Podcast: Lori Cox Han on Pat Buchanan as Advisor to President Nixon
Pat Buchanan with presidential candidate Richard Nixon in September 1968. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library).
Lori Cox Han is author of “Advising Nixon: The White House Memos of Patrick J. Buchanan.”
Patrick J. Buchanan ran for president three times — in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Some say his influence can still be felt in the modern political landscape.
He worked in the Reagan administration as director of communications, but got his start under Richard Nixon first as an aide in the 1968 presidential campaign, and then as an advisor and speech writer to President Nixon.
In her new book due out this October, “Advising Nixon: The White House Memos of Patrick J. Buchanan” Chapman University professor of political science and presidential expert Lori Cox Han judiciously selects and examines significant memos written by Buchanan that have impacted the Nixon Presidency.
On this edition of the Nixon Now Podcast, Dr. Lori Cox Han joins us in studio.
Jonathan Movroydis: You’re listening to “The Nixon Now Podcast.” I’m Jonathan Movroydis. This is brought to you by the Nixon Foundation. We’re broadcasting from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You can follow us on Twitter @nixonfoundation or at nixonfoundation.org.
Patrick J. Buchanan ran for president three times in 1992, 1996, and the year 2000. Some say his influence can still be felt in the modern political landscape. He worked in the Reagan administration as director of communications, but got his start under Richard Nixon first as a campaign aide in 1968, and then as an advisor and speech writer to President Nixon.
In her new book due out this October, “Advising Nixon: The White House Memos of Patrick J. Buchanan,” Chapman University professor of political science and presidential expert Lori Cox Han, judiciously selects significant memos that have impacted the Nixon Presidency. She is with us in studio today. Dr. Lori Cox Han. Welcome.
Lori Cox Han: Thanks, Jonathan.
Jonathan Movroydis: Just to start off, could you tell us a little bit about the Genesis of advising Nixon?
Lori Cox Han: Sure. This book has been something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve done a lot of research at presidential libraries. I’ve actually conducted research at all 13 of the NARA presidential libraries. But one of the earliest archives that I had the chance to work in were the Nixon archives back when they were in College Park, Maryland before they moved to Yorba Linda.
And I was studying White House communications strategy, so obviously wanted to take a look at some of the Buchanan files. And when I did just reading through the memos they were just so fascinating. And throughout the years of all of the research that I’ve done at all of the presidential libraries, there really wasn’t anything that matched just how interesting Buchanan’s memos were.
He writes in a very candid, very direct way, just like he speaks, just like he writes op-eds. And so I always thought it would be really interesting to put together a compilation of some of his most interesting memos to really show the influence that he had in the Nixon administration in terms of their, you know, political strategies, communication strategies, just how essential his view was to the Nixon White House.
Jonathan Movroydis: Pat Buchanan always talks about coming on the Nixon campaign as a reporter, beginning as a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and then Nixon brings him on to mainly handle his correspondence. How does he become so influential? How does he become this memo writer that gets the president’s or the candidate’s attention?
Lori Cox Han: I think because he was working so closely with Nixon leading up to the 1968 campaign, I mean, he was traveling with him in 1966 when Nixon was out campaigning for so many Republicans. And I think that his experience as a journalist and just his insight in politics and also his connection to prominent conservatives at the time, I think seemed important to Nixon because, you know, Nixon was much more pragmatic. He certainly was not a conservative the way we would define it now or even the way it was defined then. And so I think Buchanan became that essential link to another part of the Republican Party at a time when Nixon was really trying to bring the party together and create this great majority.
Jonathan Movroydis: Did Buchanan cooperate with you on this book?
Lori Cox Han: Yes, he did. I was in touch with him a few years ago just to let him know I was doing this. And we actually traded emails, had a phone call or two, and I was able to provide him a handful of memos that he did not have when he was finishing his book. And he was always gracious with me in answering any questions I had about the memo writing process and just his role in the White House and just all of the strategy that was involved in everything that was going on.
Jonathan Movroydis: Why is Pat Buchanan important to Richard…why is understanding Pat Buchanan important to understanding Richard Nixon?
Lori Cox Han: I think that his views and his connection to the conservative movement at the time and his more populous views, they were really on the Vanguard as far as where we’re at right now. I mean, if you look at the rhetoric and some of the policy issues that are coming out of the Trump administration that started to emerge in the Trump campaign, you can see a connection that dates back to some of the, you know, conservative thought processes that were going on in the Nixon administration very early on.
And I think one of the most interesting parts of the memos as I went through them that Pat wrote were the ones where he’s talking to Nixon about, you know, this is what’s going on with the conservative wing of the party. This is where you’re losing them. This is where you still have support. And I think that some of the groundwork then there is being laid for how it plays out, moving the Republican Party further to the right with Reagan, with the election of a real conservative and then how it continues to evolve through the 1990s and really how it gets us to the point of Donald Trump in 2016.
