Nixon, Trump, and the ungovernable government
Conventional wisdom says "Watergate" forced President Nixon from office. Right? Maybe, not. Conventional wisdom says the cover-up, not the political-trick burglary, forced President Nixon from office. Right? Maybe not.
In the long history of political dirty tricks, looking for dirt in the opposing party’s headquarters is not uncommon. In Washington, D.C., many senior bureaucrats make mistakes. The "cover-up" is a D.C. art form. Officials fired? Pensions lost? Rarely, if ever.
Turning "settled history" on its head let’s ask: What forced a President, who carried 49 out of 50 states in November 1972 to resign the Presidency, just 21 months later?
How about President Nixon’s New Federalism? Nixon planned to reduce the power of the federal bureaucracy by streamlining welfare and social programs, by using revenue-sharing to empower officials at the state, county, and city levels to be more effective, and by moving some federal offices out of D.C. into fly-over America.
While voters liked Nixon’s New Federalism (49 States-worth) federal bureaucrats (AKA the Deep State) detested the New Federalism and Richard Nixon, as well.
Let’s put human faces on the Nixon-hate. You have a good job in, say, the Dept. of Agriculture. Your spouse works for the State Department. One child has a scholarship to Georgetown U., another to GWU. Life is good.
Following Nixon’s landslide victory, your job is transferred to the Old West Regional Commission in Billings, Montana. Other than overseas, the only job for your spouse is in D.C. Your family, however, is not alone. Thousands of federal jobs are headed for fly-over land. Maybe even Grand Junction, Colorado?
So, do you move the family to Montana? No, you and thousands like you seize upon the Watergate break-in as the way to get rid of Nixon’s New Federalism. You mobilize friendly members of Congress and the Intelligence and Law Enforcement communities to attack Nixon.
For example, the main source for Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate stories in The Washington Post was William Mark Felt, (Deep Throat) the assistant FBI director Nixon refused to appoint to be the FBI director.
For the Deep State, the most troubling aspect of Nixon’s New Federalism was the wholesale reorganization of the Executive Branch. On March 12, 1971 President Nixon said, "We must rebuild the executive branch according to a new understanding of how government can best be organized to perform effectively... For only when a department is set up to achieve a given set of purposes, can we effectively hold that department accountable for achieving them..." [Bold mine.]
As T.S. Eliot famously said, "Good writers borrow, great writers steal."
So, now fast forward to Candidate Donald J. Trump who borrowed liberally from Richard Nixon when Trump pledged to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy, move federal offices closer to the people, and "drain the Deep-State Swamp."
When President Trump moved the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, 90-percent of the staff quit, retired, or took other D.C. jobs. (In 2021, President Biden* moved BLM headquarters out of Colorado and back to D.C.)
Today’s lesson: "Watergate" did not defeat President Nixon. "Mean Tweets" did not defeat President Trump. The winner? Then, now, and maybe forever, the winner is: the immovable, implacable, entrenched Deep State.
©2022. William Hamilton.