiciary Committee hearings, Republicans put up a sign on an easel quoting Nancy Pelosi from earlier this year: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”
What changed, Nancy? Answer: pressure from Trump-haters. But bowing to pressure from crazy activists is not a good look to put before the country.
Third, wait for the Democrats to be stupid. It’s hard to believe that the Democrats would showcase three Trump-hating liberal law professors to lead off the House Judiciary Committee session—but that’s exactly what they did! Three stereotypical embodiments of everything most people in the country despise: a trio of snooty and snobby academics, the types who give money to, and probably help litigate for, the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rep. Lee Zeldin tweeted, with maximum snark, “Congrats to the professors who won the Dems’ nationwide talent search for the most elitist, unhinged anti-Trump professors in America. These meltdowns based on triggered emotions.”
In fact, those three libs were easily countered by Jonathan Turley; Turley is no conservative, and yet his commonsense take on impeachment, even though outnumbered, carried the day.
Noah Feldman of Harvard University, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University are sworn in to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill December 4, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Fourth, wait it out. The longer the Democrats take to make their case—they are, after all, the party of law professors, who love to hear themselves talk, and of lawyers, who get paid by the hour—the better for the GOP. As former Republican Capitol Hill staffer John Feehery wrote a few days ago, “Every day that Democrats are not talking about health care is a day that they are slowly but steadily losing the election.” In fact, the early polling numbers show that the Dems are digging themselves into an ever deeper hole. So if this is the field they want to die on—let them! But there’s no rush; first, let them bleed. A lot.
In the warning words of Democrat presidential candidate Andrew Yang, “I’m pro-impeachment, but this is going to be a loser.” Understandably, a few nervous Democrats have been talking about censure, as opposed to impeachment, as a kind of off-ramp for endangered House Democrats. And yet just on December 5, Nancy Pelosi shut that down. Indeed she went even further, declaring, “Civilization as we know it today is at stake in the next election, and certainly, our planet.” Wow!
So for the Dems, it’s impeachment or bust. To which I say, a busting can be arranged!
Fifth, always, always, call out the media. Reporters, of course, were always my enemy. Back in 1969, I unleashed my vice president, Spiro Agnew, on these worms; I still chuckle when I think about Spiro zinging them as “an effete corps of impudent snobs,” and as “nattering nabobs of negativism”—and all the other alliterative assaults he hurled at them. (Pat Buchanan, a great wordsmith, as well as a great fighter, was a key part of this rhetorical effort.)
Such press-bashing helped me win a giant landslide re-election in 1972, although, of course, I was gone less than two years later. Oh well.
But today, Trump, he gets it. He goes after ’em—“enemy of the people,” and all that.
In the meantime, a key tactic is the counter-punch. That is, let them throw their punch, parry it—and then punch back. Trump is a master.
Happily, reporters keep punching so that Trump can keep counter-punching. Indeed, journos punch in ways that are so cartoonish as to make it obvious, even to the dull, that they working hand-in-boxing-glove with the Democrats.
For instance, just on December 5, Washington Post media writer Margaret Sullivan, formerly with the New York Times, devoted her column to advising fellow journos on how best to help Democrats impeach and convict the 45th president. Her big idea was that TV reporters ought to make their “news” segments look like movie trailers—that is, like propaganda reels for the impeachers. And Sullivan put that advice right in the Post, for all to see! Nothing subtle there—talk about owning her own bias and hatred.
Meanwhile, one of those TV reporters Sullivan was trying to reach, NBC News’s Katy Tur, signaled her approval of the column: “Wall-to-wall impeachment coverage is not changing any minds,” Tur tweeted. “Here’s how journalists can reach the undecided.” Shameless! Sullivan, and Tur, might as well be on the Democrats’ payroll—or should it be the other way around? In any case, Republicans need to keep saying, this impeachment train is a locomotive with two engineers: the Dems and the MSM.
The Democrats pushed me out of office over Watergate—that is, for allegedly trying to manipulate the 1972 election—when, as Geoff Shepard demonstrated, it was they who were trying to manipulate the 1976 election.
Then, in the following decade, Democrats tried to push Reagan out and wreck Republican prospects in the 1988 election. And yet that effort boomeranged so badly that they found themselves flummoxed in ’88, as another Republican president took office.
Now, in 2019, they’re at it, once again—this time trying to use their politico-legal machinery to manipulate the 2020 election so that the Democrats win. On behalf of my Republican presidential successor, I’m proud to say that it’s not working. Trump is still no cinch for re-election, but it’s obvious that this impeachment business has been a distraction from Democrat efforts to unseat him. Heh, heh.
Of course, even half a century after Watergate, the liberals will never give up. Watergate was their high-water mark, and they know it, so they want to wallow in it, like happy pigs, forever. So even if Reagan and Trump—with my help from the shadows—have shown that it’s possible to beat them back, the libs still have me to kick around.
So I read, for example, that HBO has just green-lit another series on Watergate. Sigh. But that’s okay, I’m used to it. Indeed, I take comfort in the thought that if the libs can’t win in the present-day, they have to settle, at best, for kicking me once again for things that happened 50 years ago.
It’s not fair, it’s not right—but hey, what should I expect? It’s the Democrats and the media, working together, as always, to knife Republicans.
But we can beat them. Make that, we are beating them.