Trump’s bad Nixon imitation may cost him the presidency


President Richard Nixon, left, and President Donald Trump, right.
AP//Frank C. Curtin; REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Ken Hughes, University of Virginia

Whatever Donald Trump does, Richard Nixon usually did it first and better.

Nixon got a foreign government’s help to win a presidential election over 50 years ago. Trump’s imitation of the master has proven far from perfect, and that may cost him the presidency.

Trump’s first mistake was soliciting foreign interference personally. As a result, he cannot deny that he urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden. The proof is in his own White House’s record of their telephone call.

Nixon was a more cautious international conspirator, as I detailed in “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate.”

When Nixon solicited foreign interference on behalf of his presidential campaign, he was careful to use a cutout, a go-between whose clandestine activities could, if exposed, be plausibly denied. Anna Chennault, a conservative activist and Republican fundraiser, acted as Nixon’s secret back channel to the government of South Vietnam.

Nixon’s illegal interference with Vietnam peace talks helped win him the election. Here, he meets with President Lyndon Johnson in July 1968.
LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Playing politics with war

The Vietnam War was the biggest issue of the 1968 presidential campaign.

Nixon’s great hope was to hang Vietnam like an albatross on Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, the sitting vice president. Nixon’s great fear was that President Lyndon Johnson would start peace talks before Election Day, boosting Humphrey’s campaign along with hopes for an end to the war.

Nixon’s fear was realized when Johnson announced peace talks in the campaign’s final week. Nixon watched his lead over Humphrey dwindle to nothingness.

So he turned to Chennault. She conveyed a secret message from Nixon to South Vietnam, urging it to boycott the peace talks. The South did just that only three days before the election, thereby destroying any hope for an imminent peace.

President Johnson learned of Chennault’s activities from the FBI and other sources, but he had no proof Nixon himself was involved. Nixon’s use of a cutout worked. She was burned, but he was not.

On the eve of the 1968 presidential election, President Johnson asked his three top advisers on the Vietnam War – Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford – if he should expose Republican interference with his efforts to start begin peace talks.
AP/Bob Schutz

President Johnson discusses with three top advisers whether to expose Republican interference in the Vietnam peace process. They all advised the president not to do so.

False counter-accusations

It’s too late for Trump to use a cutout with Ukraine, but in other ways his actions mirror Nixon’s.

One recurring Nixonian tactic was to falsely claim the Democrats did things that were just as bad as the things he actually did. For example, Republicans charged that Johnson played politics with the war by announcing peace talks right before Election Day.

The diplomatic record proves otherwise. Johnson set three conditions for the peace talks months earlier. He offered to halt the bombing of North Vietnam if Hanoi: (1) respected the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Vietnam, (2) accepted South Vietnamese participation in peace talks, and (3) stopped shelling Southern cities.

Hanoi, however, insisted on an unconditional bombing halt. Johnson refused to budge. So did the North Vietnamese – until October 1968, when they accepted all three of Johnson’s conditions. The timing of the peace talks was their choice, not his. The partisan accusation was false.

Likewise, Republicans’ oftenrepeated, never-substantiated conspiracy theory that one or more Bidens did something corrupt involving Ukraine is the opposite of true. But it does shift the spotlight off Republicans and onto Democrats. And it fosters the false sense that “both sides do it” when only one side did.

Another of Nixon’s favorite tactics was to suggest there was something shady about detecting his crimes. Just as Trump baselessly claims that the Ukraine whistleblower got information about him “illegally,” Republicans like William Safire baselessly claimed that LBJ “abused the power of our intelligence agencies” to get dirt on Nixon.

Rudy Giuliani, left, was President Trump’s unofficial emissary to Ukrainian leaders, whom he wanted to dig up dirt on the Biden family.
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The records of the CIA, NSA and FBI prove otherwise. Like presidents before and since, Johnson used the CIA and NSA to collect diplomatic intelligence. To provide him with Saigon’s true, private position on the peace talks, the CIA bugged the office of South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu and the NSA intercepted cables to Thieu from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Johnson did learn something about Chennault’s activities from this surveillance, but only because diplomatic intelligence is supposed to uncover attempts to thwart presidential diplomacy.

Based on what he learned, Johnson ordered the FBI to tail Chennault and tap the South Vietnamese embassy’s phone. Mere days later, the FBI wiretap overheard Chennault telling the South Vietnamese on behalf of “her boss (not further identified)” to “hold on, we are gonna win.”

