It was 5pm on Wednesday, August seventh 1974, in the Oval Office. The smallest number that could possibly be termed a “delegation,” three, composed of House Republican Leader John Jacob Rhodes, Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott, and, front and center, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, sat before Richard Nixon and told him they didn’t have enough votes. Two days before, a devastating revelation, the last straw perhaps, had come in the form of a tape of Nixon talking to his chief of staff, mere days after the break-in. In it Nixon suggests that the CIA should falsely claim that national security was involved in the Watergate matter. Nixon’s hope at the time would be that the CIA would therefore tell the FBI they had to terminate their investigation.
The implication was clear: it was unequivocal obstruction of justice. The Republican delegation was there to tell Nixon they couldn’t save him. The vote in the House would go forward to impeach, and they had, at most, 18 votes in the Senate still loyal to Nixon, but not enough to prevent conviction and expulsion from office. Sitting behind Woodrow Wilson’s desk, Nixon leaned back, sighed, and told them, “I’ve got a very difficult decision to make.”
At what precise point between then and the next day Nixon decided to resign is lost to history. But it’s clear that the decision came on the heels of, and at the suggestion by, his allies in Congress. The result, of course, is now history. Nixon was on Marine One and gone by Friday.
It is unlikely such a delegation could be mounted today, particularly a delegation of those Republican members of Congress who remain loyal to Donald Trump. And they are legion. One must suppose, with good reason, that the Trump we see in public is not far from the one his minions must tolerate in private – disingenuous, overbearing, incapable of listening to advice, particularly when the advice is cautionary and less than flattering. The image of a Donald Trump sitting quietly and enduring unflattering advice is difficult to conjure.
What sets Donald Trump apart from his predecessors is his inability to learn, to grow into the job. We know that the Mueller investigation was a nightmare for him. No sooner had it ended with a shameful presentation of flaccid understatement and dry, intellectualized equivocation on the part of Mueller, Trump, instead of accepting a kind of victory for an answer, returned the very next day to colluding with a foreign power to win the next election. The 674 day Mueller ordeal had taught him absolutely nothing. Instead it confirmed in him what he suspected all along: that Donald Trump is above the law. He even managed to find a lawyer who will say as much.
It should come as no surprise to us that a man who never reads likewise never listens. The delegation that told Nixon the home truth of his coming impeachment and conviction was smaller than it could have been. Nixon’s then chief of staff, Alexander Haig, kept it deliberately small because he wanted to avoid the appearance of a breach of the balance of power between the legislative and executive branch of government. The notion that anyone at all in the Republican Congress would dare confront Trump in a similar way is both a testimony to the hold Trump has on them and a demonstration of the sad absence of courage in the Republican Party today.
So, when the time comes, who bells the cat? I see no likely candidates. The succession of obfuscating Republican talking points – the whistleblower is disloyal, he or she has “hearsay evidence,” he or she was counseled by Adam Schiff, the process is being conducted in secret in a basement, the witnesses are unpatriotic traitors – shifts almost daily and is parroted endlessly across the GOP. Is there no one who will rid us of this turbulent presidency?
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.