He said he wasn’t a crook and wasn’t a quitter. He was both. He was a corrupt little cheap-shot artist and, had he been able to cover his inner viciousness as well as Ronald Reagan could, he might have done even greater damage. He was a dark, troubled, occasionally brilliant, petty and essentially dishonest man whose ambition overcame him. In the fashion of classic tragedy, the seeds of his destruction were sown mere months before he reached the pinnacle of power with a landslide victory in 1972. Of course, a good dramatist – or a good psychologist – might posit those seeds were congenital.
The Democrats, for their part, were handed an historic opportunity to right the nation, but they put it in the hands of a bumbling moderate, Jimmy Carter, who opened the door for the right-wing counterrevolution only six years after Nixon was driven from office, and the results still plague us today.
Hunter Thompson wrote that Nixon’s downfall was less the good guys winning than the bad guys losing, and he was right. Moreover, they recovered quickly, and they’ve had their hands on the tiller of the ship of state more or less constantly ever since.