DONALD TRUMP IS attempting to claim the mantle of Richard Nixon’s “law and order” strategy that helped him win the White House in 1968. But in truth, the candidate in this race who most resembles Nixon is Hillary Clinton—and she always has. The secrecy, the dissembling, the penchant for surrounding herself with third-rate yes-men, and the sense of grievance and persecution despite being one of the world’s most powerful people: These were Nixon in a nutshell, and they are Hillary in a nutshell.
Nearly every mistake she’s made in public life is, I believe, based on her conviction that people are out to get her—and due to that belief, she gives herself permission to defend herself by any means necessary.
The major difference is that Nixon was harmed by his paranoia, while Hillary Clinton may well have been aided by hers.
This was true from the very beginning of her life in Washington. After dissembling about her role in firing officials in the White House Travel Office in 1993—which was the first public controversy she generated after her husband’s election—the man she fired became the subject of an illegitimate Justice Department criminal investigation designed to take the heat off her. Was this just thuggishness? No, though it was that. She knew she was coming under assault, she considered any such attack illegitimate on its face, and so it freed her up morally (in her own view) to go on the attack with the tools she had.
Flash-forward to the set-up of the private email server in 2009—which in retrospect seems to have been an act of arrant stupidity on her part. Was it? I don’t know. She had every reason to know her behavior at the State Department would bring her under scrutiny by the same groups that had hounded her in the 1990s, and that left to their own devices, they would do what they could to find out what was going on between her and her husband and the Clinton Foundation. They would find leakers at Foggy Bottom; they would use Freedom of Information Act requests; they would use subpoenas. So she bypassed all that by taking her email private.
And she almost got away with it. Had she and the administration not mishandled the Benghazi attacks and aftermath so badly, there would have been no congressional investigation into the internal communications at State. Had there been no investigation, the world would never have learned about the existence of her private server and the potential damage done to America’s national security. Her trustworthiness numbers would not have descended to Nixonian levels. The public’s impression of her would not have turned toxic.
And yet even here, Hillary Clinton had a kind of luck Nixon never had. The outrage generated by her all-but-criminal conduct among those of us who were on to her bad character decades ago, and who watched her skate despite it, probably helped produce the noxious atmosphere within the GOP that led to the nomination of Donald Trump. How many times did I hear, during the primary season, that Trump was the only one of the candidates who would really “take it to Hillary”? Well, it turns out he’s rotten at it.
Nixon’s self-destructive obsession with his enemies destroyed him. Despite the parlous effect her obsession with her enemies has had on her reputation, Hillary Clinton may not have acted self-destructively at all. She may, in fact, have helped bring about the self-destruction of those self-same enemies in helping to summon up the only rival she could have beaten this year.