Mistaken Identity: Why Emailgate Is And Is Not Like Watergate

Candidate Trump says the current email investigation is worse than the 1972 Watergate scandal. His media surrogate, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a Fox News interview, also referenced the 1972 re-election campaign of Richard Nixon and the then ongoing FBI investigation.

But the Trump campaign had better hope that the Clinton email crisis is not like the Watergate scandal.

As Gingrich noted, despite an ongoing FBI investigation, Nixon won a landslide election victory. He won the electoral votes of every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. No candidate since has managed to equal or surpass Nixon's total percentage or margin of the popular vote and his electoral vote total.

But there are differences between the two FBI investigations.

For our Millennium voters, first let's recap the situation of the 1972 campaign.

By Election Day 1972, President Nixon's re-election campaign was linked to the botched Washington DC burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters.

A federal grand jury had indicted five Watergate burglars, who were attempting to wire tap the Democratic National Headquarters. Among those named were G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon), and former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. They were charged with conspiracy, burglary, and violating federal wiretapping laws. The FBI determined that the burglary was a case of political sabotage, or "dirty tricks", to help Nixon's reelection campaign.

Adding to President Nixon's apparent troubles, by Election Day 1972, John Mitchell, the head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President and Nixon's former Attorney General, had been linked to a secret Republican campaign fund that financed the Watergate burglary.

Still President Nixon won the race by 18 million-vote margin, the widest margin of any United States presidential election.

Fast forward to 2016 and the case of the private email server of Hillary Clinton.

In July, FBI Director James Comey chose not to present to a grand jury the agency's findings related to Hillary Clinton's private server. With 11 days before the 2016 Election Day, Comey informed Congress that several thousand work-related emails had been found on the computers of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. He indicated that the FBI would review the emails to determine if the work-related emails contain new information.

Unlike the 1972 FBI Watergate investigations, Comey offered no indication what the emails would uncover. There are no indictments, and no hint that any are forthcoming.

There are other differences between the two FBI investigations, and the 1972 and 2016 campaigns:

First, despite the Watergate burglary and the grand jury report, Nixon led his Democrat opponent 59 to 38% in October 1972. Just prior to Election Day, Nixon had a 62 to 38% lead in the polls. He won the popular vote, 61 to 38%.

That's not the case in the current campaign. There is no major gap in recent polls between the two current candidates. Prior to the Comey letter to Congress, polls showed the race tightening.

Second, Nixon had 30% unfavorability ratings in October 1972. While both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton unfavorability ratings have remained in the high fifties.

Finally Nixon's Democrat opponent in 1972, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, ran a disorganized campaign, and the press soundly criticized him for it. The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, has insulated their candidate against the email server scandal. They've raised questions about Trump's business practices, his foundation, his real estate school, and his bankruptcies. They've also countered the indiscretions of Bill Clinton, with stories of Trump's alleged indiscretions.

The winner of the 2016 election cycle will not be determined by a FBI investigation. Voters are immune to scandals this election cycle. They've accepted that both candidates are deeply flawed.

Nothing has changed. The winner will be the least tolerable candidate.