Pat Buchanan: It Isn’t Watergate Yet, But How Long Can This Sustain?

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Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
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Pat Buchanan says the nonstop uproar following Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey is not comparable to Watergate, but he does wonder if the Trump presidency can function with this level of drama.

Buchanan was a central figure in the Richard Nixon administration and just released “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made And Broke a President and Divided America Forever.” He spoke to The Daily Caller Wednesday about the Trump presidency and other topics.

You wrote on Monday that the firing of Comey is nothing like Watergate. Do you still think these comparisons are overblown in light of Tuesday’s New York Times report that Trump asked Comey to stop investigating Michael Flynn?

I do. We haven’t got a single crime yet or a single indictment yet. By the time of the Saturday Night Massacre — in the middle of the Watergate scandal which lasted 18 months — you had people convicted and imprisoned, you had others who were on trial or facing indictment, you had others who had lawyered up and whose names had been dropped, you had congressional hearings, you had universal cries in the House for impeachment, and the White House was clearly deep in a crisis.

To compare the situation then with the situation now is absurd. I will say there is a valid comparison between the blood-in-the-water atmosphere of this city now and the blood-in-the-water atmosphere of 1973/1974 after March ’73.

There’s another difference, and that’s the media. You had The Washington Post, CBS and the networks. You had a morning newspaper and an evening newspaper and three networks. Now you’ve got a new headline, a new revelation every day at least. Sometimes twice a day. It seems like a great deal more activity going on, but I think in terms of the situation, they’re not comparable. This is not comparable to ’73.

Will this distract him from his policy plans? What’s the effect this will have on his presidency?

There’s no question that the agenda has been put on the back-burner. At least for the cable networks and the newspapers with all these conflicts. There’s no question that the agenda has suffered. I think the president has been hurt to a degree if his approval rating is around 38 or 40 percent. The Republican Party is sort of mute right now on Capitol Hill. This has been a dramatic four months. The question is, is can we sustain this kind of intensity for 44 more months?

You don’t think so?

[Laughing] I went through Watergate all 18 months and we’re only four months in. It’s fairly advanced in those terms. In terms of the division and the clamors and the rodomontade if you will.

Ann Coulter recently told me that she hasn’t been too pleased with the opening months of the administration. Do you agree? 

I knew when Trump got in, he’s going to have to fight for his agenda every day. A part of the Republican Party disagrees with it and a part of the Republican Party will also seek to sabotage and stop it. It’s going to be a long slog. I accept that.

Indispensable to the agenda is the president himself. It doesn’t depend as much on the people around him as long as he stays true to his goals and on trade it looks like he really is trying to do that. I’ve got my own ideas on what he ought to do. I think you’re going to need a tariff and then use all the revenues from the tariff to cut taxes on American corporations. I think he’s trying to do something there.

He’s clearly working on something on the borders. He retains his reluctance to get involved in a major war in the Middle East. A new war which would consume his presidency.

The people we’ve been battling with all these years they didn’t say, “Well it’s all over we’re going home.” As soon as the election was over, the same old interests began to advance the same old agendas without much opposition.

Does the GOP eventually get around to embracing Trumpism completely?

Trump was a good salesman for these ideas, and these ideas had real currency with the American people. I think the Republican Party will be brought around to these ideas because their previous ideas were unsustainable. Open borders, and refusing to protect the borders, and amnesties like Bush and McCain wanted was going to be a disaster for the country and the party.

You keep up the same trade policies with China running $400 billion trade surpluses and you won’t have a manufacturing plant left in the country. And you get involved in a couple more wars over there, the American people will rise up against the Republican Party and throw them out the way they did in 2006 and 2008.

It’s not the persuasiveness of tactics that got these issues elevated in the hearts and minds of millions. It’s what happened. We tried the wars, we tried the free trade globalism, and we tried the open borders and people don’t like the results. And they’re not going to like it better if we go back to the same approach.

You’ve written much about your worries about how demographic changes will negatively affect the nation. What do you think is the political effect that will come from this? We are currently seeing the rise of the alt right, left-wing violence…

If you see more of the cause, you will see more of the effect. How dumb can these people be. Take a look at what’s happening in Europe. You have secessionist movements in more than half a dozen countries. You’ve got nationalism across Europe, you’ve got ethno-nationalism, you’ve got pro-Russian governments rising, autocracy is more attractive to people.

People got to take a look. This isn’t because a couple of guys have been preaching something for a few years. We’ve been predicting it. It’s the events that matter. They decide things. When we ran with these issues in the 90s, you had tremendous support, but the thing people said was what we’re doing right now isn’t that bad so let’s stick with this.

If you don’t address the causes you will get the same results, and I don’t understand people who don’t realize that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.