HH: I’m devoting the first hour and a half today to a different book not my own. The book is called Being Nixon. It’s by Evan Thomas, It’s an extraordinary book. Now those of you who have listened to me, next week marks the 15th anniversary of the Hugh Hewitt Show. I have never interviewed an author about a Nixon book before, never, because they never got even close. And Evan Thomas, I’m breaking the rule for you, because you got the old man better than anyone has. I hope other Nixon people have told you that.
ET: I tried. Yeah, I mean, I certainly talked to a lot of Nixon people, and I try. He’s a hard guy to get. Look, this is not an easy code to crack, but he’s a fascinating person. He was much more of a human being than Hollywood ever gave him credit for, or the old East Coast media establishment, of which I’m a member. I mean, he’s endlessly interesting, and people need to know that. He’s not the cartoon you think he is.
HH: I want to begin with the fact you are Harvard and UVA Law. I’m a Harvard guy. Nixon hired me when I was 22 years old, again, breaking his rule of contempt for Harvard. He did it again and again. And whether it’s Kissinger or Moynihan or me or anybody in between, he just had that rule and he broke it.
ET: That’s a funny, he was always saying get rid of those Harvard blank, blank, blank. No Harvard, no Harvard, and then he hires as his two top aides coming into office, he hires Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor, one foreign affairs, the other domestic. So Nixon, you know, could carry on about things, but as John Mitchell, his attorney general, famously said, watch what we do, not what we say. And you’ve got to remember that about Nixon, because he could carry on about things. But you have to watch what he actually does.
HH: Now I want to go to the heart of the history before going to the heart of the man. On Page 470 of Being Nixon, which is linked over at Hughhewitt.com, and really, if you love history, if you love Nixon, go and get it right now, and I wrote, by the way, members of the family that I deeply approve of this book, because I don’t give interviews about Nixon to people. I just don’t, because that’s part of the omerta of having been a Nixon aide. But on Page 470, you write about October 12th, 1973, Yom Kippur War. Nixon, who could so casually utter ethnic slurs, decisively and forcefully came to the rescue of the people of Israel. When Kissinger told him that the Pentagon had authorized three C-5A transports to fly to Israel, anymore would cause problems with the Arabs and the Soviets. Nixon was exasperated. “We’re going to get blamed just as much for three planes as for 300, he told Kissinger. The President called Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and told him he was aware of the gravity of the decision, and he would accept the responsibility if the Arabs cut off oil to America, that the Pentagon could not arrange for private charter flights. It should use military aircraft. Do it now, the President ordered. He went on to say godblank it, use everyone we have. Tell them send everything that can fly.” You also write later in the day, “Cars stopped in the street in Israel, and people began to shout God bless America. Relieved and grateful, Golda Meir, Israel’s hard-bitten prime minister, wept.” Nixon saved Israel.
ET: Yeah, he did. I mean, among the many contradictions, Nixon said some stuff on the tapes which makes you wince. He does. But if you look at what he does, he was a true friend of Israel. And he overcame his own bureaucracy. The bureaucrats at the Pentagon and the State Department did not want to do this. The president of the United States said, you, as you read, you’ve got to do it. And that was Nixon. He was decisive in crisis, he could be very decisive, not messing around, do it. And they did it, and people literally stood in the streets of Tel Aviv and cheered him. Nixon may have made some unfortunate remarks, but he was very close to Gold Meir, the prime minister of Israel.
HH: That’s why her statue is in the Nixon Library. He personally selected the people who are immortalized in bronze there. One of the things I liked about Being Nixon is I learned things. Now I’ve known Nixon since 1978. I did not know about Martin Luther King’s father turning on him in the 1960 campaign. So tell people that story, because if I didn’t know it, a lot of people are not going to know it.
ET: Yeah, I mean, among the things, you know, Nixon is thought of as being, as playing the race card, the so-called Southern strategy. Again, you’ve got to look closely at it. Nixon in the 1950s was Eisenhower’s point man on civil rights. He was close to the civil rights movement. He knew Martin Luther King. He was a friend of Martin Luther King’s. And Daddy King, Martin Luther King’s father, turned against Nixon during the campaign, because during the 1960 campaign, because King was jailed, and…
HH: Atlanta sit-in, I believe, yeah.
ET: And JFK, yeah, yeah, it was, sent to a not nice penitentiary in Georgia, and the Kennedys were smart enough and savvy enough to call Mrs. King and say we’re for you, we want to help you. And Bobby Kennedy, who liked to play behind the scenes, managed to get King sprung from jail. Meanwhile, Nixon, who had been the Kings’ true friend, is trying to do it officially through official channels through the Justice Department. And they weren’t doing it. Eisenhower would not do it. And so all of a sudden, it looks like the Kennedys are King’s friends, and not Nixon. And there was a lot of, the word went out to black ministers along with some walking around money, and sure enough, the black vote in November of 1960 went for Kennedy, not Nixon. That probably was the difference. People think of the debates. Actually, it was probably the black vote.
HH: I love, I didn’t know about Dick Tuck planning a woman to come up after the first debate and say don’t worry, you’ll do better next time. I didn’t know that story.
ET: Yeah, well, Dick Tuck goes way back in Nixon lore. Dick Tuck, for your listeners, was the famous prankster, Democrats’ prankster. And he used to drive Nixon crazy, because this is one of the, again, we think of, people associate dirty tricks with Nixon. Nixon, in his own mind, was just catching up to the Democrats. The Democrats did this better. Dick Tuck, the original campaign prankster, was a guy who went to Berkeley and starting messing around with Nixon’s campaigns back in the late 40s. So he had been a constant thorn in Nixon’s side. And Nixon wanted his own Dick Tuck. He would say to Haldeman, to his chief of staff, why can’t we have a Dick Tuck?
HH: He had Murray.
ET: Well, he had Murray Chotiner, absolutely. And Chotiner was a pretty effective guy at this kind of stuff. But I still don’t think it was…
HH: He had Colson for a while.
ET: Well, he…
HH: And Chuck was a friend of mine while he was alive after, of course, he was converted.
ET: The problem is that Nixon overcorrected. In his desire to catch up to the Kennedys, he overdid it. This is, Nixon did have some fatal weaknesses, and one was to overreact that way.
HH: Now Evan, what I’ve done in the first eight minutes is demonstrates the breadth of your fairness. I want to know what your opinion changed in the course of doing this book from, to.
ET: Well, I have to start with who I am. I mean, I worked for the Washington Post company for 24 years. So I’m in the, as Nixon would say…
HH: The Georgetown set.