Here was evidence that the Nixon campaign was violating the Logan Act – which forbids private U.S. citizens from conducting “any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government” – by undermining the president’s diplomatic efforts to end a war that was killing hundreds of Americans every week.

In other words, Johnson used the FBI to uncover a crime that was also a threat to national security.

That’s not an abuse of the FBI. It’s why the FBI exists.

Clearly, there’s one thing that can overcome Nixonian tactics: evidence. For this reason, House impeachment investigators will likely subpoena as much as they can, and President Trump will likely withhold as much as he can.

Withholding evidence is yet another Nixonian tactic, one called “stonewalling.” It was the basis of the final article of impeachment against him.

[ Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter. ]The Conversation

Ken Hughes, Research Specialist, the Miller Center, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the impeachment inquiry might affect Trump’s 2020 re-election chances



As the impeachment inquiry gathers pace in the US, Donald Trump is likely to keep doubling down on his opponents.
AAP/EPA/Chris Kleponis

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

The next 13 months will see American politics completely dominated by the fate of Donald Trump. As the House of Representatives moves towards impeaching him, leading to a hearing which then moves to the Senate, the Democrats will be engaged in an increasingly bitter contest for the nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 elections.

At this stage, it appears there are the numbers in the house for impeachment, which entails formally charging the president with “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Their indictment then moves to the Senate, which can remove the president by a two-thirds majority, in a hearing chaired by the chief justice.

Because 2020 is an election year, both sides will manage proceedings with an eye to the November poll. It is possible the house will vote before the end of the year: the decision to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath was made in the last three months of 1998.




Read more:
8 reasons why impeaching Donald Trump is a big risk for the Democrats (and 3 reasons why it’s not)


Clinton was cleared by the Senate by the following February, so it is also possible the Senate will hold its own proceedings before most of the presidential primaries commence. It takes two-thirds of the Senate to remove a president from office, which has never happened.

While several Republican house representatives have expressed concern about the president’s behaviour, the overwhelming majority of Republican politicians are either supporting him or remaining silent.

Rather as Boris Johnston seems to have captured the British Conservative Party, so Trump has imposed himself on the Republicans. Those who three years ago assailed his unfitness for the presidency, such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, are now his loudest defenders. Meanwhile, several of his opponents are withdrawing from political office.

However, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president in 2012, has indicated his disquiet, which is almost certainly shared by others. If the house uncovers more apparently illegal activity on Trump, and if public opinion seems to be turning against the president, there are several other senators who may follow, if only to preserve their own positions. Republican senators are facing re-election in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, where they are increasingly vulnerable.

There is an odd historical parallel with the history of Senator Joe McCarthy, who led increasingly virulent anti-Communist crusades in the early 1950s and whose protégé, Roy Cohn, in turn influenced Trump.

Eventually, Republican senators turned on McCarthy, and censured but did not expel him. But this happened only once it was clear that public support for McCarthy was collapsing, which is so far not evident for Trump.

Faced with possible impeachment and loss of support, Richard Nixon resigned. It is difficult to see Trump doing this – it is more likely he will become even more irrational and vengeful as the process winds on. Right-wing media will echo the president’s claim that the impeachment hearings represent treason, with real danger of violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Trump.

For the Democrats, the best outcome would be a split within Republican ranks, which leaves Trump in office but weakened and vulnerable to a challenge for re-nomination. Removing Trump would place Vice President Mike Pence in office, and presumably ensured of nomination in 2020.

The dilemma for the Democrats is that the impeachment process will dominate the news cycle as they jockey for position going into next year’s long battle for the presidential nomination. Trump will use the allegations to focus attention on former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son’s business dealings in Ukraine triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Biden may hope this will allow him to emerge as the injured defender of political propriety, but he will be tarnished through guilt by association, and is likely to slip further in the polls. Biden represents some of the traditional working class and African American base of the Democratic Party, and how they react could determine the ultimate Democrat candidate.

At the moment, Elizabeth Warren challenges Biden’s lead in the polls, with Bernie Sanders the only other candidate consistently supported by more than 10% of Democrats. None of the others in a crowded field — 12 have qualified to take part in the next televised Democratic debate — have much support, and they will start to drop out once the primary season begins in February 2020.




Read more:
In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?


If Biden continues to lose support, there is room for someone to emerge as the moderate front-runner, given that both Warren and Sanders represent the more radical instincts of the party. This is presumably why so many candidates are determined to continue campaigning, even when some of them rarely muster 2% in the polls.

