Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
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Posts tagged "President Nixon"

While the matchmaking attempts of George H. W. Bush in 1970 failed to unite the Nixon and Bush families, the Nixons had already been connected by marriage to another Presidential family.

During the 1957 Inaugural Parade following the swearing-in of Dwight D. Eisenhower to a second term as President, cameras captured a young boy and young girl smiling at each other in the Presidential viewing grandstand. The girl was named Julie and she was the youngest daughter of the Vice President, Richard Nixon. The boy was President Eisenhower’s grandson, David (the namesake of the Presidential retreat, Camp David).

While attending colleges near each other after Eisenhower left the Presidency and Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 election to succeed Ike, Julie and David reconnected and began spending time together. Although General Eisenhower worried that David and Julie were rushing into a relationship, it continued moving quickly. In 1967, David and Julie were engaged to be married.

On December 22, 1968, less than two months after Richard Nixon was elected President, David and Julie were married. By the time of the wedding, General Eisenhower was in Walter Reed Hospital, where he would remain until his death in March 1969. Since Ike couldn’t attend his grandson’s wedding in person, a closed-circuit television link was set up so he and his wife, Mamie, could watch the nuptials from the General’s hospital room. The video feed failed, but the Eisenhowers were able to listen to the ceremony which linked the two families. David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower remain married to this day.

In 1970, a 24-year-old man pulled up to the White House in his car — a purple Gremlin. He was there to take the daughter of President Richard Nixon, out on a date. It can be intimidating to pick up any date and meet the girl’s father. It must be exceptionally nerve-wracking when your date’s father happens to be the most powerful man in the world.

It was the young man’s father who attempted to play matchmaker between his son and President Nixon’s eldest daughter, but there was no real chemistry between the nervous young man and Tricia Nixon. Later, he would remember simply, “We went to dinner. It wasn’t a very long date.”

Three decades later, Tricia Nixon’s date would move into the White House himself and understand the feeling of being President and father to two attractive young women.

Tricia Nixon’s date that night was George W. Bush.

How did I manage to beat a guy like this by only a hundred thousand votes?
John F. Kennedy, wondering to aides about the close results of the 1960 election between him and Richard Nixon
If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell.
Harry S. Truman, speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in San Antonio, Texas during the 1960 Presidential campaign

They’ll never give us credit for [what we accomplished]…We’re out now, so they try to stomp us…kick us when we’re down. They never let up, never, because we were the first real threat to them in years…

I knew what it was like. I’d been there before…What starts the process, really, are the laughs and snubs and slights you get when you are a kid. Sometimes, it’s because you’re poor or Irish or Jewish or Catholic or ugly or simply that you are skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts.

You were a good athlete but I was not, and that was the very reason I tried and tried and tried. To get discipline for myself and to show others that here was a guy who could dish it and take it. Mostly, I took it. You’ve got to be tough. You can’t break, my boy, even when there is nothing left…Some people think I should go stand in the middle of the bullring and cry, ‘mea culpa, mea culpa,’ while the crowd is hissing and booing and spitting on you. But a man doesn’t cry. I don’t cry.

Richard Nixon, to former White House aide Ken Clawson, shortly after resigning as President, 1974

On November 8, 1960, millions of Americans went to the polls in what would become one of the closest Presidential elections in American History:  John Fitzgerald Kennedy versus Richard Milhous Nixon.

That morning, Kennedy voted in Boston and Nixon voted in Whittier, California.  The candidates had spent months canvassing the nation, working to get every last vote — and every last vote was needed.  For the past several weeks, Kennedy and Nixon had criss-crossed the country, debated one another, and been working non-stop to be elected the 35th President of the United States.

After they voted that day, there were results to monitor, precincts to watch, election day problems to take care of, and many other things to worry about.  Imagine being on the cusp of the Presidency — with a 50/50 chance of being elected the next President of a superpower in the grip of the Cold War, with the threat of Communism and nuclear weapons hanging over your head, and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people pinned on either your victory or defeat.  Imagine being in the position of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960.  What would you do? 

John F. Kennedy put the control of his campaign in the hands of his younger brother, Bobby, and then took a nap.

And Richard Nixon took a road trip to Mexico.

Once Nixon voted that morning at a private home in a quiet Whittier neighborhood, he had been scheduled to head to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where Bobby Kennedy would be assassinated eight years later) for the Election Day vigil and the long wait for the returns which would indicate whether he would be moving into the White House or facing an early retirement. 

