A hugely-wealthy casino tycoon—whose empire is the subject of government investigations and media scrutiny—pours huge sums of money into the presidential campaign of the Republican nominee, while the ostensibly anti-gambling Mormon church looms in the background. Sound familiar?
That scenario doesn’t just apply to Mitt Romney and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson—it also describes the support that billionaire Howard Hughes gave to Richard Nixon, decades earlier.
What this article points out for the first time is that Adelson’s Sands Corporation is the same company that billionaire Howard Hughes once used to funnel his “contributions” to Richard Nixon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Howard Hughes originally bought the Sands with the help of Mafia don Johnny Rosselli, whom long-secret Watergate files released only this year show was central to the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s presidency (as documented in Waldron’s recent book, Watergate: The Hidden History).
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
Just as it might seem odd in 2012 that the conservative Mormon Romney would accept massive support from a gambling tycoon like Adelson, the decision of Hughes in 1970 to shift of control of the Sands and his other Las Vegas casinos to what has been described as a Mormon business cabal put prominent church members in the odd position of running what was in the 1970s a Mafia-linked casino empire.
Even more, the Hughes-Mormon alliance helped lead to the events of Watergate, when Mormon Washington PR man Robert Bennett became the new link between Nixon and the Hughes casino empire. CIA files confirm that Bennett’s Washington PR firm provided much assistance to the Agency, while Bennett provided cover employment for White House consultant E. Howard Hunt, who soon masterminded the Watergate burglaries. Declassified files also show that Bennett himself leaked information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward; Bennett later became a prominent Senator from Utah.
The odd repeating of history of the Nixon-Hughes-Sands-Mormon connection and the alliance forty years later of the Romney-Adelson-Sands-Mormon group is only one of several key parallels between Romney and Nixon. Those parallels aren’t immediately obvious to many, because the image of Nixon held by most Americans is of the post-Watergate hearings Nixon, that of the increasingly besieged President. Often forgotten is how popular Nixon was for many months after the Watergate arrests, not just with the public, but even more so with the press.
Just as the mainstream press seemed for months to have little interest in Romney’s many homes and murky income tax situation—and left many subjects unresolved, from Romney’s extremely lucrative I.R.A. situation to his supposedly blind trust—the press in 1972 was overwhelmingly supportive of Nixon. Watergate was barely in the news for most of America’s journalists for many months after the arrests.
Though the culpability of Nixon and his White House seems obvious in hindsight, the scandal had zero effect on the election, which occurred less than five months after the Watergate arrests. The efforts of a few media outlets, like the Washington Post and CBS, to investigate the scandal are well-known today.
But at the time of the election, they had made no dent in Nixon’s popularity or in persuading most of the nation’s press to seriously investigate the matter. American newspapers overwhelmingly endorsed Nixon in the fall of 1972, at a rate far exceeding Nixon’s support among voters. White House tapes show that Nixon was fond of talking about “the ten thousand” editors, producers, and journalists who could always be counted on to back Nixon, and they were never more effective than in the 1972 election.
Romney and the Republicans’’ tactic of making many well-documented false and misleading statements—to mislead voters, muddy the waters, and take the oxygen out of efforts to look into other aspects of Romney’s business and personal life—was actually perfected by Nixon. When Richard Nixon was proclaiming “I am not a crook,” while knowing that’s exactly what he was, Nixon was simply continuing a pattern he’d begun with his very first run for Congress in 1946.
In that campaign, and all of his later ones, Nixon perfected the art of lying to and misleading voters. For example, he claimed to be the “law and order President,” while spawning a massive criminal operation in the White House that would eventually see dozens of his officials indicted or convicted. Likewise, when Nixon publicly claimed in the 1968 presidential race to have a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War, the public didn’t know that he was secretly torpedoing President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to end the war, committing what Johnson himself later termed “treason” and leaving Nixon responsible for almost half the total casualties in the conflict.
Nixon’s willingness to do anything to win election or reelection seems to be playing out again today, with the massive Republican efforts to suppress the rights of legitimate voters and groups who tend to vote Democratic. Only the coming days will tell us if the election crimes apparently committed in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 are going to be topped by GOP actions in those states and others in 2012.
This brief article can only scratch the surface of the many parallels between Nixon and the tactics of Romney’s Republican Party in 2012. Romney’s well-documented reluctance to release all of his taxes filings is no doubt because he remembers how Nixon was pilloried for paying a tax rate far below that of the working people who put him in office.
In many ways, Fox News—run by Nixon’s former media advisor, Roger Ailes—has created a 24-hour Nixonian propaganda operation, which creates its own reality (or unreality), just as Nixon often did. The “dirty tricks”—as Nixon liked to call his election crimes—currently being practiced by GOP supporters and operatives, as detailed by the Huffington Post and experts like New York University media professor Mark Crispin Miller, have an all too familiar ring to anyone who has studied Nixon’s tactics through the years.
The parallels between Romney’s campaign and Nixon also show us what could be expected if Romney wins.
Massive corporate support generating massive corporate handouts; foreign dictatorships having an increasing role in US elections; more US military involvement to generate more profits for Republican backers, etc.. (When Howard Hughes gave Nixon large sums of cash for the 1968 campaign, he said he wanted the Vietnam War continued, so the could get a good return on his helicopter contacts with the US government. )
One wonders what will happen to the investigations of Sheldon Adelson, in the US and overseas, if Romney manages to become president. (We want to point out that, unlike Nixon and Hughes, Adelson has no ties to the Mafia, and he purchased the Sands corporation in 1988.)
The result of Romney’s use of Nixonian tactics may be known by tonight, or it may take days or weeks, or even months, depending on how close the election is. Regardless of the outcome, if there’s no change in the increasing sums of “dark money” flowing into campaigns and the massive tide of misleading propaganda in the form of ads and PR, the dark shadow of Richard Nixon will continue to fall over all US elections to come.
Radio & TV host Thom Hartmann and author Lamar Waldron have written two books about the JFK assassination and its aftermaths, the most recent being Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination, soon to be made into a major motion picture by Warner Brothers, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Waldron’s most recent book is Watergate: The Hidden History. Hartmann’s most recent book is Threshold: The Progressive Plan to Pull America Back From the Brink.