Trump-Nixon letters spotlight distinctive relationship | US & Canada
There were two men in Manhattan who longed for the same thing: confirmation. One was a bold young real estate developer who wanted to make his mark on New York; the other was a shamed elderly statesman who wanted to repair his reputation.
In this way, a 30-year-old Donald Trump and a 70-year-old Richard Nixon carried on decades of correspondence in the 1980s that snaked from football and real estate to Vietnam and media strategy.
The letters between past and future presidents, unveiled for the first time in an exhibition opening Thursday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, show the two men engaging in some kind of mutual affirmation exercise.
The museum exclusively shared the letters with The Associated Press prior to the exhibition opening.
“I think you are one of the great men in this country and it was an honor to spend an evening with you,” wrote Trump to Nixon in June 1982, less than eight years after Nixon stepped down during the Watergate scandal . The two had been seen together at the 21 nightclub, and Trump wrote to Nixon thanking him for forwarding a photo.
Next fall, Nixon interferes.
“Let me be so presumptuous that I offer a little free advice (which, by the way, is exactly worth what it costs!),” Nixon writes to Trump. Nixon, who played soccer in college and never lost his love of the game, then sparked detailed thoughts on how Trump was going to deal with the New Jersey Generals soccer team that he had recently bought and that would fit in until 1986. (Nixon contained many shoutouts for the game of underrated lineman, his old position.)
For his part, Trump is intrepid about one of his goals for the relationship: “One of my great ambitions is to have the Nixons as residents in Trump Tower,” he wrote in October.
But after the Nixons toured Trump’s flagship development on Fifth Avenue, the ex-president wrote that his wife was “as impressed as I am, but at the time believes she shouldn’t go through the ordeal of moving.” She suffered a minor stroke in August.
So it went, the chatter of “Dear Donald” and “Dear Mr. President”.
Trump, who gave the exchanges his usual self-congratulatory stamp, said shortly after the 2016 election that he didn’t know Nixon, “but he would write me letters. It was very interesting. He always wanted me to run for office. “
What motivated the correspondence between a young man looking for a bright future and an ex-president with a dark past?
Nixon expert Luke Nichter, a professor at Texas A&M-Central Texas, says the two men “saw something similar in each other – that tenacity, that courage, even to get beaten up and come back.”
At Trump’s age at the time, Nichter says, “I can’t imagine befriending an ex-president … Somehow I think they both made it and I think they both had a need for each other.”
Her letters didn’t have to travel far as they crossed Manhattan: Trump wrote from his office in Trump Tower; Nixon from his in Federal Plaza, about four miles away.
The two men bonded on topics that are resonating today: a shared distrust of the media, the desire to maximize TV ratings, the idea of using people as “props”, and much more.
Nixon writes about the generals’ broadcast potential and says to Trump: “The people in the stands, apart from what they pay for their tickets, are indispensable props for the television show, in which the real money will be in the future.”
It was a powerful lesson from a past president to a future president who would shamelessly inflate his mogul reputation in 14 seasons on The Apprentice and later turn his presidency into its own reality show.
“Two Authoritarian Personalities”
Whatever linked the two men as friends, their letters serve as a kind of inkblot test for readers.
John Dean, familiar with Nixon’s personality after serving as a White House attorney during the Watergate years, sees his senior boss and Trump pick up on “each other’s personality waves” in their letters.
“These are two authoritarian personalities who would have a natural affinity for one another,” said Dean, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal and is a sharp critic of Trump.
Republican and former US spokesman Newt Gingrich, who is familiar with both men, says Trump may have learned a bit of foreign policy by listening to Nixon, but he suspects the young developer also got the idea of knowing a historical figure , just liked.
“It was more of a personal affirmation for Trump that he was becoming someone, that a Nixon would pay him attention,” Gingrich said.
Jim Byron, executive vice president of the Richard Nixon Foundation, said the letters had been in library archives over two years of research, which contained 46 million pages of material, 300,000 photographs and 6,000 feet of film.
They’re the centerpiece of an exhibit – The Presidents Club: From Adams and Jefferson to Nixon and Trump – that also includes correspondence between five other presidential groups.
The last letter in the Trump-Nixon series was dated January 26, 1993. Shortly after his 80th birthday, Trump wrote to Nixon thanking him for a birthday photo and saying, “You are a great man and I had and always will have the greatest respect and admiration for yourself. I am proud to know you “Nixon died in April 1994; Trump did not attend the funeral.
‘He went. I do not go ‘
As for Trump’s public thoughts on Nixon, he’s been blowing hot and cold over the years.
During his 2016 campaign, he reiterated some of Nixon’s dark themes and is currently adjusting Nixon’s “silent majority” strategy for his own re-election campaign. Ahead of the GOP Congress in 2016, Trump beamed about Nixon’s tough rhetoric and tactics.
However, during his own impeachment saga last year, Trump made a difference between himself and Nixon, who stepped down instead of being charged.
“He left. I don’t go. A big difference,” said Trump.
The White House declined to comment on Trump’s newly released letters.
Byron calls the letters “an invaluable contribution to the evolving group we know as the presidential club.”
And with Trump’s reluctance to seek advice from his predecessors, Byron said the letters offer “perhaps the best-documented relationship our current president has with any of his predecessors.”
What the American people should take away from the back and forth, Byron doesn’t bite: “We leave that to historians, academics, and the social media masses – and I’m sure there will be something or two to say. “