Nixon was finished voting by 8:00 AM and hopped into his black Cadillac limousine to be driven to the Ambassador.  Several blocks away from the polling place, Nixon ordered the limousine to stop.  Along with a military aide and a Secret Service agent, Nixon jumped out of the limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Nixon took the LAPD officer’s place, got behind the wheel and ditched the press which had been following him.

Driving to La Habra, California, Nixon made a quick visit with his mother, making sure she had voted for her son in the Presidential election.  Nixon drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with no specific destination.  He stopped for gasoline in Oceanside and told a gas station attendant — startled to see the Vice President of the United States on a joyride on the very day that he stood for election as President — “I’m just out for a little ride.”  Nixon confided that it was his only source of relaxation.

As the group of four men, with Nixon in the driver’s seat, reached San Diego — over two hours away from Nixon’s campaign headquarters at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel — Nixon pointed out that he hadn’t been to Tijuana in at least 25 years.

As David Pietrusza wrote in his recap of Nixon’s road trip, “Richard Nixon — the ultimate control freak — was winging it on the most important day of his life.”  Not only that, but the sitting Vice President of the United States and the man who many Americans were choosing to become the next President, impulsively decided to leave the entire country while those voters were still at the polls.

In Tijuana, Nixon and his party headed to a restaurant called Old Heidelberg.  Despite the fact it was owned by a German, Border Patrol agents told Nixon that it was the best place in Tijuana for Mexican food.  Joined at the last moment by Tijuana’s Mayor, Xicotencati Leyva Aleman, Nixon, his military aide, a Secret Service agent, and an average LAPD officer ate enchiladas in Mexico while John F. Kennedy took a nap in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

When Nixon’s press secretary Herb Klein was asked about the missing candidate, he had to tell reporters that Nixon often took some private moments on hectic days such as Election Day.  Really, though, Klein had no clue where Nixon was, eventually admitting that the Vice President was “driving around without any destination”. 

After lunch in Tijuana, Nixon and his companions headed back north towards the United States border crossing.  The LAPD officer took over driving duties as Nixon sat in the convertible’s passenger seat.  A shocked Border Patrol guard shook hands with the Vice President and asked the man who was currently on the ballot for the Presidency, “Are you all citizens of the United States?”.

Nixon and company drove to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which Nixon called “one of my favorite Catholic places” on the day he faced the only successful Catholic candidate for the Presidency in American History.  Nixon took his three companions on a quick, informal tour of the Mission.  “For a few minutes, we sat in the empty pews for an interlude of complete escape,” Nixon later recalled.

The missing candidate and his three road trip buddies arrived back in Los Angeles before the election results started rolling in.  Nixon had to explain his trip to reporters who had been searching for him all day.  “It wasn’t planned.  We just started driving and that’s where we wound up.”

In his Memoirs, Nixon didn’t go too far into explaining why he escaped on Election Day, but a paragraph about that day is pretty illuminating:

After one last frenetic week, it was over.  Since the convention in August I had traveled over 65,000 miles and visited all fifty states.  I had made 180 scheduled speeches and delivered scores of impromptu talks and informal press conferences.  There was nothing more I could have done.

Except escape to Mexico while JFK slept.

On the morning of August 10, 1974, the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, woke up and prepared for his first full day as the most powerful person in the world. Thanks to two major scandals reaching into the highest levels of the Executive branch of government, the 60-year-old Ford, who had spent nearly a quarter-century in the U.S. House of Representatives rocketed into power. In a span of just over 250 days, Ford went from House Minority Leader to Vice President of the United States and, as of the previous day, President. For the first time in history, the occupant of the White House had never been on a ballot in a national election.

Actually, Ford didn’t quite occupy the White House yet. In December 1973, when Ford was nominated to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned in disgrace after an investigation into charges of bribery, extortion, and tax evasion, a mansion at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. was being remodeled to serve as the official residence of the Vice President. The work was not yet finished when Congress confirmed Ford as the 40th Vice President. Fortunately, Ford’s long Congressional career had led him and his wife, Betty, to purchase a modest home in Alexandria, Virginia. With the Naval Observatory still being fixed up, the Fords remained in Alexandria. Security was beefed up in the neighborhood by the Secret Service and gaggles of reporters seemed to always be close by, but Ford saw no reason to change his familiar habits — the new Vice President was frequently photographed stepping outside in his bathrobe each morning to retrieve his newspaper.

