Ronald Reagan’s (R-California) immensely successful presidency explains prominent Republicans’ silence on the excesses of President Donald J. Trump.
Prominent Republicans like Mitch Romney, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Jeb Bush have been silence about Trump for good reason. Reagan’s silence on Richard M. Nixon’s (R-California) scandal-plagued presidency took him to the White House.
Reagan refused to take a public stand on the Watergate Scandal that destroyed Nixon. Reagan, then America’s second highest-profile Republican, refused to attack or defend Nixon.
Instead, Reagan gave Nixon a cryptic message of support in an April 30, 1973 phone call the President taped. Reagan said “My heart is with you and I know what this must have been.”
Reagan’s Watergate Silence made him President
The stoic silence on Watergate propelled Reagan to the presidency in 1980.
Voters did not see Reagan supporting or defending Nixon and his slimy ways. The rank and file did not see Reagan sabotaging a fellow Republican.
When he ran for President in 1976 and 1980, Reagan did not deal with Watergate baggage. The Watergate fallout ultimately destroyed the career of Reagan’s biggest rival President Gerald Ford (R-Michigan). Ford probably lost the 1976 presidential race because of his Nixon pardon.
Watergate teaches us why Republicans are not criticizing Trump
Prominent Republicans are silent about Trump because they know their history. People like outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Minnesota) and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) want to be the next Reagan.
That is they want to be the hero on the big white horse who rides in and rescues the party from disaster. By avoiding the Watergate quagmire, Reagan saved the Republican Party from itself.
Had Watergate ensnared Reagan he would have never been President. No Republican caught on either side of the Trump scandals will see the Oval Office.
Trump’s sleaze will tar his defenders for life. Republican voters will forever view Trump’s attackers as traitors.
How Reagan and Watergate Explain Conservatives’ Silence on Trump Scandals
Pundits who claim Republicans have forgotten about Watergate are wrong. The Grand Old Party’s (GOP) leaders remember that scandal all too well.
Watergate destroyed Nixon and moderate Republicans. By taking down Nixon and Ford, Watergate cleared the way for a conservative takeover of the GOP under Reagan.
My guess is conservatives believe history will repeat itself. They secretly hope Trump will destroy himself in scandal, clearing the way for a 21st Century Reagan to save the Party and restore conservativism.
History might play a cruel joke on Republican leaders seeking a second Reagan to save the party from Trump. America is a very different place than it was in Reagan’s day.
There is no growing grassroots conservative movement like there was in the mid-1970s. Instead, there is only the hollow shell of a once-proud coalition. Gaining power will be harder for post-Trump conservatives because polls show the country is turning left.
Trump’s Scandals can create a New Republican Party
Therefore, the Trump scandals may pave the way for massive Democratic victories. Only history will tell if those victories will be permanent.
Watergate created the modern Republican Party. The scandals of Donald J. Trump can destroy that party and clear the way for a new political entity.
Reagan’s example shows politicians who avoid association with those scandals will be the new party’s leaders. Only history will show us where those politicians will lead the GOP.