Early Returns

Ruminations on Resignations

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Big news day.

Image: International Herald Tribune

Today is the 43rd anniversary of Richard Nixon's announcement that he would resign. Seems like a good opportunity for some resignation-related points:

  • It's amazing how quickly Watergate passed into history. Republicans were clobbered in the 1974 midterms, which took place only two months later but after Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and well after many of the effects of Watergate were already baked in. By 1976, however, Ford almost wound up holding the presidency, losing only narrowly to Jimmy Carter. Republicans then did well in 1978 and won not only the presidency but also the Senate -- for the first time since losing it in 1954 -- in the next presidential election. Watergate really didn't figure directly into any election after 1976, and barely mattered that year. I don't think that was a mistake made by Democrats; it's just that voters have very, very short memories.
  • I should say that Watergate faded quickly from electoral history. I'd argue that it didn't fade nearly as quickly from the Republican Party. There are of course plenty of highly responsible Republicans, but Nixon's politics -- and Joe McCarthy's and Newt Gingrich's -- have been an infection in the party for a long time now, and while it's hard to prove these things, I do believe it's part of what's gone wrong with the party. 
  • On the Democratic side, the main lesson would be: When nominating a presidential candidate, don't just settle for the opposite of a failed president. Jimmy Carter's big selling point in 1976 was that he would be honest; it turned out that Carter was also incapable of handling the job. 
  • And one about how the resignation took place: Party support can seem very solid until, suddenly, it isn't. Going into Senate Judiciary hearings, most congressional Republicans still opposed impeachment, and conservative Republicans still opposed that drastic step even through the vote in the committee. Only after the next set of tapes were released, revealing that Nixon had very specifically lied about obstructing justice by attempting to use the CIA to stop the FBI investigation into the scandal, did virtually every Republican in Congress decide it was time for him to go. It wasn't the first hard evidence of obstruction of justice or anywhere close to the first lie, but it turned out to be one too many. 

1. Richard Skinner at Mischiefs of Faction on Donald Trump's agenda. This gets at why I think the study of political ambition should be reorganized around the idea of the content of ambition, rather than the current focus on the amount of type of ambition. We currently don't know how politicians who are in it to advance policy ideas differ from those who, say, seek power for its own sake, or those who feel a calling to take part in public life, or any of the other things which make up the content of the ambition of various politicians, but I strongly suspect there's plenty to learn by using that approach. Hey, political scientists: Someone steal this idea! 

2. Seth Masket on Colorado's new vote-by-mail primary elections

3. Harold Pollack on old politicians

4. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Norm Ornstein push weekend voting. I'm a bit of a skeptic on this one, but I entirely agree on the idea behind it: Voting should be easy. What I'd like to see is perhaps a 48- or 36-hour polling period. Even 24 hours would be nice, but imagine if general election voting ran from 9 a.m. Monday East Coast time through 9 p.m. Tuesday, with polls all opening and closing the same time, at least in the contiguous 48 states. And yes, I'd support federal money to pay for the expenses. At any rate, I'd like to see more state experimentation for now, so that when those who favor easy voting have an opportunity at the federal level they have more information to work with. 

5. Nice piece from Perry Bacon Jr. on why Senate Republicans appear more willing to oppose Trump than House Republicans. 

6. Jared Bernstein expects tax cuts, not tax reform. Yup. 

7. Sarah Posner argues at the Plum Line that no chief of staff can make the Trump administration work. She makes a decent case. My view remains that Trump is basically unfixable, but nevertheless things can be relatively better or worse, and that John Kelly's White House is apt to run better than the mess that preceded it. 

8. And Dan Drezner on academic rebel Leia Organa.

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