But there have also been times in politics when people did the opposite: behaving morally when it was easier not to.
In 1964 when Johnson's aide Walter Jenkins was arrested for soliciting sex in a YMCA bathroom, his Republican rival Barry Goldwater's staff wanted to make it a character issue in the campaign. Goldwater said no. He didn't want to ruin Jenkins. In 2000, Tom Downey, a top aide to Democratic nominee Al Gore, received his rival George W. Bush's debate briefing book. He turned it over immediately to the authorities. In 2008, Senator John McCain forbid his staff from using an ad that referred to his opponent Barack Obama's inflammatory former pastor Jeremiah Wright or from raising that issue in any other way. He believed it was a sneaky way to use Obama’s race against him.
In 1968, Johnson and his team knew what Nixon was up to. They had wiretapped the South Vietnamese ambassador who was in touch with the campaign through a contact nicknamed The Dragon Lady. (Music promoter Rob Goldstone is not the only exotic character in these tales). A couple days before the election, the Christian Science Monitor had the story of Nixon's behind the scenes work. Their correspondent in Saigon had come up with the reporting, but the paper needed the White House to confirm. (How quaint.)
Johnson, down on his ranch in Texas, held an emergency phone call with his Secretary of State and Defense. Should they confirm the report? They knew the story was true. They had the covert information. The president's men said it would be immoral to expose Nixon. "I do not believe that any president can make any use of interceptions or telephone taps in any way that would involve politics," said Secretary of State Dean Rusk. "The moment we cross over that divide, we're in a different kind of society."
Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford added his own reason: "I think that some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I would think it would be inimical to our country's interests."
Clifford, who was a staunch Democrat (he helped orchestrated Truman's 1948 miracle comeback) was worried about the country more than defeating Nixon. The story never ran.
Politics is not the nicest business, but there are still times when people do the right thing.
It was this moral plane on which the president's team once defended against questions of Russian collusion. A month after Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting, when Jake Tapper asked the president's son if anyone in the Trump team had been in contact with the Russians as the Clinton campaign had suggested, he reacted with outrage. "It's disgusting," said Trump Jr. "It's so phony.” I can't think of bigger lies than when Kellyanne Conway in December said that it was "dangerous" to even suggest that any meeting between a Trump staffer and a Russian seeking to interfere in the election had taken place. The Vice President, when asked the same question, had a short unequivocal answer: "Of course not."