ET: Yeah, well, peripherally. I’m a paid, I’m kind of a lieutenant JG in the Georgetown set. I’m a minor figure. But I am at the table, because I’m, I was the Washington Bureau Chief of Newsweek for ten years. So I was at Mrs. Katherine Graham’s for dinner, and you know, I saw that world as an employee. I wasn’t really socially in it, but I was there. And so I knew the way they viewed Nixon, pretty bad. They were really, really tough on him, I mean, cruelly tough on him. And I shared the sort of kneejerk view of Nixon, because that’s where I worked. But he always intrigued me, because I always thought, you know, how could somebody so shy, the thing that really got me, how could somebody so shy become the most successful political figure of the 20th Century, or at least arguably? He’s up there with FDR and Reagan. You know, he was on five national tickets. He won four times. Only FDR equaled that record. He won in one of the greatest landslides in history in 1972.
HH: Those are events. What do you think of him?
ET: I think he’s a poignant figure, because he had so many good qualities. He was such a great leader in so many ways.
HH: Is he a great man?
ET: Yes. Yeah, he’s a great man. But like a lot of great men, flawed.
HH: You write about hubris.
ET: You know, I actually went over at the Nixon Library and looked at his college papers, because I wanted to see had he read Shakespeare. And he did read Julius Caesar, but in the college paper he wrote at Whittier College, he missed the point. He missed the hubris point.
HH: Oh, in fact, you write that most great men do, or for fear that if they don’t, they’ll stop being great men.
ET: Yes, I mean, this is not just Nixon. This is a lot of great men, really aren’t that self-aware, because if they wake up in the morning worrying about pride and all that, they’re not going to get out of bed and go try to save the world. If you really believe you’re destined, you have to kind of have blinkers on. And Nixon only, Nixon did it catastrophically. I mean, it really ended up destroying him. But that’s not to deny his greatness along the way.
HH: Although it didn’t destroy him. The last 20 years of his life when I knew him, I knew him from 1978-2004, he rebuilt it. It was Chapter four.
HH: And the last 20 years are actually the most interesting, in some respects. It’s not as geopolitically interesting, but from 1974-2004, there’s a resurrection.
ET: Right, when I say destroy, I mean politically.
ET: As a person, one of the things that was so admirable about him was his resilience. He is driven from office, you know, disgraced on that helicopter. People have all seen those images. He almost dies of phlebitis. A nurse is hitting him, saying wake up, Richard, wake up. He’s broke. He’s so broke that his daughter Trisha and Ed have to give him their bank account. I mean, he is flat-out, and yet in classic Nixon fashion, he claws back. He does it in small ways. He starts playing golf with Jack Brennan. He’s a terrible golfer, but he plays every day. And you know, he slowly builds himself back up. And Pat, who I think had grown distant in the last year of Watergate, restored their marriage. And he does, so Nixon, he gets a little bored. He doesn’t want to just play golf. He wants to be in the thick of things. So what does he do? He moves back to New York to the hated East Coast. He moves into a house across the street from Teddy White, the great Kennedy chronicler.
HH: Only after being turned down by the Manhattan elite at the co-op board.
ET: Co-op boards, yeah.
ET: Twice, two co-op boards are too snooty, and they turn him down. So he has to buy, he buys Learned Hand’s old house, and he puts himself, the point is he puts him right smack dab in the middle of the establishment, and wins it by storm. Starts inviting them for dinner, given them Chinese dinners, all these reporters and editors who were against him, he makes them their friend.
HH: I went to one of those. I’ll tell you about it another time. I’m going to talk with Evan Thomas about his views, not mine. It’s a very good book. Being Nixon, I know some of my colleagues in Nixon world don’t agree, but most of them do, at least those of us who knew Nixon later in life. Stay tuned.
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HH: I’m playing all 1968 bump music, because President Nixon ran for and took office in 1968, actually January of ’69. One of the things I like about Being Nixon is you take us back to the fact that the country is going to hell. And I did not know that he went to Lyndon Johnson’s safe and found, tell that story, Evan. You’re better at it than I am.
ET: Well, imagine what it’s like coming into the White House on that first night, and he wakes up in the morning, and the shower’s too hot, because Lyndon Johnson has all these jets and nozzles. But poignantly, he goes to the wall, and there’s a wall safe. And in the wall safe, there’s a piece of paper. And on the piece of paper are the names of American boys who have died in Vietnam the last week, a couple hundred names. And it brings home to Richard Nixon what he’s dealing with. He’s getting two, three hundred Americans every week are dying over there, and for what? He’s got to figure out how to get us out of that war, and it bedeviled him. It was a constant presence all through his presidency. Really, for the first four years, it never went away. That war just was an impossible situation.
HH: And the country, of course, is frayed at the edge. You write about the mobilization of the war after the invasion of Cambodia, the bombing of Cambodia. You also write about the fact that the first president in modern times not to have either house of Congress with him.
HH: And crucially, from my perspective, I ask almost every young person whether they think Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. I do it for two reasons. Do they even know who Alger Hiss is…
HH: And then do they realize the verdict is in, or are they ideologically blinkered. And you get how important Hiss is to this whole story. Would you explain that to people?
ET: Well, Hiss is a Harvard Law School fancy guy, part of the elite. And he’s actually a Soviet spy, and a kind of scrofulous guy named Whittaker Chambers fingers him, but nobody believes Whittaker Chambers. They believe Alger Hiss, because Alger Hiss is this handsome pillar of the establishment.
HH: At the right arm of FDR at Yalta.
ET: Right. And you know, all the cool guys in the elite are with Hiss except young Congressman Richard Nixon, who’s on the House un-American Activities Committee, which is sort of a disreputable committee. But Nixon doesn’t believe Hiss’ story, and he pursues him and pursues him, and exposes that Hiss is a spy. And it was a thunderclap, because it showed that the Eastern establishment could be wrong about something. They never forgave Nixon.
HH: What does that mean, they never forgave Nixon?
ET: For making them look stupid.
HH: But how did that play out?
ET: Well, the Georgetown set, as he called them, the sort of, this is a group that no longer exists, but it was very important in its time. After World War II, the head of the CIA, top people at the CIA, top people at the State Department, top people in journalism, were pals in Georgetown. And they got together.
HH: And the Agency. Polly Wisner, as you point out.
ET: Right, the chief hostess, Polly Wisner’s husband, was head of covert action at the CIA, Frank Wisner, later went nuts, actually. This is a little known fact.
HH: And his son just went to Egypt to try and save the Arab Spring.
ET: No, his son is a great guy, Frank, Jr.
