In The Nixon Effect, Democratic strategist Doug Schoen makes a compelling case that Richard Nixon’s presidency was more consequential than that of any president in the 20th century this side of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
I recently spoke with Schoen about Nixon’s continued impact on our politics and on the fascinating parallels between Nixon and presumptive 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—two men with entirely different personalities and public personas, but surprisingly similar political and tactical inclinations.
Consider these areas where Nixon’s presidency served as a template for Trump’s rise:
• Like Nixon, Trump’s campaign is explicitly directed towards a “Silent Majority”—namely blue collar and middle class Americans who disdain leftist social radicalism, disorder and lawlessness on the streets. Further, Trump portrays himself as anti-elitist, as Nixon did.
• Like Nixon, Trump strategically tacks further to the left of Democrats on some key issues (trade, foreign policy) and further to the right of Republicans on others (immigration).
• While Trump talks a hard line, he has described all of his policies as “negotiable,” and many of his policies are in fact far less extreme than publicly portrayed (see “touchback amnesty.”) Schoen asserts that Nixon employed “conservative” rhetoric while governing as a moderate.
• Trump surrounds himself with former Nixon advisors like Roger Stone (who has Nixon’s portrait tattooed on his back) and Nixon acolytes like former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
• Nixon was famous for his “dirty tricks.” Trump has succeeded in “driving the negatives” of his political enemies and has gone so far as to threaten to shut down the voices of dissent.
Yet perhaps the most surprising revelation from my conversation with Schoen concerned Nixon’s own prognostication of Trump’s political future:
In 1987, Richard Nixon wrote a letter to Donald Trump saying, “Dear Donald, the political expert in the household, Pat, happened to catch you on Phil Donahue, and believes that you are a natural, and will win any election you will run in.”
So from the grave, Richard Nixon has arguably and potentially presciently predicted the result of the 2016 presidential election.
You can view the letter to which Schoen is referring below (Source: New York Times):