Jonathan Movroydis: What does populism mean? Conservative populism mean for Pat Buchanan in the mid-1960s.
Lori Cox Han: I would hate to put words in his mouth because he’s so good at, you know, articulating his own view. But it seemed that he had a very pragmatic view of race relations in this country for one, and identity politics. And, you know, I know that a lot of people consider him very controversial. But in the memos that I was reading, and maybe it’s my training as a political scientist that he’s analyzing voting data in a way that at least to someone who’s trained like I am made sense for how to understand the electorate and how to put together a much larger majority than really any Republican had had in a very long time and just understanding the changing demographics in this country. And that was really I think my biggest takeaway from it.
Jonathan Movroydis: Talking about that a little bit, Buchanan says his memo of October 8th, 1969 triggered what is known as the decisive silent majority speech, could you touch upon that a little bit?
Lori Cox Han: Yeah. I mean that really is, and into my contact with him, you know, he reiterated that to me is how important that was. I mean, that really does shape a lot of Nixon’s strategy. It wasn’t just about certain policies at the time after 1968 which was such a close election. Their goal really was to create that great majority and make sure that the Republican Party would have a majority for decades moving forward similarly to what FDR had, you know, with the new deal coalition.
And so I think that that was so important in reaching out to those members of the electorate who felt that they weren’t being represented by media coverage at the time and all of the tumultuous things that were happening in the country. And so I think from a strategic standpoint, that was really a smart move.
Jonathan Movroydis: In Buchanan’s view who was that new majority? Who was that coalition? Are they Catholics? Are they ethnic voters? Who are they?
Lori Cox Han: A lot of it was, yes, it was definitely ethnic voters. He talks a lot about, you know, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, working-class Americans. But also he actually spends a lot of time in some memos talking about how African-American voters, you know, are not being well served by the Democratic Party.
I mean, you hear those talking points now about, you know, people questioning the loyalty that African-American voters have had over these years to the Democratic Party where, you know, Buchanan is starting to talk about why the Democratic Party may not be the best to represent, you know, that voting demographic back then. And so I think that while, you know, the way we categorize voters now and these really small demographic groups, I think Buchanan was seeing it as more broad based but much more of an economic issue than, you know, I think that sometimes he gets credit for.
Jonathan Movroydis: Could you tell take us a little bit through how you selected these particular memos for advising Nixon?
Lori Cox Han: That was hard because there were so many and there were so many good ones that I could not include because my editor kept reminding me that, you know, there was a word limit to this book and actually I got him to go a little higher than we originally planned. And so I really wanted to focus on the ones that really talked directly to some of the key issues. You know, there’s not much in the book about, you know, something like Vietnam for example, or even Watergate, but I really wanted to focus on the strategic implication of Buchanan’s work and the role that he was playing in representing the conservative movement at that point within the Nixon White House.
I really also wanted to focus on the communication aspect, the speech writing aspect, you know, the message and narrative that was coming from Nixon that was being guided in part by Pat and what he was writing and what he was advising.
Jonathan Movroydis: Could you touch upon the 1968 campaign, you devote a chapter to that. How did Patrick J. Buchanan advise here? One memo particularly talks about the use of television? Can you describe his view of TV’s role in the campaign?
Lori Cox Han: I think he recognized how important it was becoming, but he also recognized that it might not be the best venue for Richard Nixon. And, you know, John F. Kennedy set a standard using television in 1961 when he first took office. That was very difficult for every president that came after him in the next few decades to live up to, we don’t really see that happen again until Ronald Reagan becomes president.
And so, you know, I mean, people always talk about…my students always want to talk about the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. And, you know, I think there’s a myth out there about the effect that really did have on the outcome of the election because there were so many other factors that were coming into play. But clearly, you know, Nixon wasn’t as comfortable on television as Kennedy was or, you know, at that in 1968 early on as Bobby Kennedy was or some other politicians.
So I think Pat just saw it as this is something we have to deal with even though this is not his forte. And was very honest about, you know, where he talks about how voters already kind of know who Richard Nixon is and they’re not voting based on a personality. And because if it’s the personality that’s going to win the contest, then you know, maybe Nixon isn’t going to win. That they really wanted to use…you know, go through television but to use other means to promote Nixon’s policy experience, his governing experience and his view of the world. And so I think that that’s early on, a very honest assessment of the pros and cons of television for Richard Nixon.
Jonathan Movroydis: Chapter 3 you focus on communication strategies. One particular message or one particular memo talked about the creation of the White House news summary which Pat Buchanan would eventually oversee. What is the news summary and how did that become helpful to the president? How did the president use it?
