I have been following US politics for a long time — at least since the Nixon presidency and Watergate. Of course, I was aware of Johnson even before then, but I was a bit too young to fully grasp what he was up to, other than terrifying his dogs, and bombing the hell out of Vietnam.
Watergate unfolded while I was in university, and it presaged a huge shift in the political landscape. Ford’s pardon of Nixon sealed the doom of the moderate or east coast wing of the national Republican party. They used to be called Rockefeller Republicans and Ford led thsi group. Having pardoned Nixon, Ford could not overcome the tarnish of Watergate and he lost the 1976 election to an unknown – Jimmy Carter.
BTW, do you know what Gerald Ford’s campaign slogan was? It was “He’s making us proud again!” Errr … not.
After Carter’s victory, Republicans were hugely motivated to get beyond Nixon and re-establish their credibility as a naitonal party. Reagan offered them these things and Republicans embraced Reagan in a bear hug. Not only did Reagan shift the party to the right, Reagan shifted it into a more dogmatic embrace of the “govenrment is the problem” rhetoric. And the Republicans have been stuck there ever since. That is why there is no “progressive” or even “pragmatic” wing of the Republican party. They were driven out long ago.
Here is the question – how long can a major party play out of a thirty year old playbook that says only “government is the problem”? At what point does that message stop resonating? Good quesiton. If you know the answer, you are smarter than anyone else in the room.
Here is my best guess — if government is the problem, and Republicans control government, everything should be ok, right? Republicans should be able to fix the problem. But they are not doing that. Not only are they not doing that, we begin to see a new sort of problem. We begin to see how govenrment matters — Trump’s errr … mendacity and ineptitude affect us in basic ways. So far those effects have been limited. But they may grow. We may start to say “corruption matters”. and “corruption is the problem”.
If we see this change in attitude among voters, we are likely to see another major shift in our national politics. The Trump brand will be as toxic as the Nixon brand was and the Republicans will be tarred by it. They will be even more tarred if they do not act on the obvious signs that the Trump presidency is a slow motion train wreck.
So while we argue these days about legal niceties such as “did Trump’s request to Comey constitute an obstruction of justice?” we may be missing the point. The real issue will be what happens over the next year. Does Donald Trump rekindle the notion that honest governance matters?