On page 977 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black characterizes Nixon’s typical political strategy as follows: “Nixon’s courage…depended on him being alone, on feeling entirely deserted, on going to ground and then surprising the adversary with a dramatic speech or initiative that brought instant redemption: Checkers, the silent majority, Cambodia, the economy in 1971.” But Black argues that this would not have worked so well with Watergate, for the attacks just kept coming, plus “There had been too much petty lawbreaking, sloppy legal bungling, shabby compromise and evasion, and too little loyalty in the inner circle” for Nixon to wage a long battle.
I have three points.
1. Nixon’s typical strategy is not surprising, in light of Nixon’s introversion. Nixon did not accomplish a great deal through cooperation with the Congress, for a number of Democrats in the Congress were against him, and Barry Goldwater himself implied that Nixon had failed to develop relationships with people on the Hill. But Nixon’s strategy was to bypass that when he could by appealing to the American people. That didn’t require a great deal of back-slapping or formation of relationships, for Nixon would simply give a speech to a bunch of people whom he did not know. If I were in public life, my strategy would probably be the same as Nixon’s. Or at least Nixon’s strategy makes sense to me, since I am an introvert who has difficulty forming and keeping relationships.
I can’t make a blanket statement about Nixon’s strategy, however, for relationships did help Nixon to advance politically. Thomas Dewey was instrumental in getting Nixon to be appointed as Dwight Eisenhower’s running-mate in 1952. Nixon got a lot of IOUs when he campaigned for Republican officials throughout the nation. And yet, even here, Nixon’s strategy was to dazzle people with speeches, which is quite different from developing relationships with people. Still, I’d say that relationships, on some level, played some role in Nixon’s political advancement. Nixon at least had enough social competence not to alienate his benefactors!
2. A while back, I watched Nixon’s 1952 Checkers Speech on YouTube, then I watched part of his 1974 resignation speech as President. It was depressing to watch the latter after the former, let me say that! In the Checkers speech, Nixon was young, energetic, fresh, convinced of his innocence, and fighting. In the resignation speech, he had bags under his eyes, and he appeared depressed and defeated. In the former, Nixon saved his political career, so there was a happy ending for him. In the latter, Nixon’s career as an elected official was coming to a dismal end.
3. The passage from Black with which I opened this post depicts Nixon as one who fought alone, as if Nixon was an underdog. That particular image of Nixon has long resonated with me. But how about Nixon as a well-connected bully? That repulses me!
On pages 210-211 of Nixon’s Darkest Secrets, Don Fulsom talks about Nixon’s alleged physically violent acts against people. He quotes Jim McManus, a White House reporter who said that Nixon slammed his shoulder against him. McManus said, “One doubts that [Nixon] ever picked on anyone whose relative status—-or gender—-guaranteed a counter-attack.” And Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie talked about Nixon slapping Zita Remley, a Democrat who alleged that people in 1946 called Democrats and said that Nixon’s opponent in the congressional election, Jerry Voorhis, was a Communist. Brodie states: “There were no cameras or newsmen to catch the happening, and Mrs. Remley, fearful of losing her job, told only a few friends.”
If this is true, then it is horrible. Nixon could arguably have caused Remley to lose her job, had he wished, since, as much of a loner as he was, he still was politically powerful and well-connected, and thus had the pull to get her fired. To attack someone who cannot attack back is bullying. Incidentally, the same can be said about other abuses of power, such as sexual harassment (not that Nixon engaged in that).