People are wondering out loud about the parallels between today’s Republican Party and organized crime, and whether “Teflon Don” Trump will remain unscathed through his many scandals, ranging from interactions with foreign oligarchs to killing tens of thousands of Americans by denying them healthcare to stepping up the destruction of our environment and public lands.
History suggests – even if treason can be demonstrated – that, as long as he holds onto the Republican Party (and Fox News), he’ll survive it intact. And he won’t be the first Republican president to commit high crimes to get and stay in office.
In fact, Eisenhower was the last legitimately elected Republican president we’ve had in this country.
Since Dwight Eisenhower left the presidency in 1961, six different Republicans have occupied the Oval Office.
And every single one of them - from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump - have been illegitimate - ascending to the highest office in the land not through small-D democratic elections - but instead through fraud and treason.
(And today’s GOP-controlled Congress is arguably just as corrupt and illegitimate, acting almost entirely within the boundaries set by an organized group of billionaires.)
Let’s start at the beginning with Richard Nixon.
In 1968 - President Lyndon Johnson was desperately trying to end the Vietnam war.
But Richard Nixon knew that if the war continued - it would tarnish Democrat (and Vice President) Hubert Humphrey’s chances of winning the 1968 election.
So Nixon sent envoys from his campaign to talk to South Vietnamese leaders to encourage them not to attend an upcoming peace talk in Paris.
Nixon promised South Vietnam’s corrupt politicians that he would give them a richer deal when he was President than LBJ could give them then.
LBJ found out about this political maneuver to prolong the Vietnam war just 3 days before the 1968 election. He phoned the Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen – here’s an excerpt (you can listen to the entire conversation here):
Some of our folks, including some of the old China lobby, are going to the Vietnamese embassy and saying please notify the [South Vietnamese] president that if he'll hold out 'til November the second they could get a better deal. Now, I'm reading their hand, Everett. I don't want to get this in the campaign.
And they oughtn't to be doin' this. This is treason.
Sen. Dirksen: I know.
Those tapes were only released by the LBJ library in the past decade, and that’s Richard Nixon that Lyndon Johnson was accusing of treason.
But by then - Nixon’s plan had worked.
South Vietnam boycotted the peace talks - the war continued - and Nixon won the White House thanks to it. As a result, additional tens of thousands of American soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, died as a result of Nixon’s treason.
And Nixon was never held to account for it.
Gerald Ford was the next Republican.
After Nixon left office the same way he entered it - by virtue of breaking the law - Gerald Ford took over.
Ford was never elected to the White House (he was appointed to replace VP Spiro Agnew, after Agnew was indicted for decades of taking bribes), and thus would never have been President had it not been for Richard Nixon’s treason.
The third was Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980.
He won thanks to a little something called the October Surprise - when his people sabotaged then-President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to release American hostages in Iran.
According to Iran’s then-president, Reagan’s people promised the Iranians that if they held off on releasing the American hostages until just after the election - then Reagan would give them a sweet weapons deal.
In 1980 Carter thought he had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr over the release of the fifty-two hostages held by radical students at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year, had successfully run for President on the popular position of releasing the hostages:
"I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign.... I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote.... Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking]."
Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr's help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979. But Carter underestimated the lengths his opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, would go to win an election.
Behind Carter's back, the Reagan campaign worked out a deal with the leader of Iran's radical faction - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini - to keep the hostages in captivity until after the 1980 Presidential election.
This was nothing short of treason. The Reagan campaign's secret negotiations with Khomeini - the so-called "October Surprise" - sabotaged Carter and Bani-Sadr's attempts to free the hostages. And as Bani-Sadr told The Christian Science Monitor in March of 2013:
After arriving in France [in 1981], I told a BBC reporter that I had left Iran to expose the symbiotic relationship between Khomeinism and Reaganism.
Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the “October Surprise,” which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.
And Reagan’s treason - just like Nixon’s treason - worked perfectly.
The Iran hostage crisis continued and torpedoed Jimmy Carter's re-election hopes.
And the same day Reagan took the oath of office - almost to the minute, by way of Iran’s acknowledging the deal - the American hostages in Iran were released.
And for that, Reagan began selling the Iranians weapons and spare parts in 1981, and continued until he was busted for it in 1986, producing the so-called "Iran Contra" scandal.
But, like Nixon, Reagan was never held to account for the criminal and treasonous actions that brought him to office.
After Reagan - Bush senior was elected - but like Gerry Ford - Bush was really only President because he served as Vice President under Reagan.
If the October Surprise hadn’t hoodwinked voters in 1980 - you can bet Bush senior would never have been elected in 1988. That's four illegitimate Republican presidents.
And that brings us to George W. Bush, the man who was given the White House by five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court.
In the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision in 2000 that stopped the Florida recount and thus handed George W. Bush the presidency - Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his opinion:
"The counting of votes ... does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election."
Apparently, denying the presidency to Al Gore, the guy who actually won the most votes in Florida, did not constitute "irreparable harm" to Scalia or the media.
