Why Trump vs. Clinton would be a Nixon vs. Nixon contest
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"I am not a crook," President Nixon famously declared in November 1973 to deny his involvement in the Watergate scandal. He resigned 10 months later precisely because of it.

If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination and if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Sarah Sanders says she was interviewed by Mueller's office Trump: I believe Obama would have gone to war with North Korea MORE secures the Democratic nod, the race could become a nasty Nixon vs. Nixon fight. Trump and Clinton channel the worst of Nixon through their looming legal troubles and thin-skinned negativity.

Up first: Both Trump and Clinton face current legal problems that raise serious questions about their ethics and egos.


FBI agents continue to investigate Clinton's handling of classified material through the use of a private email server to conduct her government business while she was secretary of State. Later this year, the FBI could recommend an indictment to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Trump's legal woes are troubling for a candidate who has based his entire candidacy on the perception that he understands voters' anger.

Yet thousands of students are so angry that they have accused Trump University of fraud in court. Long before Trump was a candidate, New York's attorney general filed a civil suit in 2013 on behalf of 5,000 students who claim they each lost thousands of dollars in an alleged bait-and-switch scheme by Trump University.

Trump will likely be called to federal court in San Diego this summer for one of two other class-action lawsuits also citing fraud against Trump University in California.

These problems alone should be enough for Republican primary voters to abandon Trump for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOn The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week Trump declares national emergency at border Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans MORE (Fla.), Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans O’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation MORE (Texas) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Second, Trump and Clinton share other undesirable Nixon qualities: negative campaigning and thin-skinned paranoia.

More than two decades before Watergate in 1950, Nixon earned the nickname "Tricky Dick" for his negative Senate campaign that linked his Democratic opponent to communism.

The University of Virginia's Miller Center, which is devoted to presidential history, notes that Nixon's campaign set the pattern for the denigrative method of negative campaigning. "Simply put, he [Nixon] attacked his opponents — sometimes unscrupulously, always effectively."

Trump long ago mastered bullying attacks. As he wrote in his 1987 book, "Trump: The Art of the Deal," "Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition."

As a presidential candidate, he's done just that. His Twitter account and phone-in TV interviews say it all. After receiving tough but fair questions at the first Republican debate, he insulted Megyn Kelly, one of the Fox News Channel's most prominent, respected anchors, by retweeting a reference to her as a "bimbo."

He's also called Mexican immigrants "rapists." He insulted Republican candidate Carly Fiorina's face. Trump has repeated expletives against Cruz.

With such negativity, Trump has put new meaning in "bully pulpit." He wrote in his book, "Bullies may act tough but they're really closet cowards." Maybe he was looking in a full-length mirror.

Though known as Tricky Dick, Nixon was also thin-skinned: He could dish it but not take it. When he lost his bid for governor of California in 1962, he told the press, "You wont have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore."

Unable to stay away, Nixon came back for more and won the presidency in 1968. A year before Watergate, he was so thin-skinned and paranoid that he created a secret police organization to stop leaks in his administration and conspiracies. The group became known as "the plumbers."

Clinton's paranoia may be the untold reason that she set up a secret private email server. After a bruising primary campaign against then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaIntelligence for the days after President Trump leaves office Barack Obama sends Valentine's message to Michelle: 'She does get down to Motown' For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love MORE in 2008, she very possibly felt paranoid — of Obama's aides, of Republican members of Congress, and of freedom-of-information requests from the press and public. With a private email server that bypassed the ".gov" system, she could protect herself.

CBS's Scott Pelley recently asked Clinton if she'd always told the truth. He reminded her that in 1976, Jimmy Carter famously promised voters: "I will not lie to you."

"Well, but, you know, you're asking me to say, 'Have I ever?' I don't believe I ever have. I don't believe I ever have. I don't believe I ever will. I'm gonna do the best I can to level with the American people," Clinton replied.

She obviously forgot a line from a recently resurrected 1970s-80s movie franchise. Luke Skywalker, hungering for the power of the Star Wars force, said, "I'll give it a try." His mentor, Yoda, replied sternly, "Do or do not. There is no try."

America's reaction to Nixon's Watergate scandal created the Washington outsider mantra so praised today. Carter was the first of four governors who touted their Washington outsider credentials to become president.

Though Trump wears the anti-Washington label as a badge of honor, he shares some of Nixon's temperament, negativity and legal challenges along with the ultimate political insider, Clinton.

To be sure, Nixon wasn't all bad. A strident and strong anti-communist, he proclaimed conservative promises in 1968. "We should do everything we possibly can to give people an opportunity to control their own lives and destinies, and in that way to assure America's continued greatness."

Yet, he went on to introduce more government regulation than any president since the Great Depression. That's why the Miller Center notes that "Scholars who classify him [Nixon] as liberal, moderate, or conservative find ample evidence for each label and conclusive evidence for none of them."

While Nixon understood Americans' anger and accomplished some great things, such as opening a relationship with China, America doesn't need another thin-skinned, ego-centric bully in Donald Trump or an ethically challenged, paranoid longtime politician in Hillary Clinton.

America deserves better. It is not too late to rally behind more optimistic alternatives.

Cook is author of nine books, including "American Phoenix" and the upcoming 2016 book, "The Burning of the White House." She is founder of revolution240.com, which celebrates the 240th anniversary of the year 1776.