During Ford’s brief Vice Presidency, the Watergate scandal raged out of control and engulfed President Richard Nixon. As the summer of 1974 approached, it was clear that President Nixon’s days were numbered, but no one knew for sure if he would stand and fight until impeached and removed from office, or if he would recognize the futility of such a battle and resign. When Nixon finally made the decision to resign and hand the Presidency over to Ford, it happened suddenly. It was the White House Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, who called Ford at home in Alexandria and told him that he should be prepared to assume the Presidency at a moment’s notice. After speaking to Haig, Ford turned to his wife and told her, “Betty, I don’t think we’re ever going to live at the Vice President’s house.”

On August 8, 1974, Nixon officially announced that he was resigning and that Ford would become President at noon the following day. Before Ford took the oath of office in the East Room of the White House, he and Betty accompanied President and Mrs. Nixon to a helicopter which transported the Nixons into exile in Southern California. But the resignation and departure had happened so quickly there was not enough time for movers to clear the Nixon family’s possessions from the White House Residence. So, after one of the most dramatic and historically significant days in the life of the United States, the new President and First Lady headed back to their familiar home in Alexandria. For a short time, President Ford, like millions of other Americans, commuted each morning from the suburbs to his office. Ford’s office just happened to be the Oval Office.

After a few weeks, the Fords finally made the move to the White House. In preparation for the move, the President and First Lady helped with the packing at their Alexandria home. Going through one box, President Ford found some old clothing of his and nonchalantly suggested to Betty, “Well, I guess we should send these to the Goodwill.”

Betty looked in the box, shook her head with a smile on her face, and told her husband, “Jerry, I think some of this stuff may be a little important now. We’d better keep them.”

The President of the United States had almost donated the Navy uniforms that he wore while serving on the USS Monterey in the South Pacific during World War II.

Those uniforms eventually found a good home. Instead of ending up on a discount rack at a Goodwill store, those uniforms are now on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
did you see politico's story on the nixon's marriage? it's actually pretty awesome because it was quite the love story apparently
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, I did see the story, "Richard Nixon, Hopeless Romantic", and I agree that it is awesome.  Even better is the book that Will Swift (the author of the story) released last month — Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage.  If you liked the article in Politico Magazine, you’ll love the book.

Nixon’s pursuit of Pat and the love letters that he wrote to her really show a different side of Richard Nixon.  And anyone who doubts Nixon’s feelings about his wife should watch the video (if you can handle it) of Nixon at Pat’s funeral in 1993.  It’s heartbreaking.  Nixon always tried to show a tough exterior for the cameras — an example is when he resigned the Presidency and walked out to the helicopter with a smile frozen on his face as he gave his trademark, awkward victory sign.  But at Pat’s funeral, it didn’t matter how many cameras were on him and how many people were at the service.  Nixon was devastated, inconsolable, and literally sobbing.  You can’t fake that kind of pain, and the only thing that makes you hurt like that is love.

"[Spiro Agnew has] tremendous brain power, great courage, and [an] unparalleled legal mind. He has vigor and imagination and, above all, he acts." — Richard Nixon, explaining why Agnew was qualified to be his Vice President, 1969

"By any criteria he falls short. Energy? He doesn’t work hard. He likes to play golf [instead]. Leadership? [Nixon simply laughs at the idea]. Consistency? He’s all over the place. He’s not [even] really a conservative, you know?" — Richard Nixon, explaining to aide John Ehrlichman why Agnew was not qualified to be President

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Should Ford have pardoned Nixon? Was it more important to have Nixon pay the price for his crimes or for the legitimacy of the office of the President to be upheld?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The pardon was a costly move politically for Ford because the scandals of Nixon’s Administration had caused such a deep breach of trust in the government. Because of that distrust and the fact that the pardon came so quickly after Ford took office (just one month later), it immediately raised questions amongst a suspicious American public about whether there was some sort of quid pro quo. So, the pardon handicapped Ford from early in his Presidency and he had to battle against it and prove himself by legitimizing his integrity in order to re-establish trust in the nation’s political leaders.

The fact of the matter, however, is that the pardon was absolutely necessary in order for President Ford to do anything. The pardon didn’t come quickly because of any sort of quid pro quo; it came because every question Ford and his aides were being asked was about Nixon and Nixon’s next step. The country was still in the midst of a war, facing economic problems, and had just passed through the most series Constitutional crisis in American history besides the Civil War. Ford assumed the Vice Presidency (after Spiro Agnew’s resignation) and now the Presidency in less than a year’s time, and he hadn’t been elected to either position.

