The latest reports suggesting that the Trump campaign may have conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election may be shocking, but this is nothing new. The reality is that the Republican Party has a nearly 50-year history of skulduggery in Presidential elections that includes conspiring with our enemies and voter suppression that taints many of their victories during this period.
1968: Nixon Scuttles Vietnamese Peace Talks
On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson stunned the nation by announcing that he would not seek reelection but rather would focus on obtaining peace in Vietnam. During the fall campaign, Republican nominee Richard Nixon feared that progress in the Paris Peace Talks with North Vietnam would guaranty victory for Vice President Humphrey. New evidence reveals that Nixon directed his staff to “ monkey wrench" the negotiations and sent a message to the South Vietnamese government to “Hold on, we are gonna win.” When South Vietnamese President Thieu became suddenly intransigent, President Johnson smelled a rat, telling his friend Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen “this is treason.” In fact, the Logan Act makes it a crime for private citizens to interfere with U.S. government diplomatic negotiations.
Nixon won the election by a mere 511,944 votes. As President he escalated the war before settling for a peace agreement that could have been achieved in 1968 — at a cost of 22,000 American lives.
1980: Debategate and Guns for Hostages
Like Nixon before him, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan worried about an “October Surprise” diplomatic breakthrough in his 1980 challenge to President Carter. Carter was engaged in negotiations with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr to release the fifty-two hostages held at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Bani-Sadr, who campaigned in opposition to the hostage taking, was blocked in his efforts to reach a deal with Carter because of a deal between Ayatollah Khomeini and the Reagan campaign. Reagan campaign staffer Barbara Honegger recalls that when Iran abruptly changed the terms of its deal with Carter on October 22, 1980, a staffer noted “We don't have to worry about an 'October surprise.' Dick [Richard Allen] cut a deal.".
The campaign could now focus on the sole debate between the candidates on October 28, 1980. The Reagan team, however, had what David Stockman called a “purloined copy” of President Carter’s debate briefing binder. While it is unclear how, if at all, the documents helped Reagan in the debate, Reagan’s performance led to a dramatic shift among voters in his favor. This was helped, in part, by pundit George Will praising Reagan’s "thoroughbred performance” during the debate without disclosing that he had helped Reagan rehearse the debate using the purloined papers.
On November 4, 1980, the one-year anniversary of the hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan won in a Republican landslide that included the Republicans winning the Senate for the first time since 1958. The hostages were released moments after Reagan took the oath of office 77-days later, with Richard Allen becoming his National Security Advisor.
A New York Times report found that
[s]oon after taking office in 1981, the Reagan Administration secretly and abruptly changed United States policy and allowed Israel to sell several billion dollars' worth of American-made arms, spare parts and ammunition to the Iranian Government.
George W. Bush won the Presidency based on his 537-vote margin in the State of Florida, although whether Bush truly won Florida is widely disputed. What is not disputed is that the US Civil Rights Commission found that under Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris (who was also the Bush campaign co-chair for Florida), the state engaged in an “overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls” involving the “purposeful use of erroneous listings to promote the state’s purging priorities” resulted in “the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida’s voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election.” Twelve-thousand voters were found to have been erroneously purged.
There also have been questions raised about the 2004 election, particularly electronic tabulations in Ohio where a victory by Senator Kerry would have given him an electoral majority.
2016: Moscow on the Hudson
Which bring us to 2016 where the U.S. intelligence community found that
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
Now there is a question of whether the campaign acted in concert with Russia in this effort. While Trump and his campaign deny this point, he has little to no credibility on this issue since he repeatedly claims he has no ties to Russia despite ample evidence to the contrary and Moscow has confirmed having communications with the Trump campaign. Then there is the question of Trump’s decidedly pro-Moscow policy bent, including watering down a pro-Ukraine provision in the GOP platform.
Trump is not the first Republican nominee to conspire with our enemies to win the White House, however, he may be the first puppet of a hostile regime. The Manchurian Candidate just got real.