Were Sanders’ current health problems to lead to his withdrawal most of his support would presumably switch to Warren. Predictions are risky, and my record is poor. But it is increasingly likely that the Democrats will nominate someone other than an old white man in 2020, betting on a figure like Barack Obama who can galvanise a bitterly divided nation and persuade people to turn out and vote.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Warren placed second after Biden, as Trump’s ratings rise. But could the impeachment scandal make a difference?


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Two weeks after the September 12 Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden continues to lead with 29.0% in the RealClearPolitics Democratic national average, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 21.4%, Bernie Sanders at 17.3%, Pete Buttigieg at 5.8% and Kamala Harris at 5.0%.

No other Democrat candidates have more than 3% support. And the last three polls average to a tie between Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

Since the debate, there have been gains for Biden, Warren and Buttigieg, and a continued slump for Harris. After the first debate on June 26 to 27, Harris surged from about 7% to 15%. Now, she has lost all that support and can no longer be considered a top-tier candidate.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The contests that will select the Democratic presidential candidate will be held between February and June 2020, with four states permitted to hold contests in February.

Iowa (February 3) and New Hampshire (February 11) are the first two states, so doing well in one of them is important. To win any delegates, candidates need at least 15% in a particular state or congressional district.

There have been three Iowa polls conducted since the debate, including one by the highly regarded Selzer poll. The RealClearPolitics average shows Warren surging into the Iowa lead with 23.0%, followed by Biden at 20.3%, Sanders 12.0%, Buttigieg 11.3% and Harris 5.3%. The one post-debate poll in New Hampshire also has Warren leading with 27%, followed by Biden at 25%, Sanders 12% and Buttigieg 10%.

Biden is disadvantaged in Iowa and New Hampshire because these states’ populations are almost all white. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden’s strongest support comes from black voters.




Read more:
In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?


In South Carolina, where black voters made up 61% of the 2016 Democratic primary electorate according to exit polls, Biden leads by over 20 points, though none of those polls were taken since the debate. South Carolina votes on February 29.

The next Democratic debate will be on October 14, with the same rules for participation as in the September debate. At least two more candidates will qualify, and this will mean a two-night debate with the 12 candidates split over these nights. The participation threshold has been increased for November and further debates.

Trump’s ratings rise, likely due to the economy

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings are currently 42.9% approve, 52.8% disapprove (that equates to a net -9.9%) with all polls.




Read more:
Trump trails leading Democrats by record margins, plus Brexit latest and the LNP leads in Queensland


With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.8% approve, 52.1% disapprove (net -8.3%). Trump’s approval has not been higher since November 2018. But since my September 5 article on the polls, Trump’s net approval has risen about three points.

In August, there were prominent predictions of a recession, and the Dow Jones tanked. In September, there has been far less recession talk, and the Dow recovered its August losses. The economy likely explains the recovery in Trump’s ratings.

Will Trump’s ratings take damage from the impeachment controversy?

On September 24, Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry over allegations Trump attempted to get incriminating material on Biden from the Ukraine, including by threatening to withhold funds.

The next day, a White House memo of Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy showed Trump asked for “a favour”, and for Zelenskiy to “look into” Biden.

I do not believe this affair will do lasting or serious damage to Trump’s ratings: the better-educated voters already detest him, and the lower-educated will be far more concerned with the economy.

Removing a president from office requires a majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Democrats control the House, but Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority. So there is very little chance of Trump being removed before the November 2020 election.

In RealClearPolitics averages, Trump trails Biden by 7.7 points (9.9 points in my September 5 article). He trails Warren by 4.0 (4.1 previously) and Sanders by 4.8 (6.0).

Biden’s electability argument is enhanced by these figures. The pro-Trump Rasmussen polling company showed Trump leading Biden by four, but did not poll other match-ups. Without this Rasmussen poll, Biden would be placed 10.0 points ahead.

Why is Biden doing much better against Trump than other Democrats?

I think a key reason is he sometimes says things that are not politically correct, which the media construe as gaffes.

But those with a lower level of education are very dubious about the values of the “inner city elites”. Saying things the elite disagree with probably makes some Trump 2016 voters more comfortable supporting Biden than Warren.

There have been four major upsets in the US, UK and Australia in the last three years: the June 2016 Brexit referendum, Trump’s November 2016 victory, the UK Labour surge that produced the current hung parliament in June 2017, and the Australian Coalition’s triumph in May 2019.

My theory is the Remain campaign, Hillary Clinton and Australian Labor performed worse than expected because they were all seen as too close to the “inner city elites”.