ET: But poor father, who was manic depressive, and was, think of this, the head of covert action at the CIA in the late 1950s was led away in a straitjacket and sent to a mental institution and later killed himself, tragically. But in his day, in his manic high day, he was at the center of this society which was very powerful. And Nixon was an outsider to them, and they didn’t like them, because he made them look bad. He embarrassed them.
HH: More than an outsider, a target.
ET: Well, absolutely. They wanted to finish him off. There’s a scene in my book. There’s something called the Sunday night supper. Joe Alsop, who’s a…
HH: It’s cringe-inducing.
ET: It’s just awful.
HH: It’s awful.
ET: Imagine, think of all life as high school. Imagine the cool kids at high school invite you over to their table, so to speak. So Nixon’s been invited, Mr. and Mrs. Nixon are invited to Joe Alsop’s Sunday night supper. And of course, Alsop introduces Nixon as Russell Nixon, gets his name wrong, right? And then Averill Harriman, who’s kind of a high priest of this group, Ambassador Averill Harriman, FDR’s ambassador, turns his plate over and says I will not break bread with that man, and then walks out. How do you think Richard and Pat Nixon felt at that moment? Pretty bad.
HH: You know, one of the reasons I greatly appreciate Being Nixon is you also get Mrs. Nixon, who was personally very kind to me and my wife, as the President was central to my life, so people should know my biases. She’s made of steel.
HH: Man, she put steel…
ET: Totally misunderstood, totally misunderstood, because we picture, the photographs of her are unfortunate, because she looks gaunt, and she looks unhappy. And by the end, she was gaunt and unhappy. That’s true. But through most of their marriage, she was a pillar of strength for Richard Nixon. She was a great beauty. I have a photograph of her in the book of them together in the early 50s. She’s a knockout. She’s beautiful.
HH: You also know the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt and I were at her funeral, and when the President came down the row, he was almost unable to move, distraught with grief on the arm of Billy Graham.
HH: We thought he would not get to the front row.
ET: Yeah, Rose Mary Woods said oh, my God. His secretary, Rose Mary, said oh, my God.
HH: Deeply in love. And so you get that. But there’s stresses, though.
ET: Of course. I mean, how could there not be? Also, they’re a different generation. They’re very correct with each other. They’re very formal with each other. And they don’t, neither one likes confrontation. So it’s painful for them, in the last days of Watergate, when it’s all collapsing around them, Frank Gannon, who wrote, who’s I guess the ghost writer, I guess you’d call him, the rewrite guy on Nixon’s memoir.
HH: Rewrite. We were editorial assistants.
ET: Editorial, excuse me.
HH: We were not ghost writers.
ET: And actually, Nixon was a pretty good writer, and he really did write his own stuff.
HH: I showed it to you, yeah.
ET: I, let me correct the record here. Nixon’s editorial assistant, Frank Gannon, was there. He’s around. And he said as he reconstructed it, it was like being a Tolstoy novel, because they couldn’t, the family had trouble talking about the main event, the impending disaster. So they made pleasant talk at dinner, and then they would leave little notes on their pillows at night, little notes of encouragement and sweetness, and trying to buck each other up. Nixon liked to buck each other up. But it was all very formal and correct, and it was hard for them, it was just hard for Nixon to let down his guard. This is a guy who when he went bowling alone wore a necktie. He was extremely formal.
HH: But they deeply, let me interject, because I want people to understand in Being Nixon, you understand the depth of love in that family between Julie, Tricia and their parents, and David Eisenhower’s deep and enormous respect for his father. He always called him Mr. President.
HH: He always called him Mr. President, but David’s a serious historian. And they were always thinking about that stuff.
ET: Well, I mean, little things. Tricia would come into the President’s study and just sit there quietly, just to be there, just to be a presence there. She was very wise. Every once in a while, she would give him a little bit of advice, but mostly just to be a presence. Julie was on the road speaking for him non-stop. I mean, those girls really stood by him. And when people say Nixon must be a bad guy, you know, I think to myself he’s a pretty good father. And I, somebody who’s that good a father, I, you know…
HH: But you do not spare, and I do not want Nixon haters to think you know, some of them came to the funeral. One of them remarked famously I just want to make sure the SOB is dead. And I want Nixon haters to understand this is history, and so it has in it the roughest stuff for those of us who love the old man.
ET: Oh, yeah.
HH: The roughest stuff is in here. So I’m curious as to your Georgetown set people. Are they mad at you for rehabbing RN?
ET: They don’t, Hugh, RN is unrehabbable. Did I just invent a word here?
HH: Yeah, you may have.
ET: They don’t buy it. They just don’t buy it. He was an evil guy, and I’m just wrong.
HH: What would Herblock, you must have known Herblock.
ET: I met Herblock. I mean, he’s, Herblock is a famous cartoonist, did hundreds of Nixon cartoons. He had Nixon crawling out of a sewer, I mean, rough stuff.
HH: It’s terrible, terrible.
ET: Nixon cancelled his subscription to the Washington Post in 1954, because he didn’t want his children to see the cartoons of him they were running every day by Herblock.
HH: Only Conrad was worse. I argue that Conrad was worse. I’ll be right back. Evan Thomas’ brand new book, Being Nixon, is wonderful. It is linked over at Hughhewitt.com, bookstores everywhere, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million. Are you speaking at the Nixon Library tonight?
ET: No, September 8th, I think it is.
HH: September 8th. I’ll be right back. We’ll give you more dates about his update where he’s going to be, and we’re going to talk about the Bohemian Grove in a moment, so secrets upon secrets when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: For a long time, I thought Julie and David Eisenhower would write a book about 1968, because they lived it more intensely than anyone. Evan, where were you in 1968? Where was Oscie?
ET: I was in high school. Oscie was in high school, too, or maybe just graduating. College, she was a freshman in college.
ET: She was a year ahead of me.
HH: She went younger. That’s great. And so 1968 is this year unstuck in time, and everything is falling apart, and he takes over the presidency, and he begins his five and a half years of greatness. But go back to the Herter dinner, because I want people to understand that the young California who is raw, he’s really raw, does not know how to deal with D.C.
ET: The Washington Post calls Nixon the greenest Congressman in town. And he’s invited to this fancy Georgetown dinner by Christian Herter, who is the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a Boston Brahman. And poor Nixon, Mrs. Nixon and Nixon gets a new blue suit, and Mrs. Nixon gets her nice cocktail dress. It’s a black tie dinner. So he’s the only guy who does not have a tuxedo on, which of course is mortifying to him. It’s no big deal, and his host, Christian Herter, forgave him for it, and later became a friend of his. But that kind of thing for Nixon was hard. It’s hard to be the new boy in town and sort of miss the cues.
