“No collusion, no collusion,” the president proclaims endlessly. We shall see – though the record revealed thus far appears highly suspicious in regard to Trump’s campaign involvement with Russia (while Russian operatives already stand accused and convicted).
Should it turn out to be so would this be the first time a presidential campaign was linked to a foreign country? History reminds us it’s probably happened before. The evidence is rather persuasive, though some would say not conclusive that the Reagan campaign of 1980 was in communication with Iranians in an attempt to delay the release of American hostages until after the election lest freeing them could swing support to Jimmy Carter. No hostage release occurred until after the election (which Reagan won easily). What fueled suspicions of collusion was that the announcement of their release came on the same day as Reagan’s inauguration (January 20, 1981). Fifteen years before, in the presidential election of 1966, strong evidence exists of backchannels opened to South Vietnamese government officials by Richard Nixon’s campaign in an effort to forestall peace negotiations. Were they to begin, Hubert Humphrey, Nixon’s Democratic opponent, might overcome the Republican’s narrowing lead. As it happened, talks did not get underway and Nixon captured the presidency.
In both the above instances, Americans assumed the initiative and sought foreign assistance in order to gain an advantage. But there was one other occasion when a foreign country deliberately intervened in an American presidential contest. The country? – Russia. Sound familiar? Back in 1978 Harry Truman squared off against Republican Thomas Dewey Also in the race were Dixiecrat candidate Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Progressive Party nominee Henry Wallace, former Vice-President under Roosevelt. It was rumored then, and evidence later surfaced to confirm, that American Communists, taking their cues from Moscow, were at the center of Wallace’s campaign, helping steer it to support Russian policies, with Wallace, for example, objecting strongly to the Marshall Plan and Truman’s policy of containment (of Communism). Wallace avoided saying anything critical of the Soviet Union during the campaign despite its blockade of Berlin and sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia. The United States, he insisted, could reach an “understanding” with the USSR. His defense of the Soviets prompted many Progressives to abandon the ticket, which resulted in his winning less than 3% of the popular vote. Just how the USSR hoped to benefit from Wallace’s win for the presidency is not clear, but there is little doubt it had intervened directly in our election.
So, while we await Robert Mueller’s assessment of the degree and impact of Russian intervention once again, this time in 2016, we should not forget those other instances when presidential contests have not been strictly American affairs.