On Aug. 7, 1974—49 years ago this week—three powerful Republican lawmakers met with then-President Richard Nixon and told him he wasn’t going to find a reprieve through them: He was going to be impeached. Within two days, Nixon resigned.
That intervention by Sen. Barry Goldwater, House Minority Leader John Rhodes, and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott earned an almost-mythological status that all three legislators downplayed in later years. They were loyal Republicans, they knew the jig was up for Nixon, and they knew that the right thing for the country—and their political party—was to end the “long national nightmare.”
No Republicans were actual heroes during the Watergate scandal: They were just patriotic civil servants. Sen. Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Watergate committee, started out as something of an ally to Nixon. He even secretly met with Nixon at the outset of the hearings to let him know the committee’s strategy. He drew the line, however, at working with Nixon to subvert that strategy.
Baker asked the famous question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” He thought he was going to get a very different answer, that it was Nixon’s underlings who engineered the plot without Nixon’s involvement. Oops. To Baker’s credit, however, when he got the answer he wasn’t expecting from White House counsel John Dean, he followed the path it opened and the nation was spared the worst constitutional crisis since the Civil War.
From that point on, Republicans have taken the wrong lesson from Watergate. In the past 49 years, they’ve focused on the landslide elections in 1974 and 1976, and on revenge against the Democrats, instead of recognizing that they saved the country.
Fast forward to 2023, and just one Republican has dared to stand up for the rule of law after Donald Trump’s third indictment. It’s not anyone in House leadership. It’s not Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Murkowski went on to say that Trump is “innocent until proven guilty and will have his day in court.”
But, she added, “As that process begins, I encourage everyone to read the indictment, to understand the very serious allegations being made in this case.”
She’s the only one among four Republicans still serving in the Senate from the handful who voted to convict Trump in his Jan. 6 impeachment to make a significant statement. Utah’s Mitt Romney issued a bland statement, saying, “My views on the former president’s actions surrounding January 6th are well known. As with all criminal defendants, he is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence.” Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are the other two, and they haven’t said anything.
But the loudest silence is coming from McConnell, the supposed great institutionalist who should be leading his party now, as his predecessor Hugh Scott did 49 years ago. McConnell was the one who stood on the Senate floor that day, when he refused to vote to convict Trump in the impeachment, and made this proclamation.
“Former President Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said. He accused Trump of creating “an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.” But still, he wouldn’t vote to convict on the flimsy excuse that Trump was already out of office. Never mind that his impeachment would prevent him from holding that office ever again.
"We have a criminal justice system in this country,” McConnell said. “We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”
The criminal justice system has taken over. Now would be a good time for McConnell, the “great” institutionalist and the only Republican who can remotely claim a leadership position in the party, to break his silence.
Conservatives cried about how the “woke” (whatever that means) “Barbie” movie would fail. It didn’t. In fact, the film has struck a chord with American and international audiences. Daily Kos writer Laura Clawson joins Markos to talk about the film and the implications of the Republican Party’s fixation on mythical culture wars, which is failing them in bigger and bigger ways every day.