President Trump is known to have a soft spot for people who compliment him, and Richard Nixon is no exception.
Long before he occupied the Oval Office, Trump was a bigger-than-life real estate developer yearning for broader cultural and political acceptance. And in Nixon, he got it.
It was the mid-80s, and few people were eagerly keen on being closely associated (at least publicly) with the disgraced ex-president. Trump didn’t seem to share those fears. In September 1983, someone happened to leak to the the press that Nixon and his wife were moving in to Trump’s “posh” Tower in Manhattan.
According to Roger Stone, the longtime dirty trickster who served as an adviser to both Nixon and Trump, Nixon and Trump first physically met “in George Steinbrenner's box at Yankee Stadium.” The first thing Trump said to Nixon, Stone recalled in an email sent The Daily Beast, “was what a rat John Dean [was], which, of course was a big hit with [Nixon].” Dean, Nixon’s former White House Counsel, had famously testified to the extent of the Watergate scandal.
Sometime around then, Trump wrote a letter to Nixon after he (Trump) made an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show. The contents of that letter were never released. But Trump made sure to publish what Nixon sent in response.
“I did not see the the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me that you were great,” Nixon’s letter to Trump read. “As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!”
Stone would later claim that Nixon was attributing his own thoughts on Trump to his wife. Maybe so. Either way, the ego-stroke did the trick. Trump appeared won over by the Nixon family’s keen eye for political talent (mainly, his). He would accompany Nixon down to a Juvenile Diabetes gala in Houston, March 1989. There, the two would be pictured alongside former Texas Governor John Connally, who had once headed the group “Democrats for Nixon” before switching parties.
After that picture, Trump and Nixon spoke privately for hours. About what, Stone doesn’t say in his book “The Making of the President.” All that’s written is that it was “an important and pivotal moment. Nixon came out of his self-imposed exile and Trump absorbed as much as he could from the former president.” Trump invited Nixon back to New York on his private jet.
A year later, in his book Surviving at The Top, Trump would write about that flight; about how Barbara Walters (a passenger on the plane too) had spent the entire time trying to convince Nixon to do an interview; how he casually ignored her; how “only later” they would realize that “Nixon considered ABC to be one of his worst attackers over the years” and “was especially put off by the fact that Barbara's network was then planning to broadcast the miniseries The Final Days, a not-very-flattering look at the end of his presidency.”
“Once I knew that,” Trump wrote, “I realized that he had handled the matter in true Nixonian fashion. Rather than hemming and hawing, or even saying no, he had gone a step further and had refused even to acknowledge the request.
“I've seen some real killers in my line of work, but Richard Nixon makes them look like babies. The man is a rock, like him or not, and when you think of how far he has come back and the things he has endured, he's even more amazing.”
The admiration has continued to present day. Trump seems perfectly comfortable with the parallels being made between the paranoia and corruption of Nixon’s presidency and the conduct of his own. In some cases, he’s inviting the comparisons. This past week, Trump took to Twitter to scold Nixon’s bete noire.
Dean told The Daily Beast that he had “never met Trump” and “never had indirect dealings with him.”
“I think his feelings toward me are based on his admiration of Richard Nixon, who appears to be one of his role models!” Dean added.
With reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng