Trump: Taking lessons from Nixon

Spearhead Opinion – 08.02.2019

By Syed Murtaza Zaidi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

The recent US government shutdown is now officially the longest in the country’s history, having lasted over 35 days in total. Over 800,000 government employees were furloughed or had to work without pay, while its impact on the US economy was even more disastrous, with many experts predicting that the shutdown cost over $10 billion, and that the economy would take years to recover from these great losses.  

This situation was caused due to the heightening discord between the Democratic and Republican parties, particularly over the issue of illegal immigration and President Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the US-Mexico border. Once the government shutdown was called off, it was implied that the two parties had come to some form of agreement over the issue, and that the differences separating the two sides would be a thing of the past. However, it soon became clear that the solution to this issue would not be as simple as that.

After realizing that their approval ratings were taking a huge hit during the shutdown, many in the Republican party realized that it would be more prudent to continue negotiations regarding the border wall funding after ending the government shutdown. So a temporary bill was drawn up, and signed by President Trump on January 25, which not only agreed to provide federal employees with the back pay they were owed during the shutdown, but also reopened the government for a provisional period till February 15.

While it was certainly not the most practical solution to reopen the government for only about twenty days, it came as a relief to many struggling government employees, as well as to average citizens who had to deal with the fallout of the shutdown as well. It also gave Donald Trump the opportunity to make his State of the Union address, that had earlier been postponed.

Even though the purpose behind this speech is to provide an update on the state of the nation to a joint session of Congress, as well as to lay out future plans and commitments for the upcoming year, Donald Trump perhaps had other things on his mind. While he should have solely focused on the shutdown, its repercussions, and the steps that may be taken to counteract its effects, Trump instead chose to highlight his self-professed accomplishments and perhaps the biggest obstacle he faces in the coming months; the conclusion of the Muller investigation.     

His comments on the latter issue were of considerable interest to those that could remember the last State of the Union address delivered by Richard Nixon. Even though most Presidents choose to ignore personal issues when making this address, Nixon, and now Trump, both took this opportunity to implore their colleagues in the Senate to end any official investigations into their specific transgressions. In Nixon’s case, it was the Watergate scandal that was dominating the news, while in Trump’s case, it is an alleged collusion with Russia in order to win his Presidency in 2016.

In his 1974 State of the Union address, President Nixon told Congress that “the time has come to bring that (Watergate) investigation and the other investigations of this matter, to an end”. In his recent address, Trump also took the opportunity to remind Congress that “an economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations”. He added that “if there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just does not work that way”.

The parallels between the two speeches were stark, and became even more ominous when considering that President Nixon was forced out of office only a few months after he made these remarks. Will the same fate befall Donald Trump? The majority of Democrats seem to think so, and have their hopes pinned firmly on the upcoming Mueller report. After his recent State of the Union address, it seems that Donald Trump shares their concerns, and perhaps saw this address as the perfect opportunity to make one last ditch effort to save face, before all hell breaks loose.