In contrast, UK Labour adopted a pro-Brexit position before the 2017 election, and this assisted them as they were not seen as serving elite opinion.

To win elections, perhaps the left needs to break free of elite opinion in ways that do not compromise its core agenda.

UK Supreme Court rules prorogation unlawful

On September 24, the UK Supreme Court – the highest UK court – ruled the prorogation of parliament was illegal. The House of Commons resumed sitting the next day. Had parliament still been prorogued, the Commons would not have sat until October 14.

With both parliament and the courts hostile to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it is unlikely he can deliver Brexit by October 31 as he has promised.

As I wrote for The Poll Bludger in mid-September, parliament bears a large portion of responsibility for the Brexit shambles as it can only agree to procrastinate. It cannot agree to any method to resolve Brexit.

Israel, Austria, Portugal, Poland and Canada elections

I recently wrote for The Poll Bludger about the September 17 Israeli election results and said it is unlikely anyone can form a government. I also wrote about upcoming elections in Austria (September 29), Portugal (October 6), Poland (October 13) and Canada (October 21).
All these countries except Canada use proportional representation, while Canada uses first-past-the-post after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wimped on electoral reform after winning the October 2015 election.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

In the last Newspoll, conducted September 5-8 from a sample of 1,660, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since mid-August.

Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up one), 35% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (up one and their best in Newspoll since March 2016) and 5% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +10, up four points, while Anthony Albanese slumped into negative net approval at -5, down 12 points. Morrison led as better PM by 48-28 (48-30 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Prospects of Religious Freedom Appear Grim in Islamic Maldives


Two years after political reforms, freedom of faith nowhere in sight.

MALÉ, Maldives, August 10 (CDN) — Visitors to this Islamic island nation get a sense of religious restrictions even before they arrive. The arrival-departure cards given to arriving airline passengers carry a list of items prohibited under Maldivian laws – including “materials contrary to Islam.”

After Saudi Arabia, the Maldives is the only nation that claims a 100-percent Muslim population. The more than 300,000 people in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago featuring 1,192 islets 435 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, are all Sunnis.

This South Asian nation, however, has more than 70,000 expatriate workers representing several non-Islamic religions, including Christianity.

Also, around 60,000 tourists, mainly from Europe, visit each year to enjoy the blue ocean and white beaches and normally head straight to one of the holiday resorts built on around 45 islands exclusively meant for tourism. Tourists are rarely taken to the other 200 inhabited islands where locals live.

Nearly one-third of the population lives in the capital city of Malé, the only island where tourists and Maldivians meet.

While the Maldivians do not have a choice to convert out of Islam or to become openly atheist, foreigners in the country can practice their religion only privately.

In previous years several Christian expats have either been arrested for attending worship in private homes or denied visas for several months or years on suspicion of being connected with mission agencies.

According to “liberal estimates,” the number of Maldivian Christians or seekers “cannot be more than 15,” said one source.

“Even if you engage any Maldivian in a discussion on Christianity and the person reports it to authorities, you can be in trouble,” the source said. “A Maldivian youth studying in Sri Lanka became a Christian recently, but when his parents came to know about it, they took him away. We have not heard from him since then.”

The source added that such instances are not uncommon in the Maldives.

“I wish I could attend church, but I am too scared to look for one,” said a European expat worker. “I have not even brought my Bible here; I read it online. I don’t want to take any chances.”

The British reportedly translated the Bible into the local language, Dhivehi, and made it available in the 19th century, as the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 to 1965. Today no one knows how the Dhivehi Bible “disappeared.”

“A new translation has been underway for years, and it is in no way near completion,” said the source who requested anonymity.

 

Religion Excluded from Rights

The 2008 constitution, adopted five years after a popular movement for human rights began, states that a “non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives.”

Abdulla Yameen, brother of the former dictator of the Maldives and leader of the People’s Alliance party, an ally of the opposition Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (Maldivian People’s Party or DRP), told Compass that the issue of religious freedom was “insignificant” for the Maldives.

“There’s no demand for it from the public,” Yameen said. “If you take a public poll, 99 percent of the citizens will say ‘no’ to religious freedom.”

Maldivians are passionate about their religion, Yameen added, referring to a recent incident in which a 37-year-old Maldivian citizen, Mohamed Nazim, was attacked after he told a gathering that he was not a Muslim. On May 28, before a crowd of around 11,000 Maldivians, Nazim told a visiting Indian Muslim televangelist, Zakir Naik, that although he was born to a practicing Muslim family, he was “struggling to believe in religions.”

