On Aug. 7, 1974, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., U.S. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, R-Ariz., and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, R-Pa., went to the embattled Nixon to make it clear that he faced all-but-certain impeachment, conviction and removal from office in connection with the Watergate scandal.
Nixon announced his resignation the next evening, effective at noon on Aug 9, 1974. The GOP leaders had said nothing to him about resigning, but it was implied since their message was that he had lost all but minimal support for avoiding being convicted of impeachment.
This was the result of thorough investigations by Peter Rodino’s House Judicial Committee and Sam Ervin’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (AKA Watergate Committee), very sold news media reporting, and the evidence that was presented including the infamous “smoking gun” transcript of the June 23, 1972 meeting where Nixon ordered a coverup of the June 17, 1972 breakin to the DNC at the Watergate building. The House had voted 410-4 in favor of the impeachment inquiry. All 4 negative votes were Republicans. But, voting for an inquiry was a long way from voting for impeachment.
Even with the evidence, the vote for impeachment was 27-11. It was a bipartisan vote yet only 7 of the 17 GOP members of the committee voted for impeachment. Why not unanimous? It took a long time for Republicans to abandon Nixon. The smoking gun transcript didn’t become available until two days before the GOP delegation went to see Nixon. Even as late as two weeks before he resigned, he still had 38% support from Republicans. His support collapsed quickly. The shock that his denials were lies shook quite a few. Still, there were fierce Nixon loyalists who weren’t about to let their duly elected President be forced out of office. Some, like Tom Railsback, were warned by their local GOP party that they’d do their best to ruin his career if he voted for impeachment, but he did anyway. They carried through on their threat.
We have a Select Committee investigating again, this time about what happened on January 6, 2021. But, the GOP of today has a very faint resemblance, if any, to the GOP of 1974. Most refuse to engage at all in today’s Congressional investigation and seem to put little if any stock in the search for truth. Most are seemingly afraid to utter a word against former President Trump who continues to hold a large part of the party in thrall to him. It is an open question what it would take for Trump’s loyalists to finally accept that he did in fact lose the 2020 election. Those who do finally accept it may face being discharged from the party just as happened in the 1974 midterm elections and has already happened to some who have turned against Trump because of what happened on January 6.
Will the GOP leaders do to Trump what they did to Nixon back in 1974? They should, but I doubt it. It likely would take a large loss of loyalty to the former President for that to happen. What would it take to have that happen? The available evidence indicates that his support has been declining. More are willing to look at an alternative candidate for 2024.
Is there a “smoking gun” that will finally push Trump’s support away? It may lie in the tape of his phone call to Raffensperger asking him illegally to give him the votes he needs to win Georgia. At least a dozen of Trump’s fake electors who certified that Trump won in Georgia are being investigated by the Georgia grand jury. Besides that, his phone calls to Raffensperger, Governor Kemp, Attorney General, and state lawmakers are being investigated. The attempts by Trump loyalists like Giuliani in December 2020 to get the Ga legislature to believe their false election claims are an additional area of inquiry. If the facts establish that Trump’s smoking-gun phone calls, use of false electors to falsely certify the election in his favor, and the efforts of his lawyers like Giuliani violated both state and federal criminal statutes, private citizen Trump should be treated like any other lawbreaker: indicted and prosecuted to the full extent of the law by both the Justice Department and the Fulton County district attorney.
To get a sense of the dilemmas facing the GOP, look at the results of the very recent GOP primary in Arizona. The leading GOP candidate for Governor is a believer of Trump’s widespread baseless illegal voting claims that the election in AZ was stolen from him. Their chosen nominee for Secretary of State has stated that if elected he would purge the voter rolls and eliminate early voting. He has also said if he had the power to do it, he would decertify Arizona’s election results that gave Biden Arizona’s electoral votes. The GOP’s nominee for the U.S. Senate parrots Trump’s baseless claims. If they are elected this November, they’d have enormous power of the 2024 election results. Will they be elected? It may take massive defeats of Trump loyalists running for office this November for Trump’s power to finally erode.
Dozens of GOP election deniers, many backed by Trump, have already won GOP primaries. Denying the 2020 election results is THE litmus test for Trump and his supporters. Too many put no stock in truth itself. They cancelled out of the party many of those who voted against Trump in either or both of the impeachment trials. Reagan’s splendid idea of not speaking ill of fellow Republicans has gone into the trash can. Will the virtual civil wars within the GOP harm its chances in the upcoming midterm elections?
Personally, I fervently hope that all or most of those who have been nominated who believe in denial of the 2020 certified results will be soundly defeated this November. They do not deserve your support or mine.