I have two items for my write-up today on Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952.
1. One narrative that Gellman seeks to refute says that, in 1952, Nixon was waffling in whom he was supporting to be the Republican nominee for President because he was trying to position himself to be selected as the running mate. Did Nixon support California Governor Earl Warren, only to stab him in the back and support Dwight Eisenhower? Gellman contends that Nixon continued to support Warren in the face of conservatives who felt that Warren was as much of a spendthrift as the Democrats! Gellman also disputes Stephen Ambrose’s claim that Nixon “worked for Eisenhower within the California delegation by weakening Warren’s hold on its members” (Gellman’s words on page 457), for Gellman states that “Warren had absolute control over how the delegation would vote; Nixon had no ability to change that” (page 457). (Overall, though, Gellman believes that Ambrose’s biography of Nixon is one of the fairer treatments of the man.) Gellman also states that Nixon was not angling himself to get the VP slot but rather was selected on account of his youth, his effectiveness as a speaker for the Republican cause, and his record (i.e., his role in exposing Alger Hiss).
The thing is, on page 433, Gellman says that Warren himself felt that Nixon was betraying him and was working for Eisenhower, something that Eisenhower denied. This seems to be a pattern in Gellman’s book: Although Gellman says that there is no proof that Nixon did many of the shady things that Nixon has been accused of doing during his Congress years, and Gellman is probably correct on that, some of the players at the time felt that Nixon actually was doing shady things! Helen Gahagan Douglas anticipated that Nixon would run a dirty campaign against her for Senate, based on his campaign against Voorhis in 1946, and now Warren thought that Nixon was helping Eisenhower after committing to support him (meaning Warren). I wonder how, if Nixon was so innocent, there were people who apparently thought otherwise. I wish that Gellman addressed that more in his book.
2. Gellman acknowledges that there were a couple of times when Nixon did not act prudently. One time was during the Republican primary for the U.S. House seat in the 22nd congressional district, when Nixon supported Joe Holt against Jack Tenney. Tenney was a state senator who promoted Nixon when Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate, but Holt “was a twenty-eight-year-old marine, who had recently returned from Korea with a Purple Heart and had been Nixon’s field organizer in 1950” (Gellman’s words on pages 407-408). Murray Chotiner, who served on Nixon’s campaigns in the past and was Holt’s campaign manager, requested from Nixon Jack Tenney’s HUAC file, for Tenney once was a Communist sympathizer but later repudiated his Communist sympathies. Nixon realized that HUAC files were only to be for congressional use (even though leaks often occurred), and Nixon’s aide Bill Arnold told Chotiner not to say where he got the file and warned Chotiner that using the material might backfire, since Tenney had reformed. Gellman states that Nixon felt he owed Holt and Chotiner on account of the help that they provided to him in the past, yet his action “smacked of a violation of ethics and wrongdoing” (page 408). Fortunately, Holt won the nomination without using the file.
According to wikipedia, Holt went on to win the congressional seat, as well. Regarding Tenney, Tenney had a solid anti-Communist record in the California State Senate (see here), so I can see Bill Arnold’s point that using Tenney’s HUAC file would have backfired. The wikipedia article also mentions other things about Tenney, such as Tenney’s association with anti-Semites and anti-Semitism. Whether or not that played a role in Nixon’s support for Holt rather than Tenney, I don’t know (even from Gellman’s book and the wikipedia articles). We know from the Watergate tapes that Nixon himself made anti-Semitic comments. Yet, Gellman states on page 454 that Nixon was quite critical of HUAC members who lambasted Jews, Italians, and African-Americans, for Nixon wondered “whether those who professed to patriotism realized how effectively they were furthering the Communist cause when they excited bitterness among Americans by aggravating natural differences between people like those of race and religion” (Nixon’s words).