President Richard Nixon didn’t think much of fellow Californian and Republican icon Ronald Reagan, calling him “strange” and not “pleasant to be around,” newly released White House tapes show.
Talking politics with White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman at Camp David in August 1972, Nixon switched the conversation to two Republican governors, Reagan of California and Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Both men unsuccessfully sought the 1968 Republican presidential nomination that Nixon received.
“Reagan is not one that wears well,” Nixon said.
“I know,” Haldeman agreed.
“On a personal basis, Rockefeller is a pretty nice guy,” Nixon said. “Reagan on a personal basis, is terrible. He just isn’t pleasant to be around.”
“No, he isn’t,” Haldeman said.
“Maybe he’s different with others,” Nixon said.
“No,” Haldeman said.
“No, he’s just an uncomfortable man to be around,” Nixon said, “strange.”
Nixon historian Stanley Kutler said it was odd to hear Nixon speaking disparagingly about someone else’s personality.
“The irony will not be lost on people,” said Kutler, author of two books on Nixon and an emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin. “The apparent thing is, Reagan is the affable one. Nixon was anything but affable. He was surly, vindictive, suspicious.”
240 hours of tapes released
The conversations are part of the 240 hours of White House tape recordings from the Nixon administration released Wednesday by the National Archives. Covering July through October 1972, the tapes are the 10th batch of Nixon recordings, totaling 2,109 hours, that the Archives has released since 1980.
In all, there are about 3,700 hours of Nixon White House tapes.
Nixon installed a secret taping system in the White House. Some of those tapes later showed a White House cover-up in connection with the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building.
The release of those tapes, which Nixon fought all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually led to his resignation in 1974 rather than face almost-certain impeachment and conviction.
The popular Reagan later served two terms as president. But like Nixon, Reagan had a scandal of his own, involving trading arms to Iran for hostages and illegally aiding anti-government forces in Nicaragua.
In 1980, Nixon told Parade magazine that he had several good talks with Reagan. “I think he values my foreign policy advice,” the magazine quoted Nixon as saying. “I will be available for any assistance or advice.”
Reagan had corresponded with Nixon for years. When Reagan was elected president, he sought Nixon’s advice.
The disgraced former president offered some suggestions for Cabinet posts and a strategy for Reagan’s first few months in office, urging him not to travel abroad for the first six months of his administration so he could concentrate on the economy rather than foreign policy. Nixon also pushed for his former chief of staff, Gen. Alexander Haig Jr., as Reagan’s secretary of state.
Later, Nixon said Reagan’s economic policies were unduly harsh and cautioned against giving him too much credit for winning the Cold War. “Communism would have collapsed anyway,” he told Monica Crowley, a Nixon aide in his last years, according to her 1996 book, “Nixon Off the Record.”
Some of the most striking comments on the tapes are from domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman, who says Washington blacks should be encouraged to resettle in other communities.
“There’s no sense of family structure,” he said. “They sleep around and all that kind of thing. That’s the problem for the decade, as I see it. We have to break up that concentration, get those people out into society somehow.
“I’m about at the point where I think they ought to be all stuck in box cars and sent out around, one family to each town,” he said.
Both comments came after Ehrlichman and Nixon talked about a neighborhood cleanup program in the nation’s capital that had gotten significant publicity. Ehrlichman said the neighborhoods were just as dirty six months later, which he blamed on the residents, most of them black, who lived in the city. “They live like pigs,” he said.
Nixon let most of Ehrlichman’s comments go by without commenting. At one point, he spoke about “forced integration of housing,” but the context is unclear because the rest of the sentence is unintelligible.
Also on the tapes, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said they wanted to get some sort of peace agreement with the North Vietnamese before Election Day 1972.
“The advantage of trying to settle now, even if you’re 10 points ahead [in the polls], is you ensure a hell of a landslide, and you might win the House and increase strength in the Senate,” Nixon told Kissinger in September 1972.
“The question is, ‘How can we maneuver it so it can look like a settlement by Election Day but the process is still open?’” Kissinger said. “This could finish the destruction of McGovern.”
Kissinger announced that “peace is at hand” in October, but an agreement was not signed until the following January, after another U.S.-led bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
The National Archives has released 10 batches of Nixon recordings totaling 2,109 hours since 1980. In all, there are about 3,700 hours of Nixon White House tapes.