Five myths about Watergate

Roundup
tags: Watergate, Nixon, Trump



Rick Perlstein is a historian and the author of “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” and “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

Related Link What to Remember About Watergate By Scott Armstrong

With all the talk of secret tapes and special prosecutors, all the speculation about coverups and abuses of power, comparisons between the scandals plaguing the Trump administration and the scandal that ultimately brought down Richard Nixon abound. Yet more than 40 years on, myths and misconceptions about the Watergate break-in and its massive political ramifications remain. Here are five of the most persistent.

MYTH NO. 1

There wasn’t a logical motive behind the Watergate burglary.

In retrospect, the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in 1972, ordered by the Nixon administration, seems bizarre. After all, as politics scholar Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution points out, “Nixon’s victory was never really in doubt, as the Democratic party was in the middle of a rather spectacular civil war. So why go to the trouble of breaking into their headquarters when they were crumbling from within?” 

But this view is premised on hindsight. The break-in at the Watergate took place June 17, when the question of whom Nixon would face in the general election was still very much up in the air — as it was until the conclusion of the Democratic convention in July. 

The most important events precipitating the break-in were a pair of meetings in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell in January 1972, in which Nixon campaign aide G. Gordon Liddy presented an elaborate plan to harass and sabotage the Democratic Party, and a subsequent meeting shortly thereafter, in which Mitchell approved a scaled-down operation. During this period, the polls between Nixon and the various Democratic contenders, especially Sen. Edmund Muskie, were relatively close. Nixon especially feared the prospect of facing Alabama Gov. George Wallace; the assassination attempt that incapacitated Wallace occurred May 15, long after Liddy and Mitchell agreed to the break-in. Indeed, gathering intelligence on how the DNC planned to distribute the delegates Wallace had already won might have been one motivation for the break-in. ...




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