President Richard Nixon, like President Donald Trump, had his share of unwavering loyalists and supporters — and no matter how damning the Watergate scandal became in 1974, they refused to say a word against Nixon. Those Nixon loyalists, journalist Frank Rich stresses in an essay for New York Magazine, offer some valuable insights on what will ultimately befall Trump’s “toadies.”
There are some crucial differences between the Republican Party under Nixon in 1974 and the GOP under Trump in 2020. When Nixon resigned from the presidency on August 8, 1974, it was painfully obvious that many prominent Republicans had turned against him — including Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, considered an intellectual leader of the conservative movement (Sen. John McCain proudly called himself a “Goldwater Republican”). But despite all the evidence against Trump methodically presented by House Democrats during their recent impeachment inquiry, most Republicans in Congress continue to insist that he did nothing wrong.
“Rather than being the end of American history as we know it, the Trump presidency may prove merely a notorious chapter in that history,” Rich asserts. “Heedless lapdogs like (Louisiana Sen. John) Kennedy, Devin Nunes and Lindsey Graham are acting now as if there is no tomorrow, but tomorrow will come eventually, whatever happens in the near future — and Judgment Day could arrive sooner than they think. That judgment will be rendered by an ever-more demographically diverse America unlikely to be magnanimous toward cynical politicians who prioritized pandering to Trump’s dwindling all-white base over the common good.”
Rich points to Rep. Charles Sandman of New Jersey and Florida Sen. Ed Gurney as two examples of Nixon loyalists who paid a stiff price politically.
“The New Jersey congressman Charles Sandman, a House Judiciary Committee impeachment holdout until a few days before Nixon’s resignation, lost a seat he had held since 1966 in the subsequent 1974 midterms — 48 other GOP members of Congress were wiped out as well — and would wind up the decade dishing out steamed crabs at a joint on the Jersey Shore and losing a jury trial on the charge of slandering a police officer,” Rich recalls. “When a Senate counterpart, Ed Gurney of Florida, a vocal Nixon defender on Sam Ervin’s Watergate Committee, died in 1996, his family tried to keep his death a secret — presumably to avoid renewed attention to his past.”
Rich goes on to explain that although “some Nixon loyalists on Capitol Hill escaped oblivion” — including Rep. Trent Lott of Mississippi — there “aren’t any diehard Nixon supporters in either chamber of Congress who are now remembered as patriots, no matter what else they did with their careers before, during or after his presidency.”
Ultimately, Rich stresses, Trump sycophants who rally around the president will be treated like pariahs for rallying around him so slavishly.
“All cults come to an end, often abruptly, and Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult,” Rich warns. “While cult leaders are generally incapable of remorse — whether they be totalitarian rulers, sexual Svengalis or the self-declared messiahs of crackpot religions — their followers almost always pay a human and reputational price once the leader is toppled.”