Skip to content

Donald Trump Is Not Like Richard Nixon–Or Vice Versa

March 15, 2016

Historian Douglas Brinkley told Yahoo News this week that Donald Trump is a lot like Richard Nixon.

To make the point Brinley remarked, “We keep thinking Reagan is the big conservative figure of our era, but Nixon was dominant in the Republican party. I see Trump learning all the tricks from Nixon — enemy lists, keeping track of who slights you, an immediate nuke-’em attitude.”


Before I go forward I want to be on record as saying my appreciation for Brinkley is deep and sincere.   But……

If every politician who kept a list in either writing or a mental one tucked away for future reference of those who had made a slight or worse had learned it from Nixon it would make the former president truly bi-partisan.  The news coverage recently about former First Lady Nancy Reagan showed time and again that if anyone crossed ‘her Ronnie’ there was going to be a price to pay.  Even Lary Swoboda, the Wisconsin Democratic legislator I worked with, remembered those he never forgave for their slights.   (It should be noted that he also was a Nixon history buff.)

When Brinkley equates somehow that Nixon and Trump share a “nuke-’em attitude” it makes me wonder exactly what he means.

If he refers to some use of language for partisan gain there is no way to place Nixon in the Trump mold.  While Nixon understood there was a need to play politics in a tough fashion and did so with amazing success it also needs to be pointed out that he never made statements that had the potential of doing damage to the nation or the larger interests of our international affairs.

Nixon fully understood that word usage mattered and his insightful knowledge of foreign affairs along with his deep reading of books about world leaders underscored his appreciation for how things sounded when coming from elected officials.    It is worth mentioning that when Nixon wrote his books he would sit and read aloud his text and listen as the recording played back so he could differentiate the tone between the written and verbal.   From there he would work to craft a more precise final product.

The White House tapes are loaded with examples of anger and bombast but they were not meant to be made public.  Much of the more base talk was Nixon blowing off of steam.  We know Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done the same in the Oval Office.    There is nothing wrong with that–even when it can be irksome and unsettling to hear the choice of words.

The degree of anger and vitriol that Trump uses everyday is the worst example that can be referenced when talking about presidential campaigns.   To anyway suggest a similarity with Nixon is not accurate.

Finally, Nixon was one of the deepest thinkers to have ever sat in the Oval Office.  He was most capable of examining in detail the complexities of the world and then able to formulate long-term plans that met the needs of America and desires of a chaotic international arena.  Trump has no more to offer than trite and spiteful comments.

Open relations with China and détente with the USSR are more than Trump can even repeat in a debate let alone hope to emulate.

Donald Trump can only hope to have the mind of Richard Nixon.

One Comment
  1. August 7, 2016 11:54 AM

    Great article. You are on the money to say that Trump is no Richard Nixon. The American people get it wrong from time to time. I’m including a post from my blog where I think we aren’t seeing the Oz effect of Mr. Trump.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: