Lessons for the DNC from Richard Nixon by David Montgomery

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Richard Nixon could teach today’s Democrats a lesson in putting the country ahead of partisan gain.

The Democratic Party on Friday, April 20 filed a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit against Trump campaign officials, the Russian government and WikiLeaks alleging a widespread conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.

“The conspiracy constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the Presidency,” the suit states.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” said DNC Chairman Tom Perez in a statement, calling the alleged collusion “an act of unprecedented treachery.

Not all Democrats agreed. US congresswoman Jackie Speier of San Francisco, who has a law degree, told CNN that “I think this sidebar lawsuit is not in the interest of the American people.” But the DNC does not care.

How anyone could be so willing to destabilize our constitutional system is impossible for me to understand. Even their obvious affliction with Trump Derangement Syndrome and alliances with the radicals that have taken over the Women’s March and BLM is insufficient to explain why a political organization that pretends to care about the future of the country would try so hard to provoke a constitutional crisis. Than again, this might be no more than an effort to start a digging expedition under the guise of “discovery” for anything that could be used in their “get rid of Trump at any cost” campaign.

The partisan myopia afflicting current politics makes it worthwhile repeating how Vice President Richard Nixon dealt with the apparent fraud that handed the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. The 1960 election turned out to be one of the closest elections in this nation’s history. Nixon always believed that election was stolen – another word for rigged – by ballot stuffing in Cook County and in Texas.

There was a lot of evidence he was right. Earl Mazo, a Washington reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, investigated claims of voter fraud in the 1960 election. He was quoted as saying: There was a cemetery where the names on the tombstones were registered and voted. I remember a house. It was completely gutted. There was nobody there. But there were 56 votes for [John F.] Kennedy in that house. He then went to Lyndon Johnson’s Texas, where he found similar circumstances.

Roger Stone tells the story more dramatically: “Mayor Daley himself gave away the game on election eve when he said, ‘With the Democratic organization and the help of a few close friends,’ the Democrats would prevail on election day. There is sufficient evidence that the ‘few close friends’ mentioned include Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana… The evidence of voter fraud in Texas, where the Kennedy-Johnson ticket carried the state by a scant 50,000 votes was as widespread and odious as that of the daily machine in Chicago.”

The New York Herald Tribune started publishing Mazo’s articles when still-Vice President Nixon intervened and told Mazo that “Our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis” in the midst of the Cold War. Rather than follow a course that would polarize and weaken the nation, Nixon chose to leave the White House for a time.

A recent article congratulates Nixon for his patriotic act. Ironically, this article was written before election day as a warning to Donald Trump of the bad things that would happen if he were to contest the results as rigged.

“Despite the razor-thin margin, Nixon publicly conceded defeat very early the morning after the election, shortly before Kennedy declared victory. Nixon did not encourage Republicans to regard the country as locked in a permanent civil war, or to treat the incoming president as a usurper. [How different from the Never-Trumpers and impeachment nuts]

To the contrary, on January 6, 1961, he discharged his responsibility as president of the Senate and presided over the congressional tally of the electoral college vote. ‘In our campaigns,’ he told the joint session of Congress, ‘no matter how hard they may be, no matter how close the election may turn out to be, those who lose accept the verdict and support those who win.’ Nixon noted that he was the first vice president since 1860 to declare his opponent the winner (outgoing Vice President John C. Breckenridge performed the same task for Abraham Lincoln). It was a ‘striking example of the stability of our constitutional system.”

For the good of the country, Nixon decided to accept the verdict and move on.

And that’s the difference. The threat to our democracy is not the thought, the idea or the charge that an election was stolen or rigged or unfair. It has happened. The threat to our democracy is the refusal to accept the verdict of the election.

Nixon was advised in 1960 to contest the election. He decided not to do so for the good of the country. The DNC could learn a great deal from a politician they loathe, but who showed more character and love of country than any of them are demonstrating today.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Letters to Editor

  1. William Smith says:

    I read with incredulity Robert Montgomery’s recommendation that the Democratic party take a page from Richard Nixon’s book and drop its current lawsuit against Donald Trump. I don’t support that lawsuit, but I very much take issue with both Mr. Montgomery’s recommendation that the Democratic party model itself on Richard Nixon and the historical fallacy that he basis his argument on.

    In the interest of full disclosure, President Kennedy was my Uncle and I have spent a good deal of my lifetime listening to this kind of nonsense. Yes, the 1960 election was, and apparently still is, disputed. President Kennedy beat Nixon by 130,000 votes out of 68 million cast and many states beside Texas and Illinois could have gone either way. Throughout his career Nixon did bring up the election with what has often been described as a bitter tone. He always insisted publicly that President Eisenhower, among others, encouraged him to dispute the outcome but he refused because he felt it would cause a “constitutional crisis,” and “tear the country apart.” As with many of Richard Nixon’s public statements, this one simply is not true. Conservative journalist and Nixon friend Ralph De Toledano reported that Nixon knew President Dwight Eisenhower did not support an election challenge in 1960 but publicly chose to claim he was unaware of the fact and that it was Nixon, not Eisenhower, who advocated restraint. “This was the first time I ever caught Nixon in a lie” De Toledano recalled. The truth was that behind the scenes Nixon’s allies were doing everything they could to undermine the election. Earl Mazzo, a Nixon friend and biographer, led the calls of fraud and foul in the press, which were loud and frequent. Three days after the election, Republican party Chairman Sen. Thruston Morton launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states. Eight days later, Nixon aides, including Bob Finch and Len Hall, sent agents to conduct “field checks” in eight of those states while Peter Flanigan, another aide, encouraged the creation of a Nixon Recount Committee in Chicago. The Republican party and Nixon allies dug in for a fight and they succeeded in obtaining recounts, empaneling grand juries, and involving U.S. attorneys and the FBI. They had their appeals heard, claims evaluated, evidence weighed and the results of their efforts were meager. Only one state, Hawaii, changed hands but it went from the Nixon to the Kennedy column, raising the margin of the electoral college victory by three. Despite considerable efforts, multiple election boards saw no reason to overturn the results in 1960 and neither did state or federal judges or an Illinois special prosecutor in 1961. Academic inquiries into the Illinois vote by three University of Chicago professors in 1961 and by political scientist Edmund Kallina in 2010 have concluded that whatever fraud existed, it did not alter the election.

    Yet here we are all these years later publicly repeating a lie told by Richard Nixon, in service to Donald Trump, a President who repeatedly and demonstrably engages in lying on an unprecedented scale. Most disturbingly, in the process of laying out his argument Mr. Montgomery chose to gratuitously toss in the name of a notorious gangster, laying an additional smear on the legacy of a dead President. It is not the first, or the last time, that a supporter of Donald Trump will bend the facts and smear a target in an effort to influence public opinion. The only response is to try and patiently to set the record straight until the current constitutional crisis is blessedly in the rear-view mirror.

  2. Richard Skinner says:

    There is indeed something to be said for not using the courts to seek remedies to political malfeasance: that’s why we have legislatures. Still, to invoke Richard Nixon as a paragon of political good sportsmanship strains credulity to the limit. Throughout the 1968 campaign for president, Nixon used backchannels to convey to the South Vietnamese government to hold off making any agreements to end the fighting there until Nixon was elected, invaded Cambodia on the pretext that that country was used nefariously, and was aware of most if not all of the illegal acts carried out under what became known as “Watergate” but lied consistently of any such knowledge until the existence of tapes undercut his disavowals. Such is his record of political rectitude?

    The writer’s argument for allowing elections to settle unsettled elections (e.g., Bush 2000) is not a bad one; indeed, it’s what our form of democracy is about. But to use Richard Nixon as the exemplar of the argument’s correctness undercuts the very point he seeks to make. No doubt, Boss Tweed and the rule of Tammany Hall afforded many New Yorkers wealth and comfort, but I do not think we should dress up Mr. Tweed as Santa Claus. And George Armstrong Custer was a striking figure as a calvary man, but I am reluctant to invoke the Little Big Horn as one exemplar of military strategy and tactics. No doubt Donald Trump was – for some – the exemplar of executive decisiveness in a faux business farce, but no one in their right mind would elect him President of the United States.

  3. I read with incredulity Robert Montgomery’s recommendation that the Democratic party take a page from Richard Nixon’s book and drop its current lawsuit against Donald Trump. I don’t support that lawsuit, but I very much take issue with both Mr. Montgomery’s recommendation that the Democratic party model itself on Richard Nixon and the historical fallacy that he bases his argument on.

    In the interest of full disclosure, President Kennedy was my Uncle and I have spent a good deal of my lifetime listening to this kind of nonsense. Yes, the 1960 election was, and apparently still is, disputed. President Kennedy beat Nixon by 130,000 votes out of 68 million cast and many states could have gone either way. Throughout his career Richard Nixon brought up that election in what has often been described as a bitter tone. He always insisted publicly that President Eisenhower, among others, encouraged him to dispute the outcome but he refused because he felt it would cause a “constitutional crisis,” and “tear the country apart”. As with many of Richard Nixon’s public statements, this one was simply not true. Conservative journalist and Nixon friend Ralph De Toledano reported that Nixon knew President Dwight Eisenhower would not support an election challenge in 1960 but publicly claimed that he was unaware of that fact and that it was he, Nixon and not Eisenhower, who advocated restraint. “This was the first time I ever caught Nixon in a lie” De Toledano recalled.

    The truth was that behind the scenes Nixon’s allies did everything they could to overturn the election results. Earl Mazzo, a Nixon friend and biographer, led the calls of fraud and foul in the press, which were loud and frequent. Republican party Chairman Sen. Thruston Morton launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states. Nixon aides, including Bob Finch and Len Hall, sent men to conduct “field checks” in eight of those states while Peter Flanigan, another aide, encouraged the creation of a Nixon “Recount Committee” in Chicago. The Republican party and Nixon allies obtained recounts, empaneled grand juries, and involved U.S. attorneys and the FBI. Their appeals were heard, claims evaluated, evidence weighed but, in the end, only one state, Hawaii, changed hands. It went from the Nixon to the Kennedy column, raising the margin of the electoral college victory by three. Despite these considerable effort, multiple election boards saw no reason to overturn the results in 1960 and neither did state and federal judges or an Illinois special prosecutor in 1961. Academic inquiries into the Illinois vote by three University of Chicago professors in 1961 and by political scientist Edmund Kallina in 2010 have concluded that whatever fraud existed did not alter the election results.

    Yet here we are all these years later publicly repeating a lie told by Richard Nixon and doing so in service to Donald Trump, a President who repeatedly and demonstrably engages in lying on an unprecedented scale. Most regretably, in the process of laying out his argument Mr. Montgomery chose to gratuitously toss in the name of a notorious gangster, laying an additional smear on the legacy of a dead President. Partisan myopia indeed.

    It is not the first, or the last time, that a supporter of Donald Trump will bend the facts and smear a target in an effort to influence public opinion. The only response is to try and patiently to set the record straight until the current constitutional crisis is blessedly in the rear-view mirror.

    • David Montgomery says:

      I think you have all missed the irony, that even a character as flawed as Nixon saw the harm that would be done by refusing to accept the outcome of an election, no matter how close or flawed.

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