Kevin Kruse on the GOP's Presidents' Day embrace of Richard Nixon
Once you make peace with a coup attempt, Watergate is peanuts.
It took Republicans just a week to go from yelling about how a fake Hillary Clinton scandal was “worse than Watergate” to embracing, well, Watergate.
The GOP’s official Twitter account celebrated Presidents’ Day on Monday with a tweet that, in addition to trying to own President Biden, showed eight presidents the party currently holds in high esteem. It’s a strange collection.
Trump is in there, of course, and so are Reagan and Abe. A bit more surprising is the inclusion of the Bushes, who never really got along with the MAGA crowd, and Ike, who warned against the type of unthinking military expansionism that modern Republicans embrace.
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Even more surprising is the inclusion of Coolidge, whose unremarkable presidency ended just before the onset of the Great Depression. But most surprising of all is Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after his attempted coverup of the Watergate burglary fell apart and who was regarded, at least prior to Trump, as the quintessentially lawless president.
There are also some interesting omissions. Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency is generally remembered fondly by both sides of the aisle, but he didn’t make the cut. Also not included is Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant. And the only post-Depression Republican president omitted from the list is Gerald Ford, who took over when Nixon resigned and was defeated in a closely contested election two years later by Jimmy Carter.
To get some expert perspective on all this, I reached out to Kevin Kruse, a historian and co-author of the upcoming book “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Out Past.”
Kruse is always good for provocative US history takes on Twitter, and his response to the GOP’s Presidents’ Day commemoration didn’t disappoint.
“Imagine drawing up a list of Republican presidents to admire that doesn't have Grant or TR but *does* have Coolidge, Nixon, and Trump,” he tweeted.
In a direct message exchange, Kruse, nodding toward the incoherency I mentioned at the top of this post, said “I don't think they put much thought into the choices.” But he added that “it does seem revealing that they've included Nixon and Trump (multiple scandals, three impeachments and a resignation) but ignored so many others.”
Here are some other interesting tidbits from our exchange.
Kruse on the omissions of Herbert Hoover and Ford
Hoover's absence isn't notable on its own, but the fact that Ford is the only other one skipped over in the post-Coolidge era suggests that losing re-election is a bigger sin to them than being impeached.
Kruse on the inclusion of Coolidge
It's not surprising to see Coolidge on the list, even though most historians would rank him as a disaster. There's been a campaign on the right to rehabilitate him as a model of limited pro-business government. He certainly was that, but the only way you can conclude that was a good thing is if you ignore what happened right after he left office with the Crash. (People who praise Coolidge always remind me of that joke about the man who jumped off the Empire State Building, and every floor he passed people inside heard him say "so far, so good ... so far, so good.”)
Kruse on the omission of Grant
Grant used to be regarded as a corrupt failure and even if the GOP isn't up to date on the scholarship, that's clearly not why he's off the list here (if Trump and Nixon are good enough, he would be too). Instead, I suspect it's the fact that he led the fight against the Confederacy, denounced its supporters as traitors, and then used the power of the government to crush the Klan and white supremacists.
Kruse on the omission of Teddy
TR was a champion of a "100% Americanism" that today's GOP would seem to champion, but the fact that he made a name for himself as a Progressive and waged war on corporate power might make him unattractive.
While it’s perhaps a mistake to read too much into the GOP’s tweet — this, after all, is the same account that on Sunday obliviously attacked Biden for the fact that Border Patrol seized large quantities of drugs at the border last month, accidentally demonstrating the difficulties of smuggling them into the country — it’s worth noting that the Presidents’ Day tweet marks the first time the party’s official account has had anything nice to say about the Nixon presidency.
But once you get to a place where you regard the January 6 insurrection as a righteous cause, it’s probably easy to view Watergate as small potatoes. And hey, at least the GOP had a more normal Presidents’ Day than Don Jr.
Tim Scott wants to be Trump’s running mate
Speaking of coming to terms with January 6, I want to highlight comments Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) made on Fox News that suggest he’s eager to be Trump’s running mate in 2024.
Scott was not among the eight Republican senators who voted to overturn the election results on January 6 of last year, but a lengthy statement he released the day before made clear he was taking pains to stay in Trump’s good graces. About a year ago, Scott delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech to Congress, fueling speculation he might run for president. But if his comments to Maria Bartiromo on Sunday are any indication, Scott would be more than happy to be second fiddle.
Asked by Bartiromo if he’s open to running with Trump, Scott responded by gushing about the former president, saying “I think everybody wants to be on President Trump’s bandwagon, without any question.”
Scott added that Trump “gets to decide the future of our party and our country” — not because he has the best ideas, but because “he is still the loudest voice.”
Maggie Haberman, who has covered Trump for a long time, responded to Scott’s remarks by noting that “Trump has been talking up Scott and Rubio in some conversations as VP candidates.” Rubio also didn’t vote to overturn the 2020 election. That could make for some awkward moments on the campaign trail and during debates.
But perhaps most importantly, Scott’s comments are the latest and strongest indication that not only are elected Republicans not broadly eager to move past Trump, they’re actually thirsty for more of him. And they’ll line up to run with him, even though the term of Trump’s last VP wound down with supporters serenading him with chants of “hang Mike Pence.”
Cavuto tones down his comments about vaccines
When Fox News/Business anchor Neil Cavuto took time off last October because he had Covid, he returned by pleading with viewers to get vaccinated, saying "I hope anyone and everyone gets that message loud and clear. Get vaccinated, for yourself and everyone around you.” But as I detailed at the time, his comments were largely ignored on other Fox programming and prompted viewers to send threats to him that he read on the air.
Sadly, Cavuto — a cancer survivor who is immunocompromised — recently contracted a second and more severe case of Covid that landed him in the hospital. He was able to return to his hosting duties on Monday, but his comments about vaccines stopped far short of the full-throated endorsement he made four months ago.
“Doctors say that had I not been vaccinated, I wouldn’t be here,” Cavuto said, but he went on to add: “I’m not here to debate vaccinations with you. Just [to] offer an explanation for me.”
Perhaps Cavuto is just tired of the threats. This is the monster Fox News has created.
— If you expected Tucker Carlson to make excuses for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, well, you were right.
— One more Ukraine-related note: Moshe Schwartz of Yeshiva World News is doing great work posting videos of Russian troops movements near the Ukrainian border and geolocating them.
That’s it for today!
I’ll be back with more tomorrow