HH: Oh, and believe me, Ohio kid going to Harvard, I get that, and I understand. You get that about Nixon, the Orthogonian versus the others, the outsider. And he had a deep sympathy for people. And I want you to tell the story. I wrote this to one of the Nixon family members. You get his concern with mothers.
HH: Tell that story. It’s a Nixon reveal.
ET: Well, he, when he’s out there campaigning, he doesn’t want to bring up something negative about somebody, because he’s afraid it’s going to hurt his mother, the guy’s mother. I mean, that’s the way he’s thinking.
HH: Yeah, the politician, as I recall, had asked him to come, and then he showed up, and then he distanced himself from Nixon. And Nixon didn’t take out after him, because he was afraid his mother was there.
ET: Right, it was a classic, you know, cowardly pol who invites Nixon out to campaign for him, then tries to distance himself publicly from Nixon. And Nixon eats it, takes it, doesn’t want to flash back, because he’s afraid of hurting his mother.
HH: Yeah, you have him saying to an aide, and it might be Ehrlichman, mothers don’t understand politics. And he was very kind to my mother personally, so I got that. Now from Herter and from the awkward days to the Bohemian Grove in 1967, not the first time, not when he was Ike’s guy, but when he’s in exile.
HH: Tell people about that one.
ET: Well, Bohemian Grove is, as I guess your listeners know, is this kind of gathering for usually rich, powerful people in California, and not just Californians, but titans of industry. And Senators, and Henry Kissinger still goes. I went there once. And there was Kissinger.
HH: You’re one ahead of me. Okay.
ET: And you know, it’s fun, but it’s a male, extremely male thing. But all the sort of cool guys, if you will, circa 1967, are there, and they invite Nixon to give, it was called the Lakeside speech, which is their big speech. Nixon classically spends three days beforehand not gallivanting around in the woods. He’s in a motel eating Kentucky Fried Chicken writing this speech. And the speech was critically important, because he’s really, it’s almost like a primary. He’s got to win the powerful persons’ primary, and he gives a brilliant speech, kind of a tour of the horizon, tour of the world, really. And it convinces all of these power brokers that he’s not just a Congressman, he’s not just a pol, that he’s really smart, which he is, and that he knows the world, which he does. And it was really important for his campaign in 1968 that he convinced these people at this private, secret location, but a lot of powerful people heard it, and rallied to him and backed him.
HH: Page 147, you write, “His manner, confident and effortlessly knowledgeable, was inspiring. Nixon offered a hard-headed, realistic view of the many challenges America faced around the world, and called for patience, strength and wisdom, suggesting neither to baldly nor too subtly that he was the one whom embodied those qualities.” Beautiful writing, by the way.
ET: Well, this was the new Nixon, and he knew that in this crazy time in 1968, what people wanted was stability. They wanted a grown up. And Nixon could be that grown up. He had been all over the world for Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, and he was a politician who read, read deeply. At the Nixon Library, I’ve been through Nixon’s private library where he underlines political philosophy, biography. I mean, he really read, partly because he’s so shy, he doesn’t want to talk to people. He’s in his study reading. But he was deeply, this is so funny. I mean, Nixon would say I don’t like intellectuals. You know, I’d rather talk to an athlete. Intellectuals, they’re just kind of feminine. Well, come on. He wasn’t a very good athlete himself, but he himself was an intellectual, I mean, a true intellectual, certainly compared to other politicians.
ET: And he used his intellect to have a vision for the world.
HH: You mentioned repeatedly in the book Blake’s Disraeli, the first book he gave to me, and I learned my annotation approach from his annotation approach, which is stars, bars and underline.
HH: You’ve got to double, triple down. But you also wrote he had an iron butt approach to preparing for everything that he got at Duke, and you got his early years. He lived in an unheated house. They really roughed it. And you’re a lawyer.
HH: You know what law school is like.
HH: I can’t imagine living in an unheated house in the first year of law school.
ET: But he had what it takes in law school, which is an iron butt, to use the crude term. He just worked. He worked harder than everybody else. Duke Law School, when he went there, was just starting out, and they wanted very smart kids, and they gave them scholarships. They had money. And they were all Phi Beta Kappas, and Nixon was worried that he wouldn’t cut the mustard. He graduated, I think, third in his class, just by hard work and by being smart. But even then, Wall Street turned him down.
HH: Yeah, we’ll tell that story when we come back from break. We’re talking with Evan Thomas, author of the brand new Being Nixon in bookstores everywhere.
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HH: Like I think McCullough’s Truman, it comes along about the same number of years after Truman left office, that Nixon died. Nixon died in 2004, so you waited 20 years. and I think that’s about the time that McCullough waited so that the edge is off. People will talk to you.
ET: Yeah, I mean, it’s…
HH: Jack Brennan talked to you.
ET: I was really lucky. I wanted to talk to people who were close to Nixon personally right there. Dwight Chapin…
ET: …his appointments guy, Jack Brennan, his Marine head, Steve Bull, another young Marine who was standing with him. I wanted people who were physically close to him so that they could help describe his mannerisms, what he was like to be around, his moods.
HH: Other than the kids and Ed and David, Jack Brennan knows him better than anybody in the world, because he was there both during and after, and for the resurrection.
ET: Jack Brennan helped save President Nixon’s life.
ET: When Nixon almost died from phlebitis. It’s Brennan who takes him out to play golf every day. Brennan was a scratch golfer, and Nixon not quite, and they play golf every day. And Brennan really deserves credit for that.
HH: You know, I’ve always told people the defining quality of Richard Nixon is his loyalty, and I believe that comes through. And I want to go to why he got this so wrong at a crucial moment. When you write in the book, and I’ve got to go to the last page, of course, I misplaced it. There it is. “The Watergate Nixon is generally portrayed as scheming and Machiavellian by the press, and the White House tapes provide no shortage of material to buttress this view,” Evan Thomas writes. “ But the overwhelming impression left by listening to the tapes is of a man who is not clever, who is all too human, who rambles, gets lost, changes his mind, knows too much and too little all at once. Nixon, the brilliant political analyst, is nowhere to be seen. His judgment is clouded by human frailty. One moment, he sounds cold-blooded and ruthless, prattling on about the lessons of the Hiss case as related in the six crisis, the cover up is worse than the crime, while plunging into an even deeper cover up. Perhaps he was being cynical and manipulative, or maybe he was just torn and confused. He was motivated by arrogance and pride, yes, but also by their close friends, fear and denial.” Here’s the one thing. He was a friend. I mean, he’s a friend in deed. And I think it killed him to fire Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
HH: Killed him.
