By Roger Stone, Mike Colapietro
Skyhorse Publishing Copyright © 2014 Roger Stone with Mike Colapietro
All rights reserved.
Crucial to Nixon's comeback were the tumultuous events of the 1960s, which created the vacuum he would fill. Nixon created a dynamic that made the return of Richard Nixon to power possible. To his credit, Nixon was well prepared when this vacuum occurred. A meticulous brooder, given to enormous self-analysis, Nixon had carefully promoted his public image and had used his stature as a former vice president and foreign policy expert to stay in the public eye. At the same time, he clearly saw the need for a "New Nixon," better press relations, and an entirely different manner of communicated to American voters.
Above all, Nixon was extraordinarily disciplined, while at the same time stiff, formal, and seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin. His appetite for hard work was extraordinary. He paid careful attention to what he ate, opting for a healthy diet long before that became popular. He had a solemn rule of eating only half of whatever was on his plate. He exercised religiously and essentially kept the same weight from the time he was forty-five years old until his death. His chief of staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman would call Nixon's discipline "unnatural." Although he hated campaigning, he did it with gusto and focus, carefully honing his words and messages and fencing with the press. From 1952 until 1969, he traveled literally millions of miles on the road on behalf of Republican causes and candidates. Nixon would spend more than 250 days a year on the road carefully tending the party gardens and garnering IOUs.
While he famously listened to Victory at Sea and Richard Rodgers, Nixon would also have classical music piped in to his New York study and later the White House, which he would listen to while reading. He smoked a pipe. He had an extensive knowledge of wine and an excellent cellar. He wore reading glasses but was virtually never photographed in them. This of course does not fit the common perception of him as a middle-class boob of pedestrian tastes, a man JFK said "had no class."
Also, while many thought Nixon had "ice water in his veins," he could show what one aide would call "a subliminal sentimental streak." Nixon aide James Bassett remembered meeting Nixon for lunch on the Upper East Side. Nixon was carrying a wrapped package. "It's a doll," he said.
"For Julie and Tricia?" Bassett asked.
Nixon frowned. "No, it is actually for a little crippled kid I read about in the paper this morning. She is in a charity hospital. It said she wanted a doll. So I am going to drop this off after we are finished." Bassett noted that it would be a good story for the press. "If you leak this to the newspaper," he said, "I will cut your balls off."
* * *
Ironically, it was Nixon's deep secrets that would plant the seeds of his downfall and provide the leverage to avoid federal prosecution and jail. The terrible secrets of Richard Nixon not only guaranteed his tumble from supreme power, but also would assure his own survival and lay the groundwork for his final public rehabilitation, which reached its zenith at the time of his death.
Twenty years after his death, the public remains fascinated with Richard Milhous Nixon. His mawkish and uncomfortable mannerisms and political persistence generated the pop culture persona of the most durable American political leader of the last third of the century. Nixon's extreme features, heavy jowls, and stiff manner made him a magnet for caricature and satire at the hands of the counterculture. Headshops featured black-light posters of Nixon and Agnew depicted as Hells Angels bikers. Nixon bongs and pipes were readily available. One outfit in San Francisco even produced Tricky Dick rolling papers. Impressionists David Frey, Rich Little, and Randy Credico would imitate the thirty-seventh president. His dark eyebrows, five-o'clock shadow, and V for victory sign were all parts of a public persona of Nixon reflected in the brutal cartoons of the Washington Post's Herblock. "Here he comes," a party chieftain said in one iconic cartoon as Herblock drew Nixon climbing out of a manhole from the sewer.
Yet, Nixon had what all truly successful politicians had: the gift of charisma. As a young man his black-Irish coloring and intense eyes made him handsome despite his oversized head and ski-jump nose that would later serve cartoonists so well. As Nixon matured, his features changed. As his hairline receded, the Nixonian widows peak became more pronounced. His face was darkly lined and jowly. Somehow these changes made Nixon more, not less, compelling. Even as Nixon's face aged, his smile remained sunny and dazzling, particularly in contrast to his otherwise stern manner. His staff and peers found his presence utterly commanding.
Nixon was a man of contradictions, both great and flawed, both good and bad. He had the loftiest of ideals, but sometimes used the shabbiest of methods. He was a loner, a striver. He could be transparent or opaque in his motives. He could be amazingly blunt or quite equally duplicitous. He could be both perceptive and naive. When he asked me why a former high-level Eisenhower administration official who had often escorted Rose Mary Woods had never married her and I told him the gentleman was gay, he was shocked.
In his book, Don Fulsom, who claims that Nixon was gay and that he and Bebe Rebozo were lovers, is wide of the mark. The charge is false. I saw Nixon's reaction when I told him one of his aides who wore flamboyant jewelry was gay. He was stunned.
