On pages 596-597 of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972, Stephen Ambrose talks about the role of Richard Nixon’s wife, Pat, in his 1972 Presidential campaign.
Pat Nixon was not comfortable giving speeches and having news conferences. She had experience with public speaking, for she had been a teacher and had acted in a number of plays. But she didn’t give speeches during Richard Nixon’s political career, and she was uncomfortable with the prospect of having to do more during Nixon’s 1972 campaign for re-election as President.
The thing is, she was good at the public speaking, as nervous as she was before doing it! On page 596, we read an answer that she gave at one press conference, which delighted Richard Nixon. A reporter asked Pat to comment on actress Jane Fonda’s accusation that the U.S. Air Force bombed dikes in Vietnam on purpose, and Pat responded: “I think she should have been in Hanoi asking them to stop their aggression. Then there wouldn’t be any conflict. I’d have had her go over there and beg on bended knees.”
Richard recognized that Pat was an asset, yet he wrote in his diary that “The only problem is that she goes through such agony in preparing it that I hate to have her take on the assignments.”
Nixon in his diary manifests a concern for Pat, and Nixon also apparently had a high regard for her talent for public speaking and answering questions at news conferences. Yet, Ambrose also says on pages 597-598 that Nixon often did not value her suggestions. Nixon wanted for Pat to read the speeches that were prepared for her rather than to offer suggestions. And, after she asked to see a film about Richard Nixon that would be shown at the 1972 Republican National Convention, since she heard it wasn’t particularly good and wanted to suggest possible improvements, Nixon put in his diary, “Needless to say, I don’t intend to look at [the film about me] and I’m going to see that some way we avoid her seeing it too.”
Another point that Ambrose makes is that Pat and Nixon’s aides did not particularly care for each other. Ambrose states: “She resented being manipulated by Nixon’s aides (they did not much like her, either; behind her back, Haldeman called her ‘Thelma’). She would take suggestions from her husband, but not from his aides.” That called to my mind what Nixon candidly said about his wife and his daughters in his memoirs: that they could not stand some of the people who worked for him! If I recall correctly, Murray Chotiner, Nixon’s ruthless campaign manager in his 1950 Senate race, was not very popular with Pat!