“I am not a crook.” Those words remain among the most infamous ever uttered by an American politician. Even many born after the Watergate scandal are familiar with the five-word declaration forever associated with the late President Richard Nixon. When he made that statement in 1973, it was Nixon himself who invoked the c-word, and then shot it down. He would later resign in disgrace. And those words would haunt him for the rest of his days.
As best we can tell, in the 50 years since Nixon’s resignation, the word crook had not been employed again to describe a president or candidate for high office. Of course, Donald Trump was called almost every pejorative in the book – except crook. Perhaps, when you’ve called someone a traitor, a fascist, a Nazi and all the rest, crook was evidently unnecessary or redundant.
But now, the word has been revived. In what was almost certainly a scrupulously chosen turn of phrase in an interview on December 26 with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee running the impeachment inquiry on Biden, laid out the case against what some have termed the Biden Crime Family:
We’ve provided bank statements as hard evidence that show the Bidens have received well over 20 million dollars from our enemies around the world, and they can’t answer a simple question – what did you do to receive the money? … Joe Biden stated during the campaign he never met with any of these people who sent his family money and that he had a wall between the government and his family’s shady business schemes … we know he communicated with every single person that he said he never met with that’s sent his family millions of millions of dollars … not only are his policies a disaster, but the American people think he’s a crook.
Can Americans be Convinced Biden is a Crook like Nixon?
Make no mistake. Drawing the word crook from the now-dusty archives of American history is not random or coincidental. It’s not like Mr. Comer went through a thesaurus and pondered the relative merits of that word versus, say, criminal, or lawbreaker, or felon, and decided crook was the most accurate. No, rest assured that word was selected for the specific purpose of casting Joe Biden into the same light as the only president in American history forced to resign. Invoking that word serves to add weight to the broad redeployment of an expression that has been used so many times since the event itself: “(fill in the blank) is the worst scandal since Watergate,” with the added benefit of tying Biden’s alleged crimes directly to those of Nixon. Using that specific word for the first time also begs the obvious question of whether Comer and his colleagues believe they now have “got the goods” on the Bidens.
Sure, Comer preceded his Nixonian insult with the words, “the American people think …” so as to have plausible deniability that he is the one – or only one – who believes Biden is a crook. Rather, this is what the American people believe, he asserts. It also could be that the c-word was popular among Republican focus groups as the most appropriately visceral expression of frustration with the Biden presidency. But given that everything from the economy to the border to foreign wars is crashing down around this president, and with the polls reflecting his decline, will it be necessary to continue using the word crook, which many voters are likely to find offensive?
For Trump and the GOP, the answer should be yes, because the metastasizing legal problems of Joe Biden and his family – all of which they could summarize in that one word crook – will all but neutralize the left’s argument that Trump is uniquely corrupt. And even if Trump is convicted of one or more of the 91 charges pinned on him in various venues, the inevitable retort by Trump about Biden family influence peddling, replete with hard evidence, is certainly not one Biden will want to address.
Now, the challenge for the right will be to induce Biden into doing what Nixon did voluntarily. Force him to respond to Comer’s shot across the bow, hoping he will commit political malpractice by repeating the charge, invoking the word crook, and then denying that he is one. Richard Nixon constructed a straw man, burnt him to the ground, and paid the ultimate price for it. Will Joe Biden fall into the same trap?