Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer: Trump's Demise Will Be "Worse Than Watergate"Roundup
tags: Watergate, corruption, impeachment, Trump
Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer are professors of history at Princeton University.
For decades, Watergate has served as the benchmark against which all other presidential scandals are measured. One sign of its continuing importance in the popular imagination is the use of the “-gate” suffix to indicate scandal: “Billygate,” “Lewinskygate,” “Plamegate,” and far too many others to mention here.
But Watergate’s time as the gold standard of presidential malfeasance might well be coming to an end. If the multiple charges against President Donald Trump prove out, he’ll easily displace Richard Nixon at the top of the Crooked Modern Presidents list. Here’s why.
The Original Sin: The underlying crime in Watergate was a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, part of a plot to steal documents that might have offered a slight edge in what turned out to be a landslide victory for Nixon. The closest post-Nixon, pre-Trump scandal in terms of severity was surely Iran-Contra, in which high-level officials in the Ronald Reagan administration circumvented Congress to secure military assistance to Nicaraguan rebels. The legal violations were considerable but, as partisans insisted and much of the public believed, the scandal stemmed from a sincere policy position held by the administration rather than the self-interest of individuals. President Bill Clinton’s scandal seemed the inverse: It was deeply personal—an extramarital affair with a White House intern—but the crimes that resulted from it were small-bore.
Although the allegations against Trump are still just that—allegations—they’re far more serious. At the heart of the matter is the possibility that his campaign conspired with a foreign government to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Congressional investigators are also looking into whether the president has made policy decisions based on campaign favors. The president’s critics are suspicious of his relationship with Vladimir Putin and wonder if his financial ties to countries in the Middle East—including Saudi Arabia—affected the administration’s positions on serious matters such as the brutal murder of the Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
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