In July 1971, President Nixon was anticipating some good press. The unemployment rate had dropped from 6.2% to 5.6%. But the press reports that emerged came with an infuriating caveat.
When Nixon learned that the front page of the Washington’s Evening Star said, “The Labor Department warned that the dip might have been caused by a statistical quirk,” he ordered an investigation to find out who was responsible. “He’s got to be fired,” Nixon said.
In truth, Nixon knew that a statistical quirk explained the massive drop. The year-to-year analysis didn’t account for the fact that students were still in school and not seeking work in 1971, whereas they had been out of school and “unemployed” during the same statistical week in 1970. Nonetheless, he was enraged that someone at the Labor Department had stomped all over his good talking point, and he wanted revenge. He quickly learned that there was only one Republican working at the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but he had another theory about why his good news had been undermined.
Meanwhile, Haldeman tried to find out how many BLS employees were Jews. “What’s the status of your analysis of the BLS,” he wrote to Personnel Chief Malek on July 26, “specifically of the 21 key people. What is their demographic breakdown?”
Malek replied the next day. “We were able to obtain political affiliation checks on 35 of the 50 names listed on their organization chart.” There were 25 Democrats, 5 unregistered, 4 independents, and 1 Republican. “In addition, 13 out of the 35 fit the other demographic criterion that was discussed.” There was a handwritten note: “Most of these are at the top.”
Later that day, the President asked, “Did you ever get the number of Jews that were in BLS?”
“I got their biographies yesterday. I’m having them analyzed,” Ehrlichman said.
Thereafter, an effort was made to cleanse the BLS of Jews by firing and transferring them.
I thought of this history immediately when I began to read McKay Coppins’s piece today on how horrified many Republican operatives are at the prospect that Donald Trump might actually win.
“It’s terrifying,” said one GOP consultant, who like others spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity. “He’s not qualified … and it’s a massive problem. I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but at least I feel like some of those jobs that are required for president, she could do them.”
“It would be terrible for America, and for the world,” said another Republican strategist, referring to a prospective Trump victory. “I can’t think of one good thing that would come of it.”
A third Republican said that after watching the Clinton campaign’s missteps in recent days, “I’m curled up in the fetal position watching The West Wing and drinking a basketful of deplorable liquor.”
Nixon was a paranoid anti-Semite with no respect for the rule of law, but it would have been understandable if he wanted a Bureau of Labor Statistics that was a little more balanced than 25 Democrats to one Republican. He had inherited a federal bureaucracy that was built by Democrats and staffed most recently by his two Democratic predecessors.
Yet, try to imagine how Nixon would have felt if he thought, somewhat correctly, that half the Republicans in the bureaucracy were also totally unsympathetic to his administration. This would have required an even deeper cleansing, as his Plumbers went to work not just to identify the partisan and religious affiliations of federal employees, but their actual political beliefs.
And so we can now consider the position Donald Trump would find himself in if he were to actually win the election and become the president. Trump is at least as insecure as Nixon was, at least as prone to weak conspiracy theories, and definitely more narcissistic and vindictive in his personal dealings. As for the rule of law, Trump proposes facially unconstitutional policies on a regular basis.
Nixon had some justification for feeling that the Washington Establishment, including the media and the bureaucracy, were not his political friends, but he exaggerated the malevolence and coordination of his enemies. A President Trump, however, would truthfully find it very difficult to find anyone he could trust, even within his own party. The temptation to investigate and purge would be overwhelming, and that’s setting aside a more legitimate effort to sideline people who are on the record talking trash about him and his candidacy.
Trump doesn’t seem to share Nixon’s rabid anti-Semitism, but he’s unquestionably anti-Muslim. If he can’t trust a Mexican-American federal judge, I doubt he’d trust a Mexican-American labor statistician who didn’t adopt the party line in her remarks to the press.
Now, if you talk to Trump supporters, you’ll hear them say things like “I don’t agree with him on everything, but he’ll shake things up and something has to change.”
But we need to try to envision how that “shake-up” would look in practice. For the Republicans likely to be impacted, they’ve been thinking about that shake-up with more focus as Clinton has struggled in recent weeks.
The adviser added that most Republican donors will hedge their bets and contribute to Trump if the race is close, but he said they are generally less wary of a Clinton White House. “If she wins, they aren’t going to love it, but they’re not going to be facing the apocalypse either — and by apocalypse, I mean actual nuclear warfare.”
Asked why they wouldn’t go on record criticizing Trump, several Republicans said they were worried about professional repercussions from conservative clients. In the meantime, many of them are preparing to do something they once considered unthinkable: pulling the lever for Hillary.
The bottom line is that Washington (broadly defined) does not want Trump to win, has been assuming for months that Trump cannot win, and is not prepared for and doesn’t want to even contemplate what will happen if he does win. And this includes a very healthy percentage of Republicans. For them, it will result in metaphorical (and perhaps literal) nuclear warfare.
So, imagine a freshly minted President Trump trying to staff his administration and find trustworthy allies on the Hill.
Even if he weren’t a spiteful, insecure, conspiracy-minded narcissist, this would be a daunting and probably impossible task. But Trump is actually all of those things. And this guarantees that his “shake-up” won’t be something the American people could or should applaud.