In fact, Nixon could be quite naive. In the late 1950s, the US State Department made jazz great Louis Armstrong a "goodwill ambassador" and underwrote a series of concert tours in Europe and Asia. On his return from the first two tours, based on Satchmo's ambassadorial status, Armstrong and his entourage were waived through customs without a search. Yet, upon a later return, upon landing at Idlewild Airport in New York in 1958, he was directed to the customs lines. Custom agents had been tipped off that contraband was being imported into the country. Armstrong joined a long line of travelers lined up for inspections. Unfortunately, the jazz trumpeter was carrying three pounds of marijuana in his suitcase. Once Armstrong realized he was about to be busted and would bring shame on the country he was traveling on behalf of, he began sweating profusely.
Just then the doors swung open and Vice President Richard Nixon, in step with his security detail, swept in the room followed by a gaggle of reporters and photographers. Nixon, seeing an opportunity for a wire photo with Armstrong, went up to the jazz man and said, "Satchmo, what are you doing here?"
"Well, Pops [Armstrong called everyone Pops], I just came back from my goodwill ambassador's tour of Asia, and they told me I had to stand in this line for customs."
Nixon grabbed both of Satchmo's suitcases and said, "Ambassadors don't have to go through customs, and the vice president of the United States will gladly carry your bags for you." Whereupon Nixon "muled" three pounds of pot through United States Customs without ever knowing it.
When Nixon was told what happened by Charles McWhorter, who served as a traveling aide to Nixon (who heard the tale from one of the jazz musicians traveling with Satchmo), a startled Nixon exclaimed, "Louie smokes marijuana?"
Nixon had a passion for secrecy and compartmentalizing his dealings. He could play twenty different hands of political poker with none of the other players aware that there were other games going on or who was playing or being played.
No one knew everything about Nixon. His own campaign manager and advisor, Attorney General John Mitchell did not know that Nixon, as vice president, had approved a CIA alliance with organized crime to assassinate Fidel Castro until 1971, three years after Nixon was elected president. This alliance, known as Operation 40, would morph into the Kennedy assassination. Nixon was familiar with many of the CIA operatives involved. The assassination stemmed from the CIA's deep hatred of John Kennedy in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Nixon was a shrewd judge of his adversaries and ever-shifting allies.
He was in awe of Jack Kennedy but said LBJ was an "animal," Gerald Ford was a "dumbshit," Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, who helped fund Nixon's election to the US Senate, a "crook," called Bobby Kennedy a "little SOB," and said Teddy Kennedy was the "best politician in the family," all the while searching for dirt to use to end Teddy's career. He said Nancy Reagan was "a bitch" and that Ronald Reagan "made it look easy." Nixon was a shrewd judge of his adversaries and ever-shifting allies.
Particularly, his appetite for work both physical and intellectual was prodigious, but both were less than his love of intrigue, intelligence, and gossip. His appetite for political intelligence was voracious. We spoke every Saturday morning on the telephone at 10:30 a.m. He would invariably start the conversation by saying, "Is this a good time?" as if anyone would turn down an hour's conversation with one of the most intriguing and reviled men in the world. I carried memos to the White House and an endless stream of verbal messages to senators, governors, and congressmen. Having served as a House member, he was always interested in the rising stars of the House. "Who are the nut-cutters?" he would ask. "Tell them Nixon says ...," he would instruct. He wanted the dope on everybody, "who's screwing whom" and who had talent. He was never impressed, but would become a steadfast supporter and back-channel advisor once the Gipper got to the White House. First Lady Nancy Reagan was careful to listen on the bedroom extension to the extensive phone conversations between her husband and Nixon. It was Nixon who would persuade Reagan to appoint General Alexander Haig as secretary of state.
"Richard Nixon's comeback ... is a story of determination, perseverance, and political brilliance almost unseen in US politics," said former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan. "Nixon not only survived and recovered, but went out to revive, unite, and led to victory a Republican party which in 1965 and 1966 had been outnumbered two-to-one in both Houses of Congress. His 1968 victory, which began a string of five Republican triumphs in six straight presidential elections, was little short of miraculous." Nixon's presence on five national tickets would be surpassed only by Franklin Roosevelt, and only because he ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 1920.
Although late to see the GOP's lurch to the right under Goldwater and the power shift in the party from the eastern establishment to the Sunbelt conservatives, once he comprehended it, Nixon would court and nail down the right as a prelude to his comeback bid.
No review of Nixon's life can be complete without an understanding of his tortured relationship with the medium of television. Skillful use of television would save Nixon's skin in the effective Checkers speech of 1952, destroy his chances after the disastrous first debate with JFK in 1960, and lead many to give him up for dead after the televised meltdown of 1962. His mastery and control of the medium would both pave the way for 1968 comeback as well as provide the televised backdrop for his fall in Watergate in 1974. "The American people don't believe anything's real until they see it on television," Nixon would tell me.