ET: I mean…
HH: And John Mitchell.
ET: It undid him. I mean, he told them, and I think truthfully, that he didn’t want to wake up that morning. When he fired them, he summoned them to Camp David, to the mountaintop, so to speak, to tell them that he’s firing his two top aides, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and he tells both of them, he said I didn’t, I was praying that I would not wake up this morning, very melodramatic, but I think actually truthful. Nixon did not like confrontation, for one thing. He had other people do the confrontation for him. And also, he was a very sensitive guy. Like he put on this mask of being the brusque, tough guy, but if you listen to those tapes, there’s a lot of play acting. This is one thing that really got to me. Nixon can sound awful on those tapes. He does sound awful. He swears. He carries on. But some of it is just posturing. It’s this kind of male macho thing that bit his generation, males in the 1950s, 1960s, who have to show how tough they are by swearing. I don’t just mean Nixon. I worked for the Washington Post company. A lot of swearing there, too.
HH: Mr. Bradlee may have used a little…
ET: Mr. Bradlee, the man, the editor of the Washington Post, he swore a lot more than Nixon did. LBJ swore a lot more than Nixon did. LBJ was better at it. LBJ was a natural at swearing. I think Nixon was kind of faking it.
HH: What do you make of the fact that Bob Haldeman, who I had lunch with in San Clemente, came to see the President and reconciled. John Ehrlichman never did.
ET: Well, faith, partly. Haldeman was a Christian Scientist. They’re both Christian Scientists, but Haldeman was a real Christian Scientist, and I was very affected that he would read, I don’t know enough about the religion, but there are certain things you read by Baker Eddy, I think her name is.
HH: Mary Baker Eddy, I don’t know.
ET: Mary Baker Eddy, but he would read them, and I think he had a kind of forgiveness that was real. It wasn’t put on. And it allowed him to deal with this horrible, he went to prison. This is the president’s chief of staff. He goes to prison. He’s got a family. I mean, this is really rough stuff for him. And I think he used his faith to forgive himself, and to forgive Richard Nixon, and I think it was real. And put it this way. If you look at the way he conducted himself with Nixon, and he would go to conferences and happily talk about Watergate without malice, without churlishness, without even without all that much regret, he just accepted it.
HH: Did Dr. Kissinger speak with you?
ET: Yes. I spoke to Kissinger a couple of times, once in his office in New York, and a couple of times by telephone. Kissinger is a great student of Nixon. He’s fascinated by Nixon. He’s very much…
HH: He gave the best eulogy at his funeral.
ET: He had great insight into Nixon’s lonely courage. Kissinger could see how there’s a kind of desperate courage to Richard Nixon.
HH: You write something about that, how many, about how they were perfect, “Rarely have two men been at once so perfectly and awfully matched.”
ET: Awfully matched.
HH: Well said.
ET: Well, they played off of each other. They were both manipulative and insecure in their own ways. And they used each other. Kissinger rather badly used Nixon. Kissinger would go, and we were talking earlier about these Georgetown dinner parties. And Nixon initially uses Kissinger to be his ambassador to Mrs. Graham, my old boss, Katharine Graham, the head of the Washington Post. And while Kissinger is a big success, but almost too successful, because they love Kissinger. He’s funny, he’s self-deprecating, he’s charming.
ET: Yeah, all that. They love all that stuff. And so, but Kissinger, not to his credit, makes jokes about the President. It’s funny. I know Kissinger. He’s really funny and charming, and he makes jokes about the President, and of course it gets back to Nixon. He hears about it. And so as Kissinger would leave the Oval Office, Nixon would say well, there goes Henry off to talk to his Georgetown friends, or there goes Henry off to talk to the Washington Post. Nixon knew what was going on. He tried to tolerate it. He tried to be philosophical about it. He used to say, well, Henry’s got a tender ego, and so he needs this for his ego. But it hurt. Look, it hurt.
HH: What did Mrs. Graham think of Nixon?
ET: That’s a good question. She was quoted as saying I hate Richard Nixon. I’ve recently heard actually from her son that that was not true. Mrs. Graham, like a lot of great people, was a complicated person. And she may say things, but what she really felt is not always what she said. And I think that she had a great, in a way, understanding of how difficult power is. She was close to Lyndon Johnson. She was close to the Kennedys. She was in that world where she was up close to power.
HH: You know, Richard Norton Smith, who is a friend of mine and yours, said he would never do a Nixon biography, because he would fall in and wouldn’t get out.
HH: And I’m afraid it’s because you’d have to unpack every great person of D.C. in that era’s opinion of each other.
ET: Well, you never, if that was the case, you’d never be done, because they’re all gossiping about each other, and they all have opinions. And of course, they’re all alike. They all have giant egos, and they’re insecure.
HH: Evan Thomas is my guest for another four or five segments. Don’t go anywhere, America.
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HH: I get a chance to talk with a good historian very rarely in studio. Evan Thomas is in studio. And he brought along Mrs. Thomas, who during the break gave us both an insight, which is why you always run things past your spouse.
ET: That’s for sure.
HH: I had asked why did Ehrlichman not forgive and Haldeman forgave, and tell them what Mrs. Thomas had to say.
ET: I’d forgotten this, but my wife, Oscie, reminded me that Haldeman knew about the White House taping system. Ehrlichman did not. And so Ehrlichman felt betrayed. And also, Haldeman, Ehrlichman’s best friend, had not told Ehrlichman about the system. So Ehrlichman, you can tell, actually, from their conversations right at the end, Ehrlichman felt betrayed by that, felt betrayed by Nixon. Ehrlichman also thought he was sort of being pushed out, that and this is year five, that Nixon is gradually pushing him out, even though Ehrlichman was a very powerful guy running domestic.
HH: Oh, he pushed Moynihan out.
HH: I mean, it was a pretty dog eat dog world.
ET: It was. It was. I mean, all White Houses are dog eat dog worlds. It was a very tense time for the United States with the Vietnam war going on and on.
HH: We’re going to come back to that in a longer segment. But a quick anecdote. Len Garment, who I got to know a little bit, went to his 50th birthday party that Ray Price put on, just a little bit, but a very funny guy, told you a story. I don’t know where he got it. Len’s dead, so he couldn’t have told it to you. Never rush into a public place as they were walking into the Supreme Court. Nixon was full of stuff like that.
