Nixon Manipulated From the Grave

Historian suggests Richard Nixon’s last trick was influencing the 1996 presidential race.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

They didn't call former President Richard Nixon "Tricky Dick" for nothing. Even in his death, it seems, he tried to pull a fast one, this time to aid the presidential campaign of 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole.

In a new foreword of C-SPAN's Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites, being reissued in time for next week's Presidents Day holiday, presidential historian Richard Norton Smith reveals Nixon's move to help Dole over one of his biggest hurdles: his horrible speaking style.

If you've forgotten, Dole was the odds-on fave to win the GOP nomination, and did so two years after Nixon's 1994 death. Dole had a choppy delivery and regularly talked in an emotionless and third-person style in his campaign against Bill Clinton, who easily won re-election in 1996.

In the excerpt, provided to Whispers in advance of tomorrow's book reissuing, Smith reveals that he was tasked to help Dole write the