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Trump’s Lessons From Nixon Missed One Important Thing

Patrick J. Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter, recalled how divergent views of the events — one in the media that sympathized with the protesters; another in the heartland that supported efforts to quell the unrest — helped elect Nixon. “The press was all in on a ‘police riot,’ while Middle America supported the Chicago cops, as I urged Nixon to do,” Mr. Buchanan said. Nixon then campaigned in the streets of Chicago to underscore his tough stance.

But there was more to him than that. Although Nixon said and did horrible things in private — speaking disparagingly of members of minority groups, never mind orchestrating a criminal conspiracy to win re-election — he “believed that the presidency was a dignified office and there were things he did not want to be publicly associated with,” Professor Naftali said.

In contrast, he added, “Donald Trump doesn’t believe in the concept of being on your best behavior” and seems to believe that the office is an extension of himself. “Nixon tied himself in knots to do things secretly. Trump just does them in the open,” Professor Naftali said.

The two men met a handful of times. According to their mutual friend, Roger Stone, Nixon was immediately impressed. After Mr. Trump appeared on the “Phil Donahue Show” in the 1980s, the former president wrote Mr. Trump saying that his wife, Pat, was especially blown away. “She predicts whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!” Mr. Stone recalled in his book “The Making of the President 2016.”

As traumatic as Watergate and Nixon’s disgrace and resignation proved to be for America — and as ugly as Nixon’s programs to infiltrate and engage in surveillance against his enemies were — historians credit him for his understanding of governance and his many accomplishments in office. These include the opening of China, the signing of the first SALT arms-limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the signing into law of the Endangered Species Act.

“With Trump you get all the dark side of Nixon and none of the good,” said John A. Farrell, author of the 2017 biography “Richard Nixon: The Life.” “There’s not one record of accomplishment to take to the voters — no foreign policy triumph or domestic accomplishment.”

This makes re-election trickier as Mr. Trump faces multiple crises and can no longer point to the brightest spot of his presidency: the once-strong economy.

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