Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
The GOP has a history of striking deals with foreign governments to help it win presidential elections while out of power. Nixon and Reagan did it… and possibly Trump.
If the past serves as any predictor, the Senate will not impeach Trump for the large number of contacts his factotums had with Russian intelligence officials before the election, even if we discover that Trump struck a deal to have Russian hackers help him win the election.
No matter that such a deal would be treasonous. No matter that such a deal would offend our sense of fair play. No matter that such a deal would go against the best interests of the United States.
It’s par for the course for Republican candidates to ask foreign powers to intervene in American presidential elections. It’s what Nixon did in 1968, when he persuaded the South Vietnamese government not to come to the negotiating table in Paris until after the election. In one of the closest elections in history, it’s clear that Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, would have won if his boss, Lyndon Johnson, had been able to declare that peace talks had begun. Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government that if it refused to negotiate until after the election he would get it a better deal. What he gave us instead was seven more years of war, illegal bombing and the ultimate abandonment of his South Vietnamese partners. There are lots of references in news media morgues and history books, but I’ll refer you to Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland for a general discussion on how Nixon scuttled the Paris peace negotiations until after election day.
Asking a foreign power to fix an election is also what Ronald Reagan did in 1980. There is a lot of evidence that Reagan representatives and the Iranian government struck a deal to postpone release of the American hostages that Iranian radicals took a year earlier. If the Iranians had released the hostages in October, there is no doubt that the surge of positive feeling among the electorate would have turned the election in President Carter’s favor. But Reagan offered the Iranian government something it desperately wanted: guns to battle Iraq. So Reagan made an illegal bargain to sell weapons to a country that at the time was officially an enemy. And what did Reagan do with the money? He used it to support the Contras, a rightwing ragtag guerrilla force trying to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. Like Nixon, Reagan piled illegality on top of illegality by helping the Contras despite the fact that Congress had voted specifically to ban the U.S. military to aid them. While mainstream media continue to deny the hostage deal aspect of the Iran-Contra scandal, discounting many of the sources, Kevin Phillips in American Dynasty and others believe the remaining evidence is sufficient to conclude Reagan’s people were talking in secret to the Iranian government before the election.
During both the Nixon and the Reagan Administrations, plenty of people inside and outside of government knew about these treacheries. There were hearings on what became known as Iran-Contra, but Reagan got a pass, as everything was blamed on subordinates and the Washington establishment pretended that Reagan knew nothing about supplying the Contras. Nixon was and remains untouched by his treasonous negotiations that went against what the American government was trying to do and what the American people wanted it to do. In retrospect, undermining the negotiations and policy of the sitting American government seems like a worse offense than the third-rate Watergate burglary, especially since both involved cover-up operations.
Thus it would be a major break in precedence for a Republican Congress to attempt to dismiss Trump from office for committing treason while a candidate. There may be a Congressional investigation or two about Trump’s pre-election dealings with the Russian government. Other, lesser heads may roll. But while treason is a cause for impeachment, treason while a candidate evidently is not.
Copyright 2017 Marc Jampole