His discomfort in his own skin, physical gracelessness, caricaturist's dream features, and a propensity to sweat and appear shifty on TV made his mastery of the medium all the more compelling. In doing so he would change how the game of presidential politics was played, this change most recently evident in the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in 2012.
Nixon was an introvert in an extrovert's business. Painfully shy, private, and reserved, alcohol would prove a social lubricant. It was only after a few cocktails that his tongue would loosen and he would become loquacious. It was then that I would learn some of Nixon's darkest secrets.
* * *
Late one night while working with speechwriter William Safire, Nixon pondered his greatest character trait. Safire recalled that "Nixon tried to encapsulate his more recent predecessors in a single word or phrase: 'Truman — a fighter. Eisenhower — a good man. Kennedy — charisma. Johnson — work. Me — what?' I did not have a good answer that night in 1970; I do now. Nixon — an inspiring resilience."
One thing was for sure, by 1962, according to virtually every pundit, Nixon was done in politics. These men and women did not count on Nixon's resilience. "I, Richard Nixon, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," said Nixon on January 22, 1969. Only six years after his California self-immolation, Richard Milhous Nixon finally grabbed the elusive prize that had narrowly evaded his grasp in 1960 and appeared hopelessly out of reach after 1962. He staged the greatest comeback in American political history.
Nixon's razor-thin loss to JFK scalded him and sent him into a deep depression. Getting worked over by the efficient Kennedy machine with their hardball tactics and Madison Avenue imagery, Nixon self-managed a defensive, unfocused campaign, driving him to the brink of collapse with fatigue. More importantly he let Kennedy dominate the dialogue and with it, the outcome. Lost in history, though, is the fact that JFK was stalled in the polls in the closing weeks and Nixon's superhuman effort was closing the gap. The late movement in the polls was in favor of Nixon. He triumphed in the last three of the four debates. Contrary to the conventional history, the TV audience grew in the last of the four debates and virtually matched that of the first. It was considered Nixon's best debate. Nixon closed fast but not fast enough ... or did he? As we shall discover, voter irregularities in Illinois and Texas probably cheated Nixon out of his come-from-behind victory. In addition, a case can be made that Nixon actually won the popular vote while losing the Electoral College.
"They say RN is paranoid," Nixon's veteran advance man Nick Ruwe told me. "You'd be paranoid too if the presidency had been stolen from you."
Nixon would drive himself to nervous exhaustion in his effort to catch and pass Kennedy. Kennedy paced himself while his wealthy father paid for an outstanding professional staff and media campaign. "We're going to sell Jack like soap flakes," the elder Kennedy promised. Nixon vowed a defeat due to imagery in lieu of hard issues would never happen again. He, too, could run a mass media campaign using television. He too would pace himself.
From Nixon's defeat in the 1962 race for governor of California and his valedictory outburst at the press that you "won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" to his inauguration as president in 1969 in a period of only six years, it is Nixon's savvy reading and manipulation of events that make this account all the more interesting.
An extraordinary set of circumstances opened the door for Nixon's stunning comeback. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the escalated and seemingly hopeless war in Vietnam and the unrest caused on America's campuses coupled with a newly militant demand for civil rights and the resulting resentments of a white middle class all provided a confluence of events that gave Dick Nixon another shot.
It is only in recent years that a more balanced portrait of John F. Kennedy has come into focus. So successful was Kennedy's embodiment of the spirit of a younger generation of Americans in the early 1960s, and so adept was JFK at the use of Madison Avenue "image making," fueled with his father's money, that only today do we realize JFK was a philandering husband whose voracious sexual appetite was likely heightened by his taking of methamphetamine injections allegedly to address the pain in his back.
Just as history demands a balanced portrait of JFK, the good and the bad, so should history demand a balanced portrait of Richard Nixon. His achievements for a safer, more peaceful world, a cleaner environment, and greater social justice cannot be discarded, for unlike JFK, more bad is known about him than good. My goal in Nixon's Secrets is not to provide an apologia for the thirty-seventh president, nor to rehabilitate him. Rather, my aim is to provide a balanced portrait based on the historical record and the many opportunities I had to learn more than the "official version of events." It is also my aim to connect the dots between the CIA's Operation 40 (a Nixon-led, anti-Castro operation), the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassination, Nixon's downfall, and the exact circumstances of the pardon, which ultimately allowed Nixon to stage his greatest comeback. Nixon's fervent anti-Communism, his arm's-length relationship with organized crime, his tortured relationship with the CIA, and his personal ambition would be the threads that sewed these events together. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Nixon's Secrets by Roger Stone, Mike Colapietro. Copyright © 2014 Roger Stone with Mike Colapietro. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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