ET: He was. Nixon partly compensating for being such a shy guy knew that you should always be a little bit late and walk erect and coolly. You know, Nixon studied the cool guys in high school to see how it was done. And he would pick up these little tricks. They were fake in the sense he wasn’t a naturally, he wasn’t Jack Kennedy who was kind of naturally graceful. But Nixon would study people, and one of the things he told Garment was just, you know, always walk like you belong. Don’t come early to the party, and make an entrance.
HH: And he studied de Gaulle. As Richard Norton Smith always says, Hugh, just read de Gaulle again. You’ve forgotten.
ET: Yeah, no, I think that was a mistake for Nixon. Nixon was trying to capture the mystery of the presidency, and de Gaulle was a rather grand, le grande chaux, was a grand and mysterious figure, and believed in the mystery of power. And Nixon loved all that stuff, and actually spent time with de Gaulle, and kind of studied at his feet and read his book. I don’t really think that worked for Nixon, because Nixon posing as the grand, mysterious leader, I don’t really think that was Nixon. I just, that always kind of rang a little bit untrue to me.
HH: There’s more of that in Being Nixon. I’ve got to ask you before we go to the break. You went to UVA Law School. You’re not a lawyer, practicing lawyer, although you’re a J.D. Why didn’t you practice law?
ET: I wanted to be a journalist, and my wife was here. She was a lawyer, so you know, one per family.
HH: And where did you go right out of law school then? Did you join the Post out of law school?
ET: I went to Time Magazine, where I became the law writer. I actually wrote about the law. And I did that for a couple of years, and then shifted over to politics.
HH: Did you know Hugh Sidey well?
ET: Oh, sure. I worked for Hugh.
HH: I’ll tell you a Hugh Sidey story off the record. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: Let’s go to a key deal that brought up the tapes. And in the two years I worked for President Nixon the first time, and the two years the second time, I never discussed Watergate with him except once. It wasn’t about the tapes. I’m not going to tell people that. Our rule. But you put forward a theory on the tapes as to why he didn’t destroy them. Would you explain that? And I’ve got my own theory, but I never discussed it with the President, and I want to make that clear.
ET: Well, you have to go to why he installed the tapes. Nixon comes into the Oval Office, there’s a taping system. LBJ has one. Nixon rips it out. He doesn’t want to have a taping system. But about, in the winter of 1971, Nixon and this dance with Henry Kissinger, which is so complicated, Kissinger’s going on talking about how Kissinger is the dove, and Nixon’s the hawk, and Kissinger’s starting to get credit with the credulous press that he’s the good guy and Nixon’s the bad guy. And Nixon decides he wants a record so that when Kissinger writes his memoirs, Nixon will have a record of what they actually did talk about in the Oval Office. And so that’s really, that’s the biggest reason that taping system was put in. And then amazingly, in April of 1973, Watergate is about to crash around their ears. The cover up is breaking down, and Nixon and Haldeman have a conversation about the tapes. Nixon remembers oh, you know, Watergate, there are going to be some bad things on those tapes about Watergate. And he actually gives an order to H.R. Haldeman to destroy the tapes. But, and you can hear this on the tapes, he remembers Kissinger. Oh, no, Kissinger, and then he said well, maybe we won’t destroy them all. Let’s keep the tapes that deal with Kissinger. Well, they talk at the problem, and then nothing happens, because two weeks later, Haldeman himself was fired, and the tapes, of course, is what cost Nixon his presidency.
HH: Now Mrs. Clinton today is on the front page of the New York Times because she did not turn over all of the emails that she said she had turned over. We know that from the Blumenthal emails. And there is a President Obama to Hillary Clinton email on the night of Benghazi which has been redacted and hidden. However, she wiped her server down, which is the equivalent of burning the tapes. Do you think she was impacted by Nixon’s decision not to do that?
ET: I think Mrs. Clinton has studied Mr. Nixon, and they learned a few tricks about what to do and what not to do. She’s pretty good at stonewalling and cover ups, if you will. I don’t think her problems are anything like Watergate. And I don’t mean to do a kind of moral equivalency. I don’t think Benghazigate or all that is…
HH: I go there, Evan, so you should know, I do. I think there was 30,000 mails is a lot of emails.
ET: It could be. I don’t know enough, Hugh, to know about that. But I just, I don’t know enough to make that equivalent. But I studied, I did cover Mrs. Clinton in the 1990s. So I watched her in action, and she has a tendency to cover up and to be aggrieved about the press. And I’ve written this, in the long run, that’s trouble, because you can manipulate the press, and you can hate them, but you know, over the long run, that’s a bad idea, because they’re going to get you.
HH: I’ve never cared about the color of anyone’s skin. I’ve always cared about the thickness of it. And Nixon was pretty thick-skinned by the end, and I think Mrs. Clinton is. But that also makes you a little tin-eared, doesn’t it, to mix metaphors?
ET: Yeah, yeah. It can be. I just, I think this is, Mrs. Clinton has got a problem that’s going to keep coming back. She picks these fights, she does these little cover ups that may be big cover ups. We’ll see. But it has a way of circling back. As Richard Nixon discovered, these things have a way of circling back. In our society, in an open democratic society with a vigorous, aggressive press, these things don’t go away. They come back.
HH: Now let’s go back to the decision to keep the tapes. I also think at work here is he is now by far the most easily accessed president in the White House.
ET: He is.
HH: Neither before nor after him will ever anyone keep that much data. So when you sat down to write this, were you daunted?
ET: Sure, of course. I mean, both intrigued and excited, but also daunted, because there is so much. But you know, there are a lot of scholars that have come before me. Irv Gellman, I see his book sitting there on your…
HH: Yeah, he will be a guest soon.
ET: He’s read all the, he’s read everything, and he helped me. He’s a very generous, some scholars are generous. Irv Gellman is a generous scholar, and he helped me with this. Various other people who knew, Mel Small is an old Nixon scholar. He helped me. You know, people who really knew him, so I had some Sherpas, if you will.
HH: Well, you tracked down Hubert Perry, whom nobody knows about. And you got to talk to Hubert. I mean, that’s old school.
ET: That’s old school. Hubert Perry was, went to Whittier College with Richard Nixon.
HH: And he was an Orthogonian.
ET: Oh, yeah, he was. We sat in his living room. My wife and I sat in his living room here, and talked to him when we went to see him in Whittier. So you can still, it’s amazingly, there’s still some people around. Nixon hired young people, so a lot of them are still with us. Nixon was a great talent scout. He could spot talent. He discovered Roger Ailes, the guy who build the empire at Fox, was a pretty obscure TV producer when Nixon discovered him.
