Skip to main content

Trump’s abysmal kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Helsinki on Monday, along with the detailed indictments of twenty-five Russian nationals, the arrest of a Russian spy who burrowed her way into the deepest recesses of Republican political organizations, and the myriad other revelations of cyber-assistance and dark money flowing into Trump campaign coffers from Russian military intelligence – the evidence of Republican politicians’ willingness to betray their country for political advantage has become pretty damn convincing.

treasonous republican presidential campaigns

We need not await the “Perry Mason moment” that will likely never come in the Trump-Russia saga. Like impeaching a president, political commentary need not rely on granular legal arguments, such as the ones that often dominate cable news coverage of the Trump-Russia connections.

Based on the spectacle we’ve endured over the last seventeen miserable months, we’re perfectly capable of drawing our own conclusions, despite all of the gaslighting, lies, and propaganda.

The evidence of the current president’s treason doesn’t need to hold up in a court of law or convince a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Based on the spectacle we’ve endured over the last seventeen miserable months, we’re perfectly capable of drawing our own conclusions, despite all of the gaslighting, lies, and propaganda.

This isn’t the first time the Republican Party was willing to put its political interests above those of the country they purport to love so much. #MAGA!

It’s unfortunate that historians on TV, such as Michael Beschloss and John Meacham, more often than not, choose to harken back to examples from the 19th Century for their analogies, a time when the country’s population was about the same as California’s is today, before the U.S. had become a global superpower, before the CIA was created, and before the invention of radio, TV, nuclear weapons or the Internet. They usually skip over the far more relevant historical lessons from the last fifty years.

For example, in 1968, the Republican presidential campaign of Richard Nixon feared that the Democratic candidate, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, would be able to pull off an“October Surprise” by announcing a major breakthrough in peace negotiations that were then ongoing in Paris between the belligerents that held the power to end the Vietnam War.

At the time the United States had over a half million American military personnel in Vietnam who were suffering in the wake of the Tet Offensive the highest level of casualties of any time during the war.

In Paris, the parties to the conflict, including the Republic of Vietnam (“South Vietnam”), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”), the Soviet Union, China, and the United States — had been negotiating a possible peace settlement.

Nixon’s Republican presidential campaign dreaded an end to the war because if the American diplomats working for the Democratic administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded in Paris, a war-weary public would likely go to the polls and cast their ballots for Humphrey.

Nixon knew that an end to the conflict could spare the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians, as well as the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers. He also knew he would be committing treason if his campaign sought to secretly derail the talks. But secretly derail the talks Nixon did.

Richard Nixon, Anna Chennault, Henry Kissinger

Richard Nixon, Anna Chennault, Henry Kissinger

The Nixon campaign reached out to its contacts among extreme right-wingers associated with the anti-communist China lobby, most notably Anna Chennault, who was the widow of General Claire Chennault of “Flying Tigers” fame, and a prominent anti-Mao activist with ties to the regime in Taiwan.

Using Chennault as the main conduit, the Nixon campaign sent clandestine backchannel messages to President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam informing him that if he held out and sabotaged the peace talks Nixon would offer him massive rewards in the form of military assistance, economic aid, and the continuation of direct U.S. military protection of his corrupt, brutal, and illegitimate government.

Thieu abruptly walked out of the Paris peace talks thereby denying President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey a last-minute peace deal that most likely would have been so popular with the American people Humphrey would’ve won the 1968 election.

In a taped private conversation with President Johnson Nixon said he would never jeopardize a potential U.S. peace deal in Vietnam and would never undercut the diplomacy of the U.S. government. Nixon was lying and LBJ knew it.

Johnson’s intelligence people had wiretapped the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington and had recordings of the intercepted contacts between Anna Chennault and the Thieu regime.

Nixon won a close election and the Vietnam war continued for another five years costing the lives of about 20,000 more Americans and at least another 500,000 Vietnamese. Not only was Nixon a crook and a liar, who was forced to flee Washington in August 1974, he was also a traitor.

Similarly, in 1980, when the Republican Party was seeking to oust another incumbent Democratic administration, which was facing its own “Vietnam” in the form of the months-long Iranian hostage crisis, the party once again secretly sought to upend U.S. diplomacy.

Like Nixon’s campaign in 1968, the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan feared a potential “October Surprise” whereby President Jimmy Carter might secure the release of the 52 remaining American hostages in Iran at a crucial moment and swing the election in his direction. The Republican Party, once again, put winning political power above the interests of the country.

The Reagan campaign began seeking ways to send clandestine backchannel messages to the Iranian government to urge it not to release the hostages before the 1980 election in return for a better deal under the new president involving arms sales for its war against Iraq, (which Saddam Hussein started in September 1980).

Reports later surfaced that Richard Allen (who became Reagan’s first National Security Adviser), William Casey (who was Reagan’s campaign manager who Reagan named C.I.A. Director), as well as his running mate and former C.I.A. Director, George Herbert Walker Bush, all had quietly traveled to Europe during the campaign where they allegedly engaged in secret contacts with cut-outs from the Iranian government.

The clandestine backchannel message to the Iranians was simple: hold on to the American hostages until after the election and we’ll sell arms and possibly normalize relations.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Gary Sick, who was President Carter’s point man on the National Security Council for the negotiations with the Iranians, claims the way his Iranian contacts abruptly dropped off was extremely suspicious and indicated something had changed.

Contrary to the myths Republicans and right-wing commentators have pushed for the past 38 years, it was President Carter, not President Reagan, who won the release of the American hostages. He did so during his lame-duck period, which culminated in the Algiers Accords. But the success came when it could do Carter no political good; he already lost the election.

The Iranians hated Carter so much they probably would’ve held the hostages until after he lost in 1980 anyway. But this doesn’t excuse in any way the treasonous behavior of the Reagan campaign in cutting a secret deal with the Iranians to hold American citizens for a longer duration than otherwise, and the undercutting of official U.S. diplomacy by a private political campaign.

There are many strange aspects to the Reagan White House’s secret backchannel communications and direct contacts with representatives of the Iranian government that surfaced later that might be related to the original covert deal in 1980.

In November 1986, it was revealed that operatives from Reagan’s National Security Council (most famously Lt. Col. Oliver North) had secretly visited Tehran using disguises and fake passports and sold arms (including some pretty sophisticated T.O.W. missiles) to the government of Ayatollah Khomeini.

This news came as quite a shock since Reagan never missed an opportunity to publicly vilify the Iranian government. It was the “Iran” part of the “Iran-Contra Scandal.” (And never sufficiently explained were the secret U.S. arms sales to Iran that began early in Reagan’s first term largely through Israeli conduits.)

I Dare Call It Treason

In all three cases, Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980, and Trump in 2016, the elections involved an out-of-power Republican Party working in a context where Democrats controlled the White House. In all three examples, the Republican campaigns conspired with foreign governments against their own, and put their own political interests above those of their country.

In the case of Nixon in 1968, the Republicans sought to prolong a war that was needlessly killing American soldiers each and every day. In the case of Reagan in 1980, the Republicans sought to prolong the captivity of American citizens being held hostage in Iran.

Ironically, all the campaigns portrayed themselves as being more “patriotic” than their Democratic opponents even while secretly conspiring with foreign individuals and governments.

But in the case of Trump in 2016, the Republicans appear to have fused their own campaign apparatus — their Internet presence and analytics, their sources of financing, their campaign strategy, EVERYTHING – with the military intelligence operatives of a foreign government.

treasonous republican presidential campaigns

Each of these three cases occurred in different historical contexts and under unique social, economic, and political conditions. Yet in all three cases the Republican Party betrayed the country.

It’s not very helpful to try to shed light on today’s turbo-charged, armed-to-the-teeth, social media-driven world with historical analogies from the 18th or 19th Centuries. And the kind of historical commentary we often hear from the “Left” cynically sees Trump’s treason as “nothing new,” or not a big deal compared to America’s other past crimes.

Both these views are shortsighted because having Vladimir Putin as the puppet master over a U.S. president in 2018 can result in unimaginable catastrophe. There can be false-flag terrorist attacks, cyber-sabotage, even nuclear war.

A more useful “historical” lesson is to remind ourselves that in the last 50 years Republican presidential campaigns have always been willing to betray their own country for political advantage.

There is a pattern here, (especially when a Republican candidate is seeking either to replace an incumbent Democratic president or one that is termed out), showing that the modern Republican Party always puts party over country.

When they’re not beating down working people, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and immigrants; gutting vital social programs and stripping away civil rights; while serving the narrow interests of the billionaire class and multinational corporations, the Republicans are selling out their country to the highest bidder among foreign adversaries.

With the crop of duplicitous Republicans who currently control Congress — from Devin Nunes sabotaging the work of the House Intelligence Committee, to the recent hearing where Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy and his cohorts savaged a career FBI official in a manner that would make Joe McCarthy proud, to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but halting the oversight powers of a co-equal branch of our federal government – all to cover up the lies, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and treason of their party’s standard bearer, they’ve now descended to a new low in their penchant for always putting their party (and the billionaire class and corporations it serves) over the country they loudly proclaim to love so much.

Today, the Trump Republicans dispense with any pretense of a sense of “fair play.” They openly embrace voter suppression, gerrymandering, propaganda, cyber-ratfucking (and every other kind of ratfucking), and secretly seek and gleefully accept the underhanded assistance from foreign nations – all to win elections. They’re traitors to democracy too.

They’ve also largely succeeded in the last 40 years of restructuring the political playing field in their favor. Their control of the Supreme Court has given them unlimited and anonymous corporate money to spend while limiting the effects of the Voting Rights Act and now, with Janus v. AFSCME, knee-capping the rights of working people.

Steve Mnuchin over at the Treasury Department has just made it harder to disclose secret donors to the NRA and other right-wing groups at a time when the “lights are blinking red” (according to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates) relating to the corruption of our elections.

And they’ve shown themselves willing to destabilize the world and put a madman’s finger on the US nuclear button all to win more tax cuts for their billionaire benefactors and to stack the courts, especially the Supreme Court.


Patriotism is indeed the last refuge of these scoundrels. They might not be able to fool all the people all the time, but they sure can fool enough people to win razor close elections (with a little help from their friends abroad).

Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo's Blog