2016-10-13 – There’s been a lot of talk about the negativity of the 2016 presidential campaign—to say the least.
You never know.
One of the greatest scandals in American political history was the Watergate scandal. It brought down a president. We never had, before or since, a scandal that brought down a president. I’m not saying it was the worst thing that ever happened. We had the Civil War, remember? But it was big.
The interesting thing about the Watergate scandal is that it was news before the 1972 election. Richard Nixon was running for reelection and his operatives were found burglarizing the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. We knew this right away. It was called a two-bit burglary, but it was part of Nixon’s efforts to interfere with the Democratic party.
I knew this before the election. But the election revolved around other issues and Nixon beat George McGovern in the greatest landslide in modern history.
How did this happen?
For the most part, each party talks to its base. No one tries to persuade folks on the other side. Nixon had a decent economy going and the war in Vietnam was winding down. My draft number was 125. In 1971, Selective Service called young men with even higher numbers. In 1972, the draft had slowed so much that I didn’t even ask for a deferment for that school year. I was in one of the last classes to have student deferments from the draft.
The steam was gone from the anti-war movement. And times were relatively good. So no one was interested in George McGovern. And no one was interested in the Watergate scandal. That was of interest only to political wonks. The wonks didn’t get their way until the next year when the Watergate hearings set in motion a chain of events that lead to Nixon’s resignation.
Watergate wasn’t big enough to make him lose an election, but it was big enough to cause him to resign.
This year we have scandals galore. On both sides. If Trump wins, he’ll go into office under clouds of accusations of fraud (Trump University), bribery (to avoid prosecution over Trump University), and sexual misconduct. If Hillary wins, she’ll go into office under clouds of mishandling secret information in her email and of peddling influence through the Clinton Foundation.
I have opinions about which of these are real and which are not. But that’s not the question here. The question is whether all the accusations will sway the election.
I don’t have an answer to that. I can only point to 1972 when the electorate massively ignored one of the biggest scandals in the history of the republic.