Lori Cox Han: Well, according to Pat, Nixon read the news summary very closely every single day. And there were so many people in the White House that were concerned with, you know, what was being said about the Nixon administration and every form of media possible. And this is one of the ways in which the Nixon administration was actually groundbreaking and sets a very important precedent for future White House communication teams because this still happens in one form or another since that time. I mean, the Nixon administration created the office of communication but they also created the daily news summary. And so it really starts to institutionalize this relationship between the president and the press in a way we haven’t seen before in that White House advisors are basically tracking the outcome of their work with reporters in how the president is being covered.
And so one of the most fascinating resources for me in the Nixon library is, you know, the files with all of the daily news summaries. You have the files that have just the daily news summaries as they were delivered to Nixon and then you have the second set that is the annotated version with Nixon’s comments. And so you can see how closely the president was looking at this in the comments and the thought process and just you see the evolution of that relationship between the president and the press and it’s just fascinating.
Jonathan Movroydis: Chapter 4 talks with politics and governance. What were some of the important memos that deal with Vietnam and other big issues like civil rights or law and order? Could you touch upon that a little bit?
Lori Cox Han: Yes, I think that what I found in some of the memos was just on some things. I mean, Pat wasn’t necessarily a policy advisor, you know, on specific issues yet he was in the broader sense of this is how it’s going to play, this is how it fits into the overall agenda of the Nixon administration. This is how it fits in with our overall political strategy.
And so it always seemed like it was one more voice for the president to hear on how the nation was going to be reacting to how, you know, the Nixon administration was dealing with Vietnam or dealing with some of these issues. So, you know, some of the more interesting memos to me actually partly just because of my own research interests and teaching interests are the memos on the vacancies on the Supreme Court. So those were some I really wanted to work into that chapter, just the thought process of, you know, who they should be nominating and why.
Sounds an awful lot like what, you know, I’m sure more recent White Houses have contemplated as well as far as do we want someone who, you know, can get approved or do we want someone who really does live up to our view of how to interpret the constitution. You know, there are a couple memos also about whether or not they should be considering putting a woman on the court. And I think that the White House let a lot of people think that they were seriously considering nominating a woman while behind the scenes you can see in the memo that that really wasn’t going on at all.
Jonathan Movroydis: Was Pat influential at all in the Supreme Court picks? Were any of his memos influential in that respect?
Lori Cox Han: I think in the sense of why they wanted a strict constructionist on the court and, you know, as was the case with most of his memos, he would lay out in great detail to the president and of course his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, about if you do this, these are the political implications of it. And so there was a lot of discussion about why it would be politically advantageous to pick someone from the South for example or a particular judge who had already weighed in on, you know, something like the Southern manifesto and issues related to civil rights. It was always through the political lens of this is someone qualified but if you pick this person, you know, this is the political advantage for us if you do it.
Jonathan Movroydis: In a particular memo of February 12th, 1971, Pat suggested Nixon replacing the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who had been there so long. Could you describe this memo a bit?
Lori Cox Han: Yes, that was one of the more interesting memos also because, you know, he really lays out a case for why Hoover needs to go sooner rather than later. And you know, J. Edgar Hoover is such an intriguing political figure in our nation’s history anyway, and you know, so Pat’s really writing about how we need to let him go out in, you know, with the full glory that he deserves because he’s basically destroying his reputation at that point. And, you know, you get a sense of there’s a personal feeling there about how he hates to see someone who’s been so important in this nation’s history, you know, tarnish his own reputation before he has a chance to retire with all of the honor that at least people who supported him thought that he deserved.
Jonathan Movroydis: There’s another memo, Nixon announces his trip to China, surprises the world and even much of his staff on July 15th, 1971 because he had kept it so secret between himself, Dr. Kissinger, Alexander Haig and a couple of other aides, Buchanan sends a memo the next day, what does he say?
Lori Cox Han: And that’s a very long memo and it’s very detailed. I mean, it’s not the only one that he wrote that was that long and that detailed but he goes point by point on the political implications of this decision. And I think one of the most important points of that memo, at least in my opinion, is laying out to the president that, you know, you have some problems on the right, you have some problems with conservatives and I’m not sure that this is going to help that.
And that I think the overall tone of the memo is that once the euphoria of this passes the excitement of the announcement, the political reality is going to be, we don’t know how this is going to go. This could have a very negative impact on your relationship with conservatives. And while we look back on it as such a historic…I mean it was, it was certainly historic and one of the most impressive moments of the Nixon administration. There was a lot of reluctance on the part of some within the White House that this was the right move because going into the 1972 election, you know, as much of a landslide as it was for Nixon, there was a lot of anxiety among key advisors in the White House not knowing that that’s how it was going to play out.
