After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon
By Kasey S. Pipes
Regnery History; hardcover; $29.99
Richard Nixon became the first and only American president to resign from office, which he did on August 9, 1974, to avoid nearly certain impeachment.
As remarkable as his fall was, in the decade that followed, his eventual rise into a senior statesman, as Kasey S. Pipes documents in After the Fall.
Nixon became a trusted advisor to presidents, dispensing wisdom on campaign strategy and foreign policy, shaping the course of United States-Soviet summit meetings, and representing the U.S. at state funerals.
Pipes, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, was granted unprecedented access by the Nixon family to the private post-presidential documents at the Nixon Library. He reveals inside information that has never been reported about Nixon’s successful campaign to repair his reputation and resuscitate his career, including, the true story behind the supposed medical “hoax” to get Nixon out of testifying at the Watergate trials of his aides; the strategy behind Nixon’s apparently accidental on-air “confession” of the Watergte coverup to interviewer David Frost; how Nixon came up with the idea for the Saturday morning presidential radio address; and Nixon’s surprising friendship with Bill Clinton.
Pipes writes of Nixon’s actions during the Reagan administration and their dealings with the Soviets, “On April 26, 1987, Nixon shocked Washington and dominated the news when the seventeen-hundred-word essay he co-authored with Henry Kissinger questioning Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviets appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
“‘Every president has an understandable desire to assure his place in history as a peacemaker,’ the two men wrote. ‘But he must always remember that, however he may be hailed in today’s headlines, the judgment of tomorrow’s history would severely condemn a false peace. Because we are deeply concerned about this danger, we who have attended several summits and engaged in many negotiations with Soviet leaders are speaking out jointly for the first time since both of us left office.’
“Nixon and Kissinger urged the Reagan administration to alter its course in the ongoing talks with the Soviets. They wanted any potential removal of intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe to be directly connected to reductions in the Soviets’ overwhelming advantage in conventional forces.
“‘If we strike the wrong kind of deal,’ Nixon and Kissinger wrote, ‘we could create the most profound crisis of the NATO alliance in its 40-year history – an alliance sustained by seven administrations of both parties.’
“If Nixon and Kissinger were hoping the column would become the topic of conversation in Washington, they must have been happy. Everyone was talking about it…
“At the White House, talk turned to what should be done. (Bud) McFarlane had resigned and the new national security advisor, Frank Carlucci, suggested that Reagan meet with Nixon to air out their differences and see if they couldn’t get back on the same page – and the sooner the better. Reagan agreed. He had little use for Kissinger (he had openly mocked Kissinger’s foreign policy during the 1976 Repulican presidential primaries). So he had no interest in meeting with Nixon’s co-author. But he still admired and respected the former president. The White House reached out to Nixon’s office and a date was set. Nixon would meet with Reagan on April 27 at the White House.
“Nixon arrived at the White House North Lawn entrance on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh and was taken by elevator up to the residential quarters. It must have brought back a flood of memories for the former president – it marked his first visit to his former living quarters since he had resigned from office thirteen years before.
“Upon arriving upstairs, he was greeted by (National Security Advisor Frank) Carlucci and Chief of Staff Howard Baker. They took him inside the room where Reagan was waiting, dressed in a light brown suit. The two men shook hands and then sat down in two upholstered club chairs separated by an ottoman. Nixon, dressed in his usual blue suit, tried to break the tension with some humor. ‘I assume the place isn’t taped,’ he joked. Mild laughter greeted the remark. Nixon could tell the president’s mood was not good. ‘I think I sensed a certain coolness on his part,’ he would say later. And he certainly could not have been surprised.
“But the former president was not cowed by Reagan’s ‘coolness’ toward him. Nixon’s post-presidential career as an elder statesman offering his expertise on foreign policy to current presidents had been leading up to this moment for years…
“Nixon used the meeting to press his case with Reagan. Why was the president so willing to eliminate ballistic missiles and leave the Soviets with advantage in conventional weapons? Reagan tried to reassure Nixon that when U.S. conventional forces were combined with the conventional forces of Western Europe, the Soviets were outnumbered. Reagan was unimpressed.
“Nixon knew that to convince Reagan to rethink his position he would have to challenge the staff whose advice had helped Reagan form his position. And so he turned his aim on (George) Shultz. ‘I did get in one shot at Shultz, which I thought was quite effective,’ he would write. ‘I introduced it by saying I didn’t want anyone to get the idea that I had anything against him [Shultz]. I said he had been a great secretary of the treasury, a great secretary of labor, and a great director of OMB [the Office of Management and Budget], and that he did an outstanding job with [AFL-CIO chairman George] Meany for a period. But I said that negotiating with Meany was much different from negotiating with Gorbachev.’
“That shot may have seemed effective to Nixon, but it did little to change Reagan’s mind. As the meeting ended, Reagan made little effort to hide his displeasure at the impasse between the two men. ‘I don’t know whether Nancy was in the residence at the time,’ Nixon later observed, ‘but if she was, he did not suggest that she come in and say hello. My guess is that she is probably as teed off as Shultz is.’
“As Nixon returned home to Saddle River, he sensed that his relationship with Reagan had changes and would not be the same again. It had always been a complicated relationship, but in the first several years of the Reagan administration, Nixon had genuinely tried to help Reagan – while of course trying to help himself, as well. He had encouraged the president and given advice and counsel on the Soviet Union. But now the two men were clearly traveling down different paths. Reagan, sensing that Gorbachev represented a different kind of Soviet leader, believed the time had come to make major concessions. Nixon, still very much a Cold Warrior, doubted that Gorbachev was all that different in his ambitions from Brezhnev or even Krushchev.”
After the Fall is an incredibly-detailed work on one of the most complex figures in American political history, and it will leave you with a different perspective on the life of the 37th President.