Why won’t prominent Republicans break with President Trump and admit that Joe Biden won the presidency? Why won’t they challenge the conspiracy theories and misinformation spouted by the White House and its surrogates and defend the integrity of the electoral process? Why did the last four years of the Trump administration yield few stories of internal resistance to the president’s abuses of power?
The career of Elliot Richardson sheds light on the answer. As the attorney general who refused to follow through on Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, Richardson gained fame as a Watergate hero, and many were eager to hear from the courageous Republican whose resignation set off the Saturday Night Massacre. Yet, a decade later, a pro-Reagan businessman, Ray Shamie, would trounce Richardson, a moderate Republican, in the Massachusetts GOP Senate primary. Richardson’s sterling image could not overcome a Republican Party that had not only become more conservative since the Nixon era, but had also become more defined by a culture of loyalty.
On March 19, 1984, Richardson announced he was running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts by promising to be a “senator for Massachusetts” whose “experience has taught me how get things done in Washington.” Richardson often stressed his impressive résumé, referring to his “instant seniority,” but also reminded voters of his courageous resignation in his campaign announcement. “I am proud of what I have done, and I am proud of what my conscience would not let me do.”
Despite skepticism from conservatives, the moderate was greeted with polls that showed he was the front-runner. Since his Watergate fame, he had built his reputation as an independent-minded Republican. After his resignation, he worked in the Ford administration, first as the ambassador to the United Kingdom and then as secretary of commerce. He would strengthen his bipartisan bona fides when President Jimmy Carter appointed him to be the Special Representative of the President for the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea. Richardson helped shape an agreement that provided guidelines on the responsibilities of nations regarding their use of the world’s oceans. His work produced much skepticism among conservatives, and the Reagan administration chose to abandon the negotiations.