Jonathan Movroydis: In your conversations with him, did he talk about these memos in retrospect at all 50 years later?
Lori Cox Han: A little bit. I mean, obviously, you know, the comments he made were in hindsight and he had just been finishing his book on his White House years that he waited a long time to write. And he was honest with me that he looks back on some of them and I include this in the book about how he’s a little surprised at how harsh his words were at the time. And I guess, which surprised me a little bit because I had been immersing myself in all of these memos for so long that, you know, the candor that comes across in every one of the memos, I guess I had just gotten used to it.
And so to hear him say, wow, maybe I shouldn’t have said that as harshly as I did was…I mean, it was interesting to hear him say that. And I was a little surprised that he said that. But, you know, I actually am someone who appreciates that kind of candor and directness in conversations, so it was just interesting to be able to talk to him about that.
Jonathan Movroydis: Chapter 5 focuses on primary challenges, what is Buchanan’s view on this?
Lori Cox Han: Well, his role as far as being part of the attack team as they called it was just to learn about every pro and con of every Democrat seeking the nomination in 1972. And so the assessment of all of the candidates is just so thorough, it’s pretty impressive. I mean this is the kind of opposition research that I think that, you know, kind of sets the standard for how campaigns are run today because there’s really isn’t any angle of any of those candidates that Pat doesn’t lay out and analyze for the campaign team and the president to understand.
Jonathan Movroydis: What memos in particular were influential in the campaign, the ultimate campaign against McGovern that year in 1972?
Lori Cox Han: I think just recognizing the weaknesses that McGovern had as a candidate. And you get the sense that…I mean, early on their greatest fear is that Muskie is going to be the democratic nominee. Because you see so many discussions of how…you know, so many people are convinced that if Muskie is the nominee, Nixon may very well lose. And so then they start to, you know, kind of hope for this candidate or that candidate as long as it’s not Muskie, I think there was a great fear that Ted Kennedy would get into the race also.
And once the Democrats settled on McGovern, you just kind of sense through a lot of the memos, not only Pat’s but some of the others I read that it’s like this sigh of relief not assuming that the election was done, but realizing that Democrats just gave them a huge gift with someone who was just not capable of putting together a broad based coalition that would have been necessary to beat Richard Nixon in 1972.
Jonathan Movroydis: Chapter 7 talks about Buchanan and the Watergate issue. Is there anything that exemplifies his feelings on how the president should deal with Watergate?
Lori Cox Han: What I took away from that, and like I said, unfortunately not all of the material from those years are processed and available at the library yet. But what I took away from that was just Pat’s deep loyalty to Richard Nixon, not only as president but as a human being. Because you can see the pain that the people closest to him are feeling at that time, they don’t want to, you know, admit that they…you know, that he needs to resign from office, they want to continue to fight. And you get that sense right up until the end that Pat was going to be one of the last defenders of Richard Nixon until there just wasn’t anything left to defend.
And, you know, I know that there are people who certainly are never going to be sympathetic to Richard Nixon as a human being or even as president even after all of these years. But it was a big takeaway for me looking at that part of the administration of just that personal connection that a few of these very loyal advisors had to this man in spite of all of the other things that were going on around.
Jonathan Movroydis: You’re a presidential expert, you study elections and the greater topic of political science, what makes Buchanan’s memos, what makes him unique as a political advisor to political advisors past and future that succeeded him?
Lori Cox Han: I think that for me, for someone who does research in presidential libraries, I mean, one of the most unique aspects is just how much of his thought process, how much of himself he actually put in all of these memos, it’s something that I just haven’t seen. I mean, obviously there are a lot of other people out there who have served their presidents well and been excellent advisors and understood the political implication, the political environment of everything that’s going on but there are few memos that I have seen that just lay it out in such detail.
I always pictured this team of secretaries somewhere in the Nixon White House that were furiously typing away, you know, 24 hours a day just because of just the memos that Pat himself was producing, and some of these are single space, 15, 20 page memos. And I think one of the unique aspects too is that, you know, Nixon was reading all of it and not all presidents read all of the paper that comes across their desk. But there’s no evidence that I have seen that this president wasn’t reading everything that Pat was sending him. And I think that’s one of the things that really makes this case study unique.
Jonathan Movroydis: Our guest in studio today is Chapman University professor of political science and presidential expert Lori Cox Han. Our topic was her new book due out this October “Advising Nixon: The White House Memos of Patrick J. Buchanan.” Dr. Lori Cox Han, thank you so much for joining us.
Lori Cox Han: Thanks for having me.
Jonathan Movroydis: Please check back for future podcasts at nixonfoundation.org or on your favorite podcast app. This is Jonathan Movroydis in Yorba Linda.