He also asked Naik about his “verdict on Islam.” The question enraged an angry crowd, with many calling for Nazim’s death while others beat him. He received several minor injuries before police took him away.

“See how the public went after his [Nazim’s] throat,” said Yameen, who studied at Claremont Graduate University in California. When asked if such passion was good for a society, he replied, “Yes. We are an Islamic nation, and our religion is an important part of our collective identity.”

Asked if individuals had no rights, his terse answer was “No.” Told it was shocking to hear his views, he said, “We are also shocked when a nation legalizes gay sex.”

Mohamed Zahid, vice president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, told Compass that the country has its own definition of human rights.

“It is to protect people’s rights under the sharia [Islamic law] and other international conventions with the exception of religious freedom,” he said. “We are a sovereign nation, and we follow our own constitution.”

Zahid and several other local sources told Compass that the issue of religious rights was “irrelevant” for Maldivians. “Not more than 100 people in the country want religious freedom,” Zahid said.

 

Politics of Religion

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a virtual dictator for 30 years until 2008, is generally held responsible for creating an atmosphere of religious restrictions in the Maldives, as he sought to homogenize religion in the country by introducing the state version of Sunni Islam. He also led a major crackdown on Christians.

The Protection of Religious Unity Act, enacted in 1994, was an endeavor to tighten the government’s control over mosques and all other Islamic institutions. The Gayoom administration even wrote Friday sermons to be delivered in mosques.

In 1998, Gayoom began a crackdown on alleged missionary activities.

“A radio station based out of India used to air Christian programs via the Seychelles, but the government came to know about it and ensured that they were discontinued with the help of the government in the Seychelles,” said a local Muslim source.

That year, Gayoom reportedly arrested around 50 Maldivians who were suspected to have converted to Christianity and deported 19 foreign workers accused of doing missionary work. A source said Gayoom apparently wanted to regain popularity at a time when his leadership was being questioned.

When the archipelago became a multi-party democracy in October 2008, new President Mohamed Nasheed, a former journalist and activist, was expected to pursue a liberal policy as part of the country’s reforms agenda.

Although Nasheed is the president, his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has only 28 members and the support of four independents in the 77-member People’s Majlis (Maldives’ unicameral Parliament). Gayoom, now in his 70s and the leader of the largest opposition party, the DRP, has a simple majority – which presents difficulties in governance. Nasheed pleads helplessness in implementing reforms, citing an intransigent opposition.

Today Gayoom’s party accuses President Nasheed of not being able to protect the country’s distinct identity and culture, which the opposition says are rooted in Islam. The Gayoom-led parliament recently sought to impeach the education minister for proposing to make Islam and Dhivehi lessons optional – rather than mandatory – in high school.

To pre-empt the impeachment move, the whole cabinet of Nasheed resigned on June 29, which caused a major political crisis that led to violent street protests. The Nasheed administration allegedly arrested some opposition members, including Gayoom’s brother, Yameen. Political tensions and uncertainties continued at press time.

Now that President Nasheed’s popularity is declining – due to perceptions that he has become as authoritarian as his predecessor – it is feared that, amid immense pressure by the opposition to follow conservative policies, he might begin to follow in Gayoom’s footsteps.

 

Growing Extremism

Both the ruling and opposition parties admit that Islamic extremism has grown in the country. In October 2007, a group of young Maldivians engaged government security forces in a fierce shootout on Himandhoo Island.

Nasheed’s party alleges that Gayoom’s policy of promoting the state version of Sunni Islam created an interest to discern “true Islam,” with extremists from Pakistan stepping in to introduce “jihadism” in the Maldives. The DRP, on the other hand, says that behind the growth of extremism is the current government’s liberal policy of allowing Muslims of different sects to visit the Maldives to preach and give lectures, including the conservative Sunni sect of “Wahhabis.”

Until the early 1990s, Maldivian women would hardly wear the black burqa (covering the entire body, except the eyes and hands), and no men would sport a long beard – outward marks of Wahhabi Muslims, said the Muslim source, adding that “today the practice has become common.”

Still, Islam as practiced in the Maldives is pragmatic and unlike that of Saudi Arabia, he said. “People here are liberal and open-minded.”

As extremism grows, though, it is feared that radical Islamists may go to any extent to extra-judicially punish anyone suspected of being a missionary or having converted away from Islam, and that they can pressure the government to remain indifferent to religious freedom.

How long will it take for the Maldives to allow religious freedom?

“Maybe after the Maldivian government legalizes gay sex,” the Muslim source joked.

Report from Compass Direct News