Could Trump Be Worse Than Nixon?

In the annals of American history, one President stands alone in his infamy.

That President is Richard M. Nixon.

Of the forty-four men to become President of the United States, only Nixon has resigned. Among that same group of men, it is also clear that only he, upon being impeached, would have been removed after a Senate trial. In fact, he resigned only after the House Judiciary Committee had sent a bi-partisan bill of impeachment to the full House. Republican leaders in the the House and Senate -- Arizona's Rep. John Rhodes and Sen. Barry Goldwater and Pennsylvania Sen. Hugh Scott -- then marched to the White House to tell their Republican President that the gig was up.

The good news is that Nixon was unique in his ignominy.

The bad news is that, if Donald Trump becomes President, things will be worse.

Nixon's "high crimes," the standard required for impeachment and removal, are well-known. He covered up the break-in, burglary and bugging of the offices of his political adversary, the Democratic Party. His cover-up was explicit and fully endorsed. Within days of the arrest of the burglars, the White House tapes show him instructing the CIA to have the FBI stop its investigation on the trumped-up ground that its continuation would impede national security, and promising to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money for those arrested.

In July 1972, at the time Nixon committed his crimes, he was about to be re-nominated for President, and the Democrats were about to nominate South Dakota's Sen. George McGovern.

McGovern favored American withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders, a close to 40% cut in defense spending, and a de facto guaranteed annual income. He would become the most liberal nominee ever put up by the Democrats. Consequently, he was Nixon's dream opponent -- an unwashed leftie whose supporters were at war with a mainstream America comfortable at that time with neither acid, amnesty nor abortion, the three-word sobriquet hung around McGovern's neck.

Watergate, therefore, was an act of unmitigated self-destruction.

Volumes of ink have been spilled attempting to explain Nixon's behavior. He has been deemed paranoid, irredeemably dishonest, and at times unhinged. In fact, though he may have been all of these at one point or another, his flaws were much more quotidian. His lying was selective, his obsessions particularized. As President, he had governed largely from the center, annoying conservatives not as much as liberals, the latter of whom by 1969 could not stomach anymore (let alone four more) years of Vietnam, but a lot nevertheless. In fact, his creation of the EPA and OSHA and his endorsement of wage and price controls and the Family Assistance Plan (which would have guaranteed an income to all) sent conservatives off the deep end. And as a politician, he no doubt thought that what he was covering up in the summer of '72 was nothing other than what his opponents had been doing for years.

About this, of course, he was wrong.

But not so wrong as to be deemed crazy.

Politics was dirtier then.

So, Nixon deserved what he got. But withal, he was and remains a recognizable political entity.

Not so Trump.

Trump does not lie about a few things or select things. He lies about more than most things. Fact-checkers at PolitiFact have rated 69% of his statements as either false, mostly false, or "pant-on-fire" false. Unlike Nixon, Trump's narcissism knows no bounds. His only apparent requirement (from anyone) is adulation. Nixon obsessed about his enemies in general and the Kennedys in particular. Trump obsesses about himself and condemns anyone who either refuses to join in the obsession or says anything at odds with its self-congratulatory assertions of personal triumph, unparalleled intelligence or sexual prowess. Nixon was stuck in some sort fear that Ivy Leaguers never respected his intelligence.

Trump is just stuck...

At about age 13.

Despite his flaws, Nixon also was a student of policy. He was at home in the world of legislative markups, in-depth briefs, and give and take with Henry Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, two of the many Ivy League intellectuals who actually worked for him. Trump has the attention span of a gnat and is at home with Steven Breitbart, the alt-right takedown artist adept at put-downs and put-ups. To his credit, Nixon actually ended segregated schooling in the south and enforced the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Trump, on the other hand, was catapulted onto the national scene via the racist lie that Obama was born in Kenya, a lie Trump continued to tell until just last week.

Nixon turned out to be a crook.

Trump will turn out to be a lot worse.

On foreign policy, which Trump somehow thinks is his strength in this election, the comparison is even deadlier. Nixon spearheaded detente with the Soviet Union and the opening to Red China. The opening was a product of strategic design. He and Kissinger wanted to send a message to the Soviets that their monopoly on bilateralism with the Chinese was over. And it worked. After the Chinese thaw, Nixon began to negotiate SALT II (the second Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). President Ford achieved a significant breakthrough in those talks in 1974, and President Carter signed the SALT II agreement in 1979. Though never ratified by the Senate, both the Carter and Reagan Administrations abided by it, and ultimately President Reagan did his dance with Gorbachev that later brought the Cold War to an end.

Now, compare Trump.

On the one hand, he begins his negotiations with insult. Exhibit A -- Mexicans are rapists. On the other, he praises the autocracy that has emerged in Russian under Vladimir Putin. Nixon is turning over in his grave (in fact, on this point, so is Reagan). Were he going one on one with Putin, the last thing Nixon would do is give Putin leverage.

But that is exactly what Trump has done (and the reason Putin likes him).

Trump alienates NATO allies by turning American's unconditional defense against any Russian incursion into a defense conditioned on the payment of back dues, a move that simultaneously emboldens Putin into believing America will turn a blind eye to any designs he has on the Baltics and ultimately end the sanctions designed to reverse his seizure of Crimea.

Similarly, Trump weakens the leverage inherent in America's nuclear superiority by announcing that, maybe, the Japanese and South Koreans should go nuclear to defend themselves from North Korea, on the one hand watering down America's guarantee to defend Japan and South Korea and on the other endorsing nuclear proliferation in a world that needs to move in the opposite direction.

This is not strategy.

It is stupidity.

Trump constantly supports his absurdities with the line that he doesn't want "to show his hand" in any subsequent negotiations. But in his all-the-world's-a-real-estate-deal that only he can close, he isn't holding his cards; he's just proving he has no idea what is in the deck or how to use it. Nixon didn't weaken NATO before he went to China or negotiated with Brezhnev. He didn't open relationships with China by insulting the Chinese.

And then, of course, there is Trump's temperament. Solipsistic, mercurial, bombastic and totally unfit to be anywhere near the nuclear codes. The list of seasoned foreign policy operatives opposing him grows by the day. And that list is replete with Republicans, ranging from Brent Scowcroft and Robert Gates to numerous officials who served in the Reagan and both Bush Administrations, all of whom believe Trump does not have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief.

The verdict is in. Trump has all of Nixon's flaw and none of his talents.

It did not seem possible in 1974. But with Donald Trump as President, we would in truth have someone...

Worse than Nixon.