The GOP (my former party for nearly fifty years) was one of our two mainstream, responsible political parties from the time of Lincoln. Certainly partisan, but still responsible.
In 1974 Republicans smacked down President Richard Nixon in no uncertain terms once the Oval Office-managed conspiracy to cover up one of the clumsiest political crimes in the nation’s history became clear. Nixon failed in his effort to corrupt justice, in large measure, because his party would not let him get away with it. How times have changed.
A half-century ago, before my career took me to Chicago, I lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and was riveted to the news about the Watergate scandal. My dear friend and former business partner, the late Larry Hogan (the father of the current Governor of Maryland), had been elected to Congress in 1968, claiming a Republican victory in one of the most Democratically-controlled congressional districts in the nation.
Those were heady times for me. I was thirty years old when Hogan was first elected to Congress. I was President of the boutique advertising and public relations firm he had founded, which I had joined as a partner in 1964. I was consumed with Hogan’s political campaigns from the time he first ran for Congress as a Republican in a strongly Democratic district in Maryland in 1966. He lost that first time out but never stopped campaigning and went on to score the biggest congressional upset in the United States in 1968.
There had always been a political component to my career from the time I graduated from the University of Maryland in 1960. I started as an account executive at a marketing research and political polling firm, became Vice President for Marketing at a Washington-New York advertising agency, and subsequently became Hogan’s partner at the agency he founded.
Working on Larry Hogan’s campaigns a half-century ago still rates among the high points for me in a career blessed with many high points. I wrote many of Hogan’s speeches and even delivered a few when he had scheduling conflicts. I managed the campaign’s polling and advertising and worked with precinct volunteers and other senior campaign strategists. Larry Hogan was one of the most principled people I knew, which greatly enhanced the excitement of working on his campaigns.
I see in U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger the same qualities that informed and motivated Larry Hogan. While he was undoubtedly a proud and partisan Republican, he was honest to a fault. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which was considering Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon, he listened to many hours of testimony, and the 200 hours of the infamous Oval Office tapes that pertained to Watergate. He became the first Republican and presumed Nixon loyalist to announce he was voting for all three Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon. The following day, a delegation of Republican Senators went to the White House to tell Nixon it was over.
Hogan and I spoke the night before he announced his decision to vote to impeach Nixon. He was sad. He had been a Nixon loyalist. He had campaigned for Nixon, and Nixon had campaigned for him. He knew the conservative Republican Party in Maryland would never forgive him for voting to impeach, and he was right. They denied him the Republican nomination when he ran for Governor. Ironically, no Republican has ever again held Maryland’s fifth Congressional District seat since Larry Hogan vacated it a half-century ago to run for Governor.
Hogan spoke truth to power, even when his party held power. He said Nixon had “lied repeatedly” about Watergate, that he interfered with investigators and tried to obstruct justice. “Unless Richard Nixon is removed from office and the disease of Watergate, which has sapped the vitality of our government, is purged from the body politic, government and politics will continue to be clouded by mistrust and suspicion,” he said when announcing his decision to vote for impeachment.
The press, at the time, speculated that as many as seven of the Judiciary Committee’s seventeen Republicans might vote for impeachment following Hogan’s courageous announcement. And indeed, a short time later, seven of those GOP committee members voted for various articles of impeachment against Nixon.
Hogan’s son, the current Governor of Maryland, said his father’s vote on impeachment cost his dad dearly. “He lost friends and supporters and his party’s nomination for Governor that year,” Governor Hogan said. According to the Baltimore Sun, my late friend and former business partner received about 15,000 letters — some addressing him as “Benedict Arnold” Hogan and “Judas” Hogan. He was even mailed packages of feces, according to the paper.
Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have shown the same fortitude in confronting former President Trump’s scandalous and possibly criminal election chicanery as did Larry Hogan a half-century earlier when Richard Nixon so sullied the Oval Office. Just as I had the opportunity fifty years ago to speak at great length with Congressman Hogan about an oval office scandal, I have also had the opportunity to speak with Liz Cheney about the more recent White House scandal. She, like Larry Hogan 50 years ago, and his son, Governor Hogan, today, represents the best in American politics. As was Congressman Hogan a half-century ago, she is a textbook profile in courage.
I do not doubt how history will judge the late Congressman Larry Hogan, and the current Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, just as I do not doubt how history will judge their detractors. I have listened to Republicans I know heap scorn on Liz Cheney just as I listened to Republicans I knew fifty years ago heap scorn on Larry Hogan. Not much has changed in that regard.
And so, we return to the question of Watergate in 1972 and what we might call Capitolgate in 2021. Both are monumental scandals. The 2021 insult to American democracy, which some in the Trump White House encouraged, if not planned, was a blatant attempt to sabotage the peaceful transfer of power in the United States and will most certainly be remembered by history as one of America’s most scandalous moments.
History will, I believe, also have a lot to say about the fear many Republicans have today to confront a former President because he remains popular within their Party. They forget, however, that Richard Nixon was also an enormously popular President. He had just won 520 electoral votes out of 537, carrying every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. No President has even come close to winning an election with such a wide margin of victory. Indeed, Nixon is still the only President since FDR to win over 60 percent of the popular vote.
So, what is the problem here? It is said, albeit in whispers, within the political class that many Republicans in Congress wish Trump would just go away, but they fear his retribution if they break ranks and speak against him. It is not precisely known how large a group of Republicans feel that way, but whatever their numbers are, their reluctance to speak and lead provides wind for the former President’s sails.
Loyal opposition has been the role of both of our major political parties, depending on which party is in or out of power. The meaning of that loyalty has never been ambiguous. It simply refers to loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, notwithstanding whatever opposition the party out of power has to the agenda of the party in power. When a party’s loyalty is to a man, or a politician, at the expense of loyalty to our Constitution, its members can no longer claim they are the loyal opposition.
Today, the leadership and much of the rank and file of the Republican Party have abandoned any pretense of being the loyal opposition. When the leadership of a political party foments, supports, or ignores an insurrection, we no longer have a party acting as the loyal opposition. Instead, we have an anything-goes political faction that is simply averting its eyes in the face of the first attempted coup in the history of the United States of America.
There is no comparison between the Republican Party of fifty years ago and the Republican Party of today. The Republican Party, following the Watergate outrage, stood up to a Republican president who had gone rogue. The Republican Party, following the January 6th, 2021, attempted coup still quakes in fear of a former Republican President who had gone, and continues to go, rogue. There has been an attempted insurrection in the United States of America. Why would anyone choose to become an accessory after the fact to an insurrection that tried to bring down America’s constitutional democracy? There is nothing honorable about that.
Honorable is not something one chooses, on occasion, to be. Honorable is what one is or isn’t.