Ted Cruz and Tricky Dick: A Watergate Lesson

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) speaks with his father Rafael Cruz at the Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa November 6, 2015.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) speaks with his father Rafael Cruz at the Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa November 6, 2015. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich)

A presidential candidate who cannot manage his campaign staff cannot administer the federal government.

Ted Cruz was right in firing his communications director for posting a video in which Marco Rubio seems to commit serious Bible-bashing. Rubio saw Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz' father, and a member of the Cruz staff reading the Bible in a hotel lobby. "Got a good book there," says Rubio, and then, in the apparently tampered-with version, adds a shocking comment: "Not many answers there."

Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist.
Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

Actually, said Rubio, referring to the Bible, "All the answers are in there."

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Tyler regrettably posted the miscreant version "in haste," he said, but the bronco was out of the corral, and Tyler was bucked off. That quick.

Would that Nixon had been so decisive in another era.

Cruz would do well to recall that sorry time, the mistakes made by Nixon's campaign leadership, and, ultimately, by the President himself. Those mounting misdeeds brought down his presidency.

Senior Nixon advisor John Dean warned Nixon that there was a "cancer" on the presidency. He was referring, of course, to the Watergate break-in, but also, it emerged later, to a growing number of "dirty tricks" being perpetrated primarily by CREEP — the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Nixon's campaign organization.

I remember a day when I, a junior staffer, bumped into one of Nixon's inner circle in a White House office. His normally ruddy skin was chalk-white, his eyes were bulging, and his breathing hard.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

My friend had just returned from a meeting at CREEP — located in a building across from the White House — and what he had heard there shook him to the core. He told me nothing that day, but I and the whole nation would know months later through daily televised Watergate hearings. My friend was among several presidential counselors urging Nixon to take the lead in cleaning out his own campaign committee.

Nixon was in the midst of negotiations with the Soviets on strategic arms limitation, as well as seeking an end to the Vietnam War and dealing with a cratering economy. He punted. He was too busy taking care of the nation's business to take care of his campaign. But it was the rot in the core of CREEP that forced Nixon to have to give up taking care of the nation's business.

He forgot a prime axiom of political and corporate life: It's the little people at the bottom of the organization chart whose miscalculations and acts of bad judgment can sink the big men and women at the top.

Like unseen rust below the waterline eating away the hull of a ship.

Most of us in the White House — maybe like Nixon initially — passed off the Watergate break-in as adolescent antics on the part of some of the young tigers who made up most of the CREEP staff, or maybe even a trick by the Democrats who loathed Nixon.

In fact, Harry Dent, my boss, was with the President at Nixon's retreat in San Clemente, California, on the Friday the Watergate break-in occurred. The way Dent found out about the crime was like the rest of the nation — he read it in a newspaper. He even called me in Washington the next day to see if I had heard any details. If Nixon knew anything at all about the initial incident he certainly hadn't told Harry Dent.

By the time Nixon did take the lead in dealing with CREEP's dirty deeds the crisis had metastasized, spreading into the White House itself; hence John Dean's graphic description. The Watergate scandals had become unmanageable and all Nixon thought he could do was try to take the lead in plotting the cover-up that ironically exposed everything and brought him down.

If it is true that Cruz supporters planted the idea in Iowa that Ben Carson was going to withdraw and voters there should cast their ballots for Cruz, and that other Cruz staffers doctored a photo to show Rubio shaking hands with President Obama, to say nothing of attempting to make Rubio, a serious Christian, seem to be anti-Bible, then the accusation of "dirty tricks" might be mounting and alarming.

If Ted Cruz hasn't done it yet he should pull together his national organization's leadership and state in no uncertain terms that the style of his campaign will reflect the character of the candidate and his own professed Christianity, and that he will tolerate no dirty campaigning.

Then he should turn Rafael loose on them.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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