And apparently it wasn't important that Scalia’s son worked for the law firm that was defending George W. Bush before the high court (thus no Scalia recusal).
Just like it wasn't important to mention that Justice Clarence Thomas's wife worked on the Bush transition team and was busy accepting resumes from people who would serve in the Bush White House if her husband stopped the recount in Florida...which he did. (No Thomas recusal, either.)
And more than a year after the election - a consortium of newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today did their own recount in Florida - manually counting every vote in a process that took almost a year - and concluded that Al Gore did indeed win the presidency in 2000.
As the November 12th, 2001 article in The New York Times read:
“If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards and combined with the results of an examination of overvotes, Mr. Gore would have won.”
That little bit of info was slipped into the seventeenth paragraph of the Times story on purpose so that it would attract as little attention as possible around the nation.
Why? because the 9/11 attacks had just happened - and journalists feared that burdening Americans with the plain truth that George W. Bush actually lost the election would further hurt a nation that was already in crisis.
And none of that even considered that Bush could only have gotten as close to Gore as he did because his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, had ordered his Secretary of State, Kathrine Harris, to purge at least 57,000 mostly-Black voters from the state’s rolls just before the election.
So for the third time in 4 decades - Republicans took the White House under illegitimate electoral circumstances. Even President Carter was shocked by the brazenness of that one.
And Jeb Bush and the GOP were never held to account for that crime against democracy.
Most recently, in 2016, Kris Kobach and Republican Secretaries of State across the nation used Interstate Crosscheck to purge millions of legitimate voters – most people of color – from the voting rolls just in time for the Clinton/Trump election.
Millions of otherwise valid American voters were denied their right to vote because they didn’t own the requisite ID – a modern-day poll-tax that’s spread across every Republican state with any consequential black, elderly, urban, or college-student population (all groups less likely to have a passport or drivers’ license).
Donald Trump still lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, but came to power through an electoral college designed to keep slavery safe in colonial America.
You can only wonder how much better off America would be if 6 Republican Presidents hadn't stolen or inherited a stolen White House.
In fact - the last legitimate Republican President - Dwight Eisenhower - was unlike any other Republican president since.
He ran for the White House on a platform of peace - that he would end the Korean War.
This from one of his TV campaign ads:
“The nation, haunted by the stalemate in Korea, looks to Eisenhower. Eisenhower knows how to deal with the Russians. He has met Europe leaders, has got them working with us. Elect the number one man for the number one job of our time. November 4th vote for peace. Vote for Eisenhower.”
Two of his campaign slogans were "I like Ike" and "Vote For Peace, Vote For Eisenhower".
Ike was a moderate Republican who stood up for working people - who kept tax rates on the rich at 91 percent - and made sure that the middle class in America was protected by FDR's New Deal policies.
As he told his brother Edgar in 1954 in a letter:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history."
And Eisenhower was right - the only way Republicans have been able to win the presidency since he left office in 1961 has been by outright treason, a criminal fraud involving conflicted members of the Supreme Court, or by being vice-president under an already-illegitimate president.
And that's where we are today, dealing with the aftermath of all these Republican crimes and six illegitimate Republican presidents stacking the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary.
And this doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how the Republican majority in the senate represents 36 million fewer Americans than do the Democrats. Or how in most elections in past decades, Democrats have gotten more votes for the House of Representatives, but Republicans have controlled it because of gerrymandering.
This raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the modern Republican Party itself.
They work hand-in-glove with a group of right-wing billionaires and billionaire-owned or dominated media outlets like Fox and “conservative” TV and radio outlets across the nation, along with a very well-funded network of rightwing websites.
The Koch Network’s various groups, for example, have more money, more offices, and more staff than the Republican Party itself. Three times more employees and twice the budget, in fact. Which raises the question: which is the dog, and which is the tail?
And, as we’ve seen so vividly in the “debate” about healthcare this year, the Republicans, like Richard Nixon, are not encumbered by the need to tell the truth.
Whether it’s ending trade deals, bringing home jobs, protecting Social Security and Medicaid, or saving our public lands and environment – virtually every promise that Trump ran and won on is being broken. Meanwhile, the oligarchs continue to pressure Republican senators to vote their way.
Meanwhile, a public trust that has taken 240 years to build is being destroyed, as public lands, regulatory agencies, and our courts are handed off to oligarchs and transnational corporations to exploit or destroy.
The Trump and Republican campaign of 2016, Americans are now discovering, was nearly all lies, well-supported by a vast right-wing media machine and a timid, profit-obsessed “mainstream” corporate media. Meanwhile, it seemed that all the Democrats could say was, “The children are watching!”
Fraud, treason, and lies have worked well for the GOP for half a century.
Thus, the Democrats are right to now fine-tune their message to the people. But in addition to “A Better Deal,” they may want to consider adding to their agenda a solid RICO investigation into the GOP and the oligarchs who fund it.
It’s way past time to stop the now-routine Republican practice of using treason, lies, and crime to gain and hold political power.