June 11, 2022

Watergate 1972 Versus “Capitolgate” 2021: The GOP Then and Now.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

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.

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19 responses to “Watergate 1972 Versus “Capitolgate” 2021: The GOP Then and Now.”

  1. Charlie Frankel says:

    Hal – thanks as always for your thoughtful writing. I look forward to reading them every week. The lead-up to the conclusion was detailed, factual, and a nice history lesson. However, the conclusion (that Republicans are simply afraid of Trump) is flawed. While it may be true that some in the Republican party fear Trump – I don’t believe that they are putting Trump over country. They have long ago decided that their party’s power is more important than anything. It is party over country. They will lie, and accept Trump’s behavior because they believe that to say or do otherwise would lead to a loss of their party’s power. There are very few Larry Hogan’s left in the party. They don’t want to be leaders – they just want total control and power. And they do that by stoking their base with worthless claims about Pro-Life Anti-Abortionism, “they are coming for your guns”, CRT, Trans Athletes, Migrant Caravans, Great Replacement Theory, socialism, communism, antisemitism, racism, and misogyny. The republic party’s goal is not to contribute to political discourse but rather to win at all costs and to ensure that the other party loses at all costs. It is a zero-sum game to them. If they lose the other side wins and they can’t allow that (even if letting the other side win is the right call for America). They want a one-party state and they embrace autocracy and fascism. Whenever Trump fades out of the political picture, the GOP’s colors will not revert back to the days when you and I proudly voted as Republicans.

    • Isabel Carlton says:

      So well stayed. You said what the majority of people I have talked to believe, both democrats and real republicans.

  2. Brian Harnik says:

    Eloquent and brilliant.

  3. Perry says:

    Hal, I believe there are many who are not walking in step with the presumptive leader of the Republican party. There is so much leadership available as we will see at their forthcoming convention.
    To name a few Nikki Haley, Pompeo, DeSantis, and even Mike Pence. However, on the Democratic side, there is no credible “Larry Hogan” in the wings.

  4. Steve Hardy says:

    I am not sure there is that much difference in the party or its politicians. Nixon was willing to go away whereas Trump continues to rally his base and destroy anyone who opposes him.

    • Edward Green says:

      And what has the oppersition party been trying to do to TRUMP since he came down the escalator but destroy him so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  5. michael kaback md says:

    Hal, much appreciation for your thoughtful and appropriate comments. What I fail to understand is the reticence and delay of the Justice department to investigate the clear felony committed by Trump in his extensive efforts to obstruct and negate the Constitutionally-required duty of Congress to validate the electoral votes of the State elections. It is a federal felony to obstruct or interfere with a duty of Congress in carrying out it’s defined responsibilities.

    No one can question that Trump and his associates were making extraordinary efforts to delay or negate the counting of electoral votes. This should have been in process from the beginning of the Biden government. WHY THE DELAY?

  6. Jean Broday says:

    Hal
    This is a beautifully written thoughtful and intelligent essay
    It needs to be read by a number of Republicans who claim to be
    Responsible and informed people
    Thank you for this brilliant essay

  7. B. J. Olson says:

    Hal, your analogy with Watergate and the Republicans who approached Nixon is spot on. It is certainly disconcerting that there are not yet enough Republicans that have emerged to form a coalition of rational, level-headed conservatives to approach Trump and tell him that he has lost their support and he must not run!

    Not to take this lightly, but Trump’s senseless power over his followers can be likened to either blind loyalty or fear of a mob boss. It’s unbelievable! It is unfortunate that even if his old most trusted advisors and his own family members told him not to run, he would turn against them as he did with Barr and his own Daughter, Ivanka recently. Hopefully, he will come to the realization that he should not run and cannot win. To save face, he must be convinced that he can no longer be king, but a king maker. I, for one, hopes he gets indicted for tax evasion or some other charge to insure his retirement.

    The Republicans are running out of time. He must declare his intentions NOT to run by fall, so other party leaders can emerge and announce their intentions.
    We need someone, like Paul Ryan, who is respected by both sides and can unite this country and correct the course that the Biden administration has unfortunately placed us in…..

  8. Karen Couch says:

    This commentary describing the facts of Watergate and Capitolgate are very well written. I thank you for all your weekly writings “Of Thee I Sing/1776” that stimulates our minds in comparing historical political events over the years.

  9. Steve says:

    A great assay. Every American, particularly every student, should read it. Sadly those who have no idea what has always made America “special” probably won’t.

  10. LWY says:

    I agree. It is nice to see someone with high ethics and is willing to do the right thing, even when there is tremendous pressure to do otherwise.

  11. Jerry Mathews says:

    Well said Hal! Liz Cheney is a tribute to honor and patriotism. Her statement to the effect that, “Trump will be forgotten over time, but the Republicans’ dishonor will not” was I thought the most impactful statement of the opening Jan. 6 hearings.

  12. Ray Galante says:

    Excellent, Hal. Liz Cheney and Adam K demonstrated gutty leadership. Both should be future political leaders for our country. As for Pence, he deserves the highest praise. Interesting to hear details of Trump in their private meeting, trying to convince Pence to thwart the election results (we never will). More kudos for Pence; the man has guts. As for future leaders, I of course include him as well as Hogan and Haley. Pence showed remarkable courage.

  13. Shirley says:

    Brilliant essay, Hal.

  14. Charles Fonarow says:

    Excellent thoughtful essay. Thank you. Loud applause for Liz Cheney & Adam Kinzinger — integrity in spades.

  15. Stephanie Stafford says:

    I am using a portion of your article here, and it seems that no one is responding to the question that the GOP FEARS #45…..WHY??? What is the real issue/problem here, afraid of what, his foul mouth, his connection to corporations that would fund the GOP, like the NRA, or even foreign countries….What the heck is it.

    The GOP group is appearing to be very weak and that’s why no one really want’s to support them, in addition to what they are attempting to do to alter the rights of voters by redrawing State voting districts, and trying to stack the State departments so the GOP has total control no matter how a person votes…..

    Why are the worried about not having total control and not willing to work with the Dems. on issues that will help Millions of Americans, and that’s being shown daily, yet people are not paying attention but they will once their God Given Priviledges are taken away which may be real soon.

    The GOP is so obvious in what they are attempting to do to “WE THE PEOPLE” that it’s discusting to say the least. What about all the Oaths the GOP officials have taken, yet they are just thumbing their nose up at it, because it sure appears they just don’t care. Two politicial parties is healthy, but not in the past years and it needs to have GOP officials back or voted in with fresh commitments to the USA .

    “GOD BLESS AMERICA”

    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.

  16. Trip says:

    Trump has unleashed the dark side of America. It contains fascists and racists. It is driven by fear and ignorance. It is fed by poverty and insecurity. It’s cure will take several generations of investment in education and infrastructure. The investment must come from those that have benefitted most. If the rich are unwilling to give back to the country, we and they will perish.

  17. Kristin McInnes says:

    Republicans of the Watergate era, for the most part, felt a greater loyalty to country than to party. Today, most Republicans pledge total fealty to a man they’re too cowardly to disagree with, have sold their souls and all integrity to, and put their own self-interest above the citizens and the country.

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