So, after a serious Constitutional crisis, the country now had a leader who had never faced the nation’s voters. There was no guarantee that a pissed-off country was going to peacefully accept that. More than anything, President Ford needed to govern, and he couldn’t possibly do that if the focus remained on his disgraced predecessor who was cloistered in exile in San Clemente.

Ford saw the need to shift the conversation from Nixon. He also couldn’t imagine anything positive coming from a former President facing a criminal trial and possible prison time. Again, it would be a continued distraction, and Ford recognized how much more difficult it would be to rebuild trust in the Executive Branch with the eyes of the nation focused on a former President of the United States on trial.

Had I been alive at the time, I probably would have railed against the pardon like most Democrats in 1974. President Ford wasn’t immune to criticism from Republicans either — Ford’s own White House Press Secretary quit in protest of the pardon. But hindsight shows that it was the right decision and even Ford’s best-known political opponents eventually agreed with the pardon. Many historians consider it to be one of the most politically courageous acts in Presidential history because Ford risked so much in order to make a decision that he felt was right. A clear example of the evolution of opinions on Ford’s pardon of Nixon took place in 2001 when the JFK Library awarded the 88-year-old former President Ford with the “Profile in Courage” award in recognition of his decision.

It’s really tough. They are the longest hours of your life. You are so tired. You just want the goddamned thing over. The most grueling campaign was 1960 because of the mistake I made with the 50-state strategy…In ‘68, I just drove around on Election Day. The day is the worst because there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do. I watched people drive by, and I thought, ‘How many of these people did I reach?’ You really wonder because inside you are paralyzed with worry. You want to think that all of the effort was worth something to somebody.

Richard Nixon, to Monica Crowley, on what goes through a Presidential candidate’s mind on Election Day, October 30, 1992

He has one of the most magnetic personalities that I have ever confronted. When you are close to Nixon he almost disarms you with his apparent sincerity. You never get the impression that he is the same man…who made a tear-jerking speech in the 1952 campaign…And so I would conclude by saying that if Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after meeting then-Vice President Richard Nixon, 1957

Do you think Nixon redeemed himself as an elder statesman? Also, what do you think of his autobiography RN?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Nixon never completely redeemed himself with the American people, and really, in his case, redemption was going to be a hard sell because of the pardon.  Now, I’ve said many times that Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon was the absolute right decision, a courageous move that cost Ford politically, and politicians and historians from both sides have largely said the same thing.  But because Nixon was pardoned and Nixon’s aides ended up taking the fall for Watergate and doing time in prison, he was never going to get a real shot at redemption with the American people.

As an elder statesman and a brilliant mind of foreign policy, however, Nixon certainly regained a ton of respect, particularly in his last years.  Nixon was radioactive during the Ford and Carter Administrations, and Reagan didn’t bother much with him, either.  George H.W. Bush reached out to him at times, but it was really Bill Clinton’s decision to seek advice from Nixon and use him as the font of wisdom that Nixon could be when it came to Russia and China, that gave Nixon’s reputation a big boost.  From what Monica Crowley, who worked for Nixon in his final years and had probably the best insight into Nixon before he died, has written, Clinton’s outreach to Nixon really made the former President feel useful and important again, and helped distract him from the deep sadness that Nixon felt upon the death of his wife in 1993.

As for Nixon’s autobiography, I really enjoy it.  Nixon was always a very good writer.  I’ve read most of his books and especially enjoy Six Crises and In the Arena.  Nixon’s autobiography, RN, is overly defensive at times (he wrote it in 1978), so In the Arena is a little more open and candid about his failures, but RN is great because it’s a reminder about how involved Nixon was in so much of the 20th Century — served in World War II, served in the House and Senate in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s, was Vice President under Eisenhower, narrowly lost the 1960 election to JFK, and then, of course, his own Presidency.  Nixon’s autobiography and a book he wrote later called Leaders gives some priceless insight on all of the important and influential world leaders that he worked closely with or came into contact with — from Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, and other American leaders to Charles De Gaulle, Khrushchev, Castro, Brezhnev, Sadat, Golda Meir, Mao, and other foreign leaders.  I have a first-edition copy of RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon that is one of those books that I’ll never get rid of.