It was 46 years ago, on August 8, 1974, that President Richard Nixon — overwhelmed by the Watergate scandal — announced his resignation. And the following day, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president of the United States. Nixon, in his day, was considered arch-conservative, promoting anti-communist hysteria, a "law and order message" and the War on the Drugs. And in 2020, President Donald Trump's reelection campaign is responding to the George Floyd protests by echoing the paranoia and divisiveness of Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Yet in many respects, Nixon was to the left of today's GOP.
Here are some reasons why Nixon, as right-wing as he was, would be way too liberal and nuanced for the Trumpistas and the Republican Party of 2020.
1. Nixon favored universal health care
When President Barack Obama was working on a health care reform package in 2009 and 2010, one of the people he consulted was Stuart Altman — who was Nixon's consultant on health care reform in the early 1970s. Nixon was a proponent of universal health care, and the health care reform plan he had in mind almost half a century ago was quite comparable to what is now known as Obamacare — and it some respects, it was more aggressive. Nixon opposed the type of government-operated single-payer program that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now describe as "Medicare for all," but he favored universal health care via the private sector.
2. Nixon championed the launch of the EPA
Trump has a terrible environmental record, undermining the Environmental Protection Agency at every turn and expressing his love of fossil fuels and disdain for green energy. But the EPA started under Nixon's watch, and by today's Republican standards, Nixon would be considered a "tree hugger." If Nixon were alive today and ran on the environmental platform that he favored in the early 1970s, Trumpistas would consider him hostile to energy companies.
3. Nixon supported Medicare
Trump, the Tea Party and many other far-right Republicans have favored harsh cuts to Medicare and Medicaid — both of which came out of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society in the 1960s (Trump was lying when, in 2016, he insisted he would protect Medicare). But Nixon, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, made it clear that he supported Medicare. Nixon vehemently attacked Democrats on many occasions, slamming them as a party of lawlessness and moral decay. But when it came to safety net programs, there were times when he wasn't shy about agreeing with them.
4. Nixon favored elements of the New Deal and the Great Society
Newt Gingrich, a devoted Trump supporter, has stressed that one of his political goals is the total destruction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. But Nixon, like President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, stressed that he wanted to protect parts of the New Deal and the Great Society. And arguably, it was Nixon's paranoid anti-communism that inspired him to support programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid: he believed, one could argue, that allowing a certain amount of socialism and having a strong social safety net would discourage the spread of communism in the United States. And unlike the Tea Party wingnuts of 2020, he had no desire to privatize Social Security.