The near simultaneous publication of historian Sean Wilentz book ?Age of Reagan?
and the publication of activist / reporter Rick Pearlstein?s ?Nixonland?
, previously praised on these pages, has caused a dust-up over who most personified and ultimately transformed the modern conservative age which played out on the New Republic website
. Although I am neither historian nor an unbiased reporter, I was a participant in the Nixon realignment which ultimately begat the Reagan revolution. To truly figure out which of these towering leaders gave birth to the modern conservative realignment of the last four decades, continuing with the 2000 election of George W. Bush, who used both the tactics of Nixon and the sunny optimism of Reagan repackaged as ?Compassionate Conservatism? to get elected,one must understand Nixon?s relationship with the American right. To do so, one must look first at his career as a failed moderate Republican up until 1964. In 1960 Conservatives, tired of the non-confrontational ?modern? Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower, hoped that Nixon would be more aggressive, particularly against communist encroachment in this hemisphere, as well as with Nikita Kruschev who Nixon had bested as Vice President in the famous Kitchen Debate in Moscow. Conservatives were disappointed when Nixon gave into demands from New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, to moderate the platform which Senator Barry Goldwater called ?the Munich of the Republican Party.? Nixon lost by an eyelash in an election in which Conservatives were not enthusiastic about his candidacy. In 1962 Nixon staged a comeback for Governor of California but denounced the John Birch Society and other extremists powerful within the California Republican Party during the campaign. Nixon?s Primary opponent,Joe Shell, a right-wing oilman from Orange County, got 25% of the vote. California conservative money to Nixon for the General Election was non-existent and Nixon had to count on old East Coast friends such as Robert Abplanalp, DeWitt and Lila Wallace of Readers Digest, Donald M. Kendall of Pepsi Cola, Mrs. Helen Clay Frick and insurance magnate W. Clement Stone to finance his underfunded campaign. In 1964, despite what he has written, Nixon toyed constantly with the idea of being a compromise nominee between the Goldwater and Rockefeller forces, then fighting for control of the Party. Nixon secretly funded write-in efforts in New Hampshire, Nebraska and Oregon where he racked up significant votes for a candidate who wasn?t on the ballot. Simultaneously, Nixon urged Pennsylvanian Governor William Scranton to enter the race and maneuvered former President Eisenhower into quietly urging Scranton to run in order to block Goldwater?s nomination. The change in Richard Nixon comes with Goldwater?s sweeping nomination and what Nixon then understands can be salvaged, even nurtured,in the ashes of Barry?s defeat. ?You can?t win without the right, and you can?t win with just the right,? Nixon told me over a martini in his Saddle River, New Jersey home. The ?new? Nixon recognized that the politics of resentment and polarization, which was the key to attracting the votes of middle class Democrats and Independents, must have an unassailable anchor on the right. Nixon moved quickly to nail down early support from Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, Jr., Senator John Tower and, most importantly, Strom Thurmond. This early conservative support would allow Nixon to fend off a late challenge by Reagan at the 1968 Republican National Convention. Reagan was ultimately elected and reelected Governor by gaining the votes of thousands of Democrats and Independents who were later called ?Reagan Democrats.? These are precisely the middle class voters who reject liberal elitism and the candidates that it offers. The Reagan Democrats who elected Reagan in 1966 and started him on his path to the White House, were the same Democrats who helped carry the State narrowly for Nixonin 1960 and voted in large numbers for Nixon for Governor in 1962. They were ?Nixon Democrats? longbefore they were ?Reagan Democrats,? thus giving life to Reagan?s political career. It is also interesting how many of the people around Nixon go on to play significant roles in the election and reelection of Reagan, including John Sears, Dr. Martin Anderson, Casper Weinberger, Jeff Bell, Lyn Nofziger, Nick Ruwe, Dr. Richard V. Allen, and William Casey. Additionally, the funders of Reagan?s early career, oilman A. C. Rubel, auto dealer Holmes Tuttle, Henry Salvatori, amusement park magnate Walter Knott and Earle Jorgensen, were all big check writers to Nixon before they funded the former actor?s career. There is little doubt Nixon was a centrist with many conservative tendencies. Conservatives forget today that cutting and running in Viet Nam would have been the easiest and most popular course given the American media?s near universal opposition to the war. Nixon refused to abandon South Viet Nam to the Communists. He risked Johnson?s war becoming Nixon?s war in order to continue to bomb and fight the war over the howling objections from the liberal left. Nixon also struggled to put Conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court including Warren Burger who replaced left-wing Nixon nemesis Earl Warren on the Court and the well qualified Clement Haynsworth as well as the hapless fool G. Harold Carswell. A review of the ranks of Federal Judges selected between 1969 and 1974 will show that Attorney General John Mitchell selected conservative strict-constructionist for the Federal bench. There is additional evidence that the Nixon Administration would have swung to the right if the second term hadn?t been interrupted by Watergate. White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman had already dispatched conservative activists Howard Phillips to the office of Economic Opportunity to dismantle its Legal Services programs which were funding anti-Administration activity on the far left. Reagan was a true believing conservative who approached both Foreign and Domestic Policy with a far more conservative approach, notably scrapping detent� and driving the Soviet Union into the poorhouse and collapse with a rapid arms buildup. Nixon and Reagan had a personal rapport going back to 1950 when Reagan was a member of ?Democrats for Nixon? in the Senate race against Helen Gahagan Douglas. Reagan actually delayed becoming a Republican because Nixon thought his endorsement would be more valuable as a Democrat. Reagan was a staunch defender and bitter ender when Nixon got embroiled in the Watergate scandal and was forced to resign. In the White House years, President Reagan was in constant touch with President Nixon almost always having Nancy Reagan on the bedroom extension so they all could talk and she could listen to the conversations. I hand delivered hand written letters and memos to the Reagan White House from President Nixon to President Reagan with political advice. Nixon always wanted to make sure that I got copies into the hands of Nancy Reagan, Jim Baker, Mike Beaver, Lyn Nofziger, and Margret Tutweiler. Reagan consulted Nixon extensively by phone after turning in a weak performance in the first Presidential debate with Walter Mondale. White House Chief of Staff, Jim Baker, took Nixon?s advice and a concerted effort was made to down-play expectations for the next debate. Needless to say, Reagan knocked it out of the park cementing his reelection in 1984. However, when it came to forging the coalition of Southern Whites, Northern and Mid-western Blue-collar Catholics and Western Conservatives, Nixon blazed the trail that Reagan followed. Nixon, in essence, cultivated the ground and planted the seeds from which Reaganism would grow. No Nixon, No Reagan. No Reagan, No Reagan Revolution, which is why our politics today is Nixonland.