HH: John Andrews, who’s running the Centennial Institute, Ben Stein were junior speechwriters, Bruce Herschensohn, of course, murderer’s row of Safire, Price and Buchanan.
ET: I mean, it goes on. And not just that, but you know, young Scowcroft is in the White House. He discovers Rumsfeld. There are a lot of very smart people from the other party as well. I mean, we talked about Pat Moynihan, a Kennedy Democrat that Nixon brings in.
HH: Let’s talk about the two decisions which are, one is easy to understand, one I still don’t understand. Henry Cabot Lodge, and you just skate over this, because I don’t think there’s any rational explanation for selecting a Massachusetts Senator in 1960. Why did he do that?
ET: You know, I think he thought it was a geographic balance. And he, Nixon was slightly, even though he didn’t like the East Coast establishment, he was a little bit in awe of it. I don’t think he would have admitted that. But there was a little piece of him that was still a little bit deferential to somebody like Henry Cabot Lodge, who was considered to be a smoothie and a kind of a pillar of the establishment. And I think in those days, there were such things as moderate Republicans, particularly in the Northeast, and I think that Nixon believed that Lodge could deliver them. He couldn’t.
HH: You know, if he’d picked Lincoln Chafee, the first Lincoln Chafee, John Chafee.
ET: John Chafee, yeah.
HH: He’d had a Marine and he’d have had a New Englander, and he would have had a lot.
ET: Yeah, I agree. I knew John Chafee.
HH: Did you really?
ET: Yeah. He was a fantastic guy. I knew him quite well, because his son was a classmate of mine in college. And so I spent, I’ve stayed at the Chafees.
HH: Okay, well, John Chafee would have made a great president.
ET: He would.
HH: And not Spiro Agnew. And so the Agnew decision as part of his love of surprise, I get that.
HH: But you talk briefly about why he went with Jerry Ford, but too briefly in my opinion, because I would have liked to have had more of your thinking on that.
ET: Well, on Ford, that was the one guy who was going to get confirmed. Nixon’s own choice would have been John Connally.
ET: …who was this conservative Democrat from Texas that Nixon thought had a lot of charisma. Nixon had a, kind of envied people who were sort of manly and charismatic, things that he wasn’t really himself. So he loved Big John Connally, but Big John Connally could not get confirmed. He was considered to be a traitor by the Democrats, and the Republicans didn’t love him, either. So in order to find somebody who was confirmable, Jerry Ford, a man of the House, very popular, was somebody who was going to be popular and an easy fix. And I think also, Nixon wrongly believed that since Ford didn’t know that much about foreign policy, that people would not be so willing to impeach Richard Nixon, to get rid of Richard Nixon, because they wouldn’t want to have Jerry Ford, a relative innocent, inexperienced in foreign policy. Nixon miscalculated on that, because Ford was so popular that Congress was quite happy to have Jerry Ford.
HH: And he also, you say in the book he didn’t pick Rocky, and Richard Norton Smith recently wrote this book about Rockefeller, and now we’re studying the fact that Joe Biden can’t run because he’s too old. And Rockefeller did get confirmed subsequently. So did Nixon make a mistake in not putting in Rockefeller, who would have been anathema to a lot of the Republicans?
ET: I think Nixon felt that Rockefeller would be hard to control. Rocky was his own guy. He was going to do his own thing. I think Nixon, he made Nixon a little nervous.
HH: Is the political class today, including the President and those who want to be president, of the same level of the people that we’re talking about now?
ET: You know, that’s such an interesting question, because I don’t trust nostalgia. I am nostalgic for when, there were giants then who walked the land. I mean, I’m susceptible to that feeling, because growing up, I grew up in the 50s and 60s where we revered government service. And you know, Washington seemed like a place you wanted to go rather than a place you wanted to stay away from. So I have a kind of a sad view that people just aren’t that impressive, as impressive as they were. But as I said, I don’t trust that, because there’s a natural instinct for old guys like me to think that things were really great back when we were young. You know…
HH: On the other hand, I’ve got a map here of the leadership structure of the PRC, because I can’t keep it straight. And Xi Jinping, it’s hard for me to understand him as Deng Xiaoping, and you’re writing about Mao and Zhou Enlai and Nixon. That’s a different category of people, right?
ET: It is. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of greatness when you put those guys in a room. There’s a lot of greatness. There’s a lot of experience. They’re what, Nixon was a public servant who was drawn to service. He didn’t want to make money. You know, he didn’t want to be a lawyer. He wanted to serve his country. And he realized coming out of World War II, America had to be involved in the world. He was not an isolationist, even though he’s a Republican, not an isolationist. When he gets his own constituents back home, to involve America in the world, that was his cause.
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HH: Evan Thomas, one more question, and then we’ll go to the phones. They’re stacked up here, full board. Poker, Nixon in the South Pacific not only learned to swear from the Seabees, he made in modern dollars $80,000 grand?
ET: That’s a lot of money for a lieutenant out there playing poker. He was a good poker player. He knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and when to bluff.
HH: And his colleagues, you write, I did not know this, they thought of him as kind of a Mister Roberts.
ET: They did. People have forgotten who Mister Roberts was. He was a good leader who was selfless, looked after others, considerate of others, which Nixon, you don’t think about that in the Nixon stereotype. But people who worked for Nixon felt that he was considerate of their feelings. Nixon talked about bucking up the spirits of his troops. He was good at that.
HH: Nixon never, ever since I worked for him as a young man, never stopped being interested until he died in the path of my family and in my career, and he was that way with everybody.
HH: Let’s go to the phones. Let’s start in, let’s go East to West, Rockville, Massachusetts, Gary, you’re on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Go ahead, Gary, you’re on with Evan Thomas.
Gary: Thank you very much. Hey, I just have heard a historical account whereby Golda Meir had threatened to use nuclear weapons, and that was a key factor in why the President authorized all the shipments to go to Israel.
HH: Great question. Evan Thomas, what do you say?
ET: Yeah, I don’t know. The answer is I’ve heard something about that, but I don’t actually believe it, but I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.
HH: The one woman play, Golda’s Balcony, suggests that the Temple Weapons were aloft, but nobody knows. My account agrees with yours. Let’s go to Cleveland next. Todd, you’re on with Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon, linked at Hughhewitt.com.
Todd: Hugh Hewitt, Evan Thomas, let me make sure I have my facts right before I pose my question. Didn’t Richard Nixon have Quaker roots?
ET: He did. His mom was a good Quaker.
Todd: Okay, that’s my, then let me ask you this. To what degree did he identify with his Quaker roots as an adult? And did he find conflict with them at all as a president? Did he express…
ET: It’s a great question, because you know, we don’t associate Richard Nixon with Quakerism, with being peaceful. And peace at the center, this idea of Quakers have of finding peace at the center. Poor Nixon looked for peace at the center, but he never found it. He revered his mother. He thought she was a saint. She helped, she may have found peace at the center, but poor Nixon never did, and I think that was a loss for him.
HH: Thank you, Todd. Let me go, then, to Minneapolis and Jerry. You’re on with Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon, go ahead, Jerry.
Jerry: Great interview. This is why I listen to Hugh Hewitt. But I’m prejudiced. I’m a Duke Law graduate.
HH: There you go.
Jerry: Question for Evan. What would Nixon think of the Republican Party today and his candidates for president?
HH: Good question.
ET: Yeah, good question. You know, I think he’d be disappointed that the Republican Party today is not broad enough. Nixon won 35% of Democrats in 1972. He won in the largest landslide. He knew how to win Democrats. He knew how to peel them away from the Democratic Party. And I think that Nixon would say the Republican Party has got to do that. You know, you can’t win unless you do that.
HH: You know, you just reminded me. One of the reasons I loved Being Nixon is you tell the desegregation story. And I teach my Con Law students this. The South was still segregated when Nixon was elected president, and the schools were 90% desegregated when he resigned.
HH: And he used John Mitchell, and he used George Schultz. He used them all to bang the hammer on the heads of the Southern segregationists.
ET: All under the radar. I mean, Nixon’s rhetoric, again, Mitchell said watch what we do, not what we say. And even though Nixon used some pretty tough rhetoric, he was against busing and that kind of thing, he quietly got these Southern states, deep South states, nobody else had been able to do this, to desegregate their schools. He brought them into the Oval Office, and he said you’re standing in the Oval Office where tough decisions get made. Now you have to make your decision. And they all went along with him. It was a great act of leadership.
HH: You also brought in John Whittaker. John Whittaker was the President’s emissary to me to take the job to run the Nixon Library. John Whittaker was one of the enviros. And there’s a room at the Nixon Library about the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, which sent my kids to college, because I’m an endangered species lawyer. Nevertheless, I asked the President why did you sign this, and he said it seemed like a good idea at the time. He signed all of the environmental legislation.
ET: He did. Part of it’s expedient. You’ve got to think about the way Nixon thinks. Ed Muskie, Democrat, is thinking of running for president in 1972. Muskie is the big environmental guy. Nixon loved to outflank his enemies, confound his enemies, as he would put it. And so he became, he puts in EPA to get ahead of Muskie. He runs to the left of Muskie, if you will. He had mixed feelings about the environment, actually, and he was sympathetic to businesses.
HH: Jobs over smoke any day, right?
ET: Jobs over smoke every day. But you have to, you know, it was tricky. And instilled at a young age, like Whittaker, you mentioned, you know, we’re fairly ardent environmentalist, and Nixon gave them, as he often did, gave us young guys a lot of rope, a lot of room to maneuver, and they wrote some pretty, in retrospect, good environmental laws.
HH: You know where I might have disagreed with you most in the book, Evan Thomas, and that’s about what Nixon thought would happen after Vietnamization. My friend, Rich Botkin, has written a great book about Vietnam called Ride The Thunder. There’s a movie out now, Ride The Thunder. Nixon did not intend Vietnam to fall, even after a decent interval. He really thought we would bomb, we would continue to bomb the heck out of the communists.
ET: There’s a big, the cynics believe the decent interval theory, which was oh, you know, we just wanted to buy enough time so that we could not be blamed before Tho fell. I think the tapes show evidence of both. Nixon is a hard guy to follow, and you can find, and listen to those tapes, and you can hear Nixon being cynical, and especially with Kissinger talking about a decent interval. But you can also hear him saying we’re not going to let Tho fall. We’re going to bomb, you know, we’re going to do whatever it takes. There’s evidence for both sides. I don’t know. We’ll never know, because Nixon never, we are never going to find out, because Watergate happened, and he didn’t have the chance to do it.
HH: Never going to happen. We’ll go to Tony in Edmunds, Washington. You’re on with Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon. Hi, Tony.
Tony: Hi, guys. I was just curious how accurate the portrayal of Nixon-Frost was in that movie, both in the tone and the substance.
HH: I’ll let Evan, and then I’ll take a swing at that. Evan?
ET: Fun movie, but the best scene in it where Frost calls Nixon late at night? That never happened. The best scene in the movie is a fictional scene. But I thought Frank Langella as Nixon captured a lot of Nixon. I thought it was a poignant and quite moving movie.
HH: I joined the staff of President Nixon a month after the Nixon-Frost interviews broke up, and Frank Langella physically possesses him, but you’re absolutely right. That’s always, and I asked Ron Howard about that, and he said he needed it for, I interviewed him on the air, because I loved the movie except for the fact he made that up. And Nixon never drank much when I knew him. And it’s just, he didn’t get soused and call up, I mean, that was so obviously the case. Mike in Fairfax, Virginia, go ahead, Mike, you’re on with Being Nixon author Evan Thomas.
Mike: Hello. I just wanted to ask about the ’68 elections. Was there any truth to Johnson bugging Nixon’s airplane? And I wanted to know a little about Anna Chennault.
Mike: They accused him of using…
HH: Oh, that’s so covered in Being Nixon. Go ahead, Evan. We’ve got a minute left.
ET: The Dragon Lady. The Dragon Lady. I mean, it’s true that Johnson at the very end of the campaign wants to have a bombing halt and peace talks. And Nixon does have a secret emissary to the South Vietnamese, Anna Chennault, the Dragon Lady. Now, so Johnson thinks that Nixon’s committing treason, and says so to his aides. Now it’s a complicated story, because of this. It’s probably true that Tho would not have agreed to the peace talks anyway, whatever Nixon did. Tho was not going to go to Paris and cut a deal. So it really didn’t matter what Nixon did. But there’s, it is, you asked did the FBI bug Nixon’s airplane? No, they didn’t. But they did bug the South Vietnamese Embassy. And they bugged a few other things.
HH: All right, last question, one minute. Why should a 22 year old read this, or an 18 year old?
ET: It’s the most fascinating American history, but also, it’s the great American novel. You’re never going to find in all the fiction you read a character like Richard Nixon just for the sheer richness, awfulness, wonderfulness, ambition and tragedy.
HH: Evan Thomas, great talking with you. Thank you for coming. Being Nixon is linked at Hughhewitt.com. I can agree you will be just riveted, America, if you will allow yourself to walk through its pages.
End of interview.