Over the past few decades, my favorite trivia question to stump people under forty is this one: who is the only person to have ascended to the presidency without ever have been elected to national office? I suspect a fair number of my readers can sort that one out either because they are over fifty, or because my hardcore followers are — by and large — very literate on political history. But over the years I have only ever met one person born after 1980 who answered that question immediately, without hesitation.
When Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, then re-elected in 1972, his vice presidential running mate was Spiro T, Agnew, the Governor of Maryland. Agnew had made the unlikely leap from Baltimore County Executive to Governor in 1966 and, after only two years was enlisted to run with Nixon. Nixon didn’t know Agnew at all, he’d only been reassured that the prospective Vice President was a committed establishment Republican. Agnew was a virtual unknown on the national political stage but was an entrenched — and wildly corrupt — Republican operative. And without even a hint of self-consciousness, Agnew dragged his extortion racket right into the office of the Vice President. Literally. Rachel Maddow’s podcast, Bagman, illuminates brilliantly just how much more brazenly and systemically corrupt Agnew was than Nixon ever thought of being. In 1973 Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency in a deal he made to keep from being indicted.
That left Richard Nixon without a VP at the apex of the Watergate hearings so, as the line of succession demanded, the Speaker of the House — Carl Albert — insisted that Gerald Ford step up in to fill the vacancy. Ford had served as a Congressional Representative from Michigan for twenty-five years, the last nine of it as leader of his party. Ford, at least, was a Republican. He’d never been elected outside of Michigan, but under the most extraordinary circumstances — at least until now — Gerald Ford became the Vice President in 1973. In August 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment and removal from office, Ford became the 38th President of the United States without ever being elected to national office. He was a decent man who got the original political raw deal, which was only made worse by his immediate pardon of Richard Nixon. It was Gerald Ford who insured that “we the people” would never know the full scope of Nixon’s crimes against his office, not before he’d died anyway.
That’s the answer to the trivia question that very few millennials — or younger people — know and so many middle-aged people have forgotten.
Trump has copped to directly extorting Zelensky to “investigate” Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, for complicity in two specific matters that have been effectively conflated by this criminal poser’s talking heads on the Sunday morning news shows: finally and barely in time, interviewers have started pushing back, but Stephen Miller, Jim Jordan and Lindsay Graham just kept spinning their nutty fiction.
The first was that Joe Biden had, while he was Barack Obama’s VP, lead calls to help Ukraine establish independence and support the ouster of pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych. This was an international coalition including the European Union and the United Nations, not some underhanded effort to stage a coup. That is why President Zelensky was jammed up when Trump embargoed U.S. military support needed to resist Russian aggression — military support Congress had already appropriated — unless the Ukrainian president utterly fabricated a narrative about Joe Biden’s nonexistent attempts to intervene in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
The second was that Hunter Biden had done anything illegal by accepting a position the board of a Ukrainian gas company — for a sweet 50K a month. Hunter Biden was not even offered this position, for which he does have some measure of requisite qualifications, until several years after the aforementioned business with the ousting of the Russian sympathizer. The two had nothing to do with each other. And as easy as it is to understand why some on the left get their panties in a tight little knot over the opportunities that such connections provided to the younger Biden, it was not illegal and it was not under any table. It was business. Furthermore, Hunter Biden stepped down from that board earlier this year, I speculate in deference to his father’s political ambitions. You can not like that if you want to expend your vital energies hating on people just for be in a position to score such cushy deals, but that doesn’t make it a scandal. Your call.
And those on the right trying to turn this into a “gotcha” moment better watch out for the cracks in the glass house they are ensconced in cause Trump’s kids are all up in all kinds of much nastier — and actually criminal — nepotism. Trump met with Chinese leadership and that afternoon his Stepford daughter, Ivanka, gets a bunch of trademarks to sell her crappy shoes and clothes in China. Jared’s white elephant at 666 Fifth Avenue is going under, then oh so coincidentally, after a “diplomatic” trip to Saudi Arabia some Arab firm bails the building out with a ninety-nine year lease.
Don Jr. fancies he’s running for mayor of New York and nobody is altogether sure what creepiness Eric is up to, but save that article for another day. Military troops are being put up in Trump dumps around the world at twice the market price of the accommodations, and the wannabe mob boss himself thinks he can force the other six nation members of the G-7 to stay at his bedbug infested motel in Florida next year. So be very careful, Trump devotees, when you start throwing around words like “nepotism” as if the rest of us are just too stupid to recognize a hypocritical scam when we see it.
And if that is not sufficient to make my point, consider the travels of Trump’s personal attorney in pursuit of his financial and political interests. Remember, Rudy Guiliani is — ostensibly — his personal lawyer with none of the authority or privilege of a government official.
In Armenia last October attending a pro-Russian conference Guiliani insisted he was not attending “as a private lawyer to President Trump.” He was invited to Ukraine in ’17 by Russian-Ukrainian developer Pavel Fuchs, only one among several Russian contacts he met in cities across Europe and the Mideast. Others, mostly Ukrainians, Giuliani conferred with about getting “dirt” on Joe Biden. Apparently, Rudy Giuliani has reached such a degree of decompensation that he is more than happy to tell reporters anything they want to know about his travels, something Donald Trump will live to regret about his choice of legal representation. Taken on the whole, Hunter Biden’s little consulting gig in the Ukraine looks like small change, the Bidens look more clumsy than criminal in comparison.
So, returning to my premise, Trump’s in a world of well deserved hurt right now. As we could all anticipate, he’s going to throw absolutely everybody under the bus. Like the drowning man in the deep end of the pool flailing so violently that he pushes all who come to save him under water, then tries to flee to safety aloft their floating corpses, he will spare no one.
Vice President Pence has been implicated in all manner of malfeasance in association with Donald Trump but — as unlikely and irrational as it seems to those who consider Pence a waste of airspace — the guy harbors his own higher ambitions. He’s remained quiet and tried to slip under prosecutorial radar, but Trump is panicking. When pressed last week about those incriminating conversations he initiated with the Ukrainian president, Pence didn’t have a chance. His boss went straight there.
“I think you should ask for Vice President Pence’s conversation because he had a couple of conversations also.”
Thus went Mike Pence’s lofty aspirations along with the likelihood that he will survive Trump’s impeachment and removal from office without a “bon voyage” and farewell of his own evaporated. And perhaps some quality time with some new close friends in general pop in the warm embrace of the federal penitentiary will humble him. Orange is, unfortunately for him, not his color. The karma would be symmetric.
So I proffer that the driving force triggering such bursting hysteria among the GOP inside the beltway, the sort of spastic incontinence that compels Miller, Jordan and Graham to become publicly unhinged on camera and compels Kevin McCarthy to vomit utter nonsense, as if trying to convince himself that it could still be true in a parallel universe, is that — if this continues the way it is going right now — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi could be the occupant of the Oval Office by the time 2020 arrives. Imagine that. That could happen in the real world.
So tell me again how Nancy Pelosi is not the shrewdest political mind of our time, just tell me.
About the Author:
Gayle Leslie is a writer, political consultant, published author, actor, and policy wonk publishing extensively on Medium. She is a native Texan, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC. She wrote her serialized memoir, Dwelling in the Vast Divine Vol. 1 & Vol 2. You can follow on Twitter at @gayleleslie7