Talk about “Nixon now.”
Forty-four years since the president synonymous with secrecy and scandal was last on a ballot, his ghost seems to hover over the campaign to succeed the 44th inhabitant of the Oval Office.
Each of the two competitive candidates to follow Barack Obama has been compared to Richard Nixon, repeatedly and in a variety of different ways, and it underscores the respective vulnerabilities of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump heading into the fall campaign.
For Clinton, the issue is honesty and trustworthiness, and she’s acknowledged polling showing this as a major challenge for her with voters. It’s one Trump hopes to capitalize on with his favorite moniker for his opponent, “Crooked Hillary,” since, after all, people have gotta know whether or not their president is a crook.
Of course, “Crooked Hillary” also comes right out of the school of rhetoric that gave us Nixon’s nickname, “Tricky Dick” — the Donald may be a master brander taking political name-calling to a new level, but Democrats know a good opportunity when they see one.
It’s not just political opponents and late-night hosts evoking Nixon when talking about Clinton, though.
As Mother Jones chronicled earlier this year, the Washington Post’s legendary Watergate duo of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have repeatedly drawn parallels between Clinton and Nixon. In some cases they’ve said her actions weren’t as bad as his, but in others they’ve rung alarm bells about her secrecy and stonewalling on releasing transcripts of speeches to Wall Street.
At the same time, the case for Trump as Nixon, another blue state Republican, is somewhat irresistible. (Again, to their credit, Mother Jones and the Daily Beast are news outlets that got here first.) Trump’s talk of championing “the silent majority” comes directly from Nixon, and he’s also borrowed the “law and order” rhetorical appeal to white America that was central to the 1968 campaign.
“We must restore law and order,” he wrote on Facebook after last week’s Dallas shooting. “We must restore the confidence of our people to be safe and secure.”
Not that Trump is forthcoming about how exactly he’d do that.
As others have noted, he also seems to have a Nixon-style “secret plan to end the war,” saying of his strategy to defeat ISIS, “I’m not gonna tell you what it is … I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”
There’s even evidence that Nixon was an early Trump fan. According to biographer Michael D’Antonio, the president wrote a note to real estate mogul in December 1987, after his wife watched Trump on television.
“I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me you were great,” Nixon wrote. “As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!”
Come November, we’ll see if he’s right.