IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate

To hear Republicans tell it, there are new Watergates lurking everywhere, all the time. It'd be creepy if it weren't so unintentionally amusing.
The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.
The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. "One year of Watergate is enough," the Republican president said at the time.

We now know, of course, that Nixon was wrong, and seven months after making his declaration from Capitol Hill, the scandal forced him to resign the presidency.

But we also know that when it comes to Republican historical references, "one year of Watergate" wasn't even close to being enough. For example, take one far-right congressman's view of the so-called Nunes memo.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) -- who has called for reining in the Mueller probe by gutting its financing, and recently went pheasant hunting with Donald Trump Jr. -- said he was sickened by the memo and that it was "worse than Watergate."

In context, King was referring to the Republican conspiracy theories reportedly included in the memo, not the memo itself.

There's a lot of this going around. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) agreed last month that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a "corrupt" investigation that's "worse than Watergate."

Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an odd enthusiast for baseless conspiracy theories, called for an investigation into "high-ranking" officials in the Obama administration who "colluded" to stop Trump's election. The Republican senator, who appeared to be pointing to a controversy that doesn't exist in reality, added, "This could be worse than Watergate!"

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump, perhaps the nation's biggest proponent of bizarre conspiracy theories, who's constantly identifying Watergates all over the place. Uranium One? That's Watergate, the president has said. Non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower? That's Watergate, too. Benghazi? Watergate. Joe Arpaio's investigation into Barack Obama's birth certificate? Bigger than Watergate.

As regular readers know, for much of Barack Obama's presidency, his detractors seemed annoyed by the lack of credible scandals surrounding his White House. The more the Democratic president stayed out of trouble, the more Obama's critics searched for a new "Watergate."

At one point, I counted at least 10 separate "controversies" that various observers labeled "Obama's Watergate," each of which turned out to be meaningless, further diluting an already over used cliche.

What I didn't appreciate was the extent to which Republicans would keep the desperate search for new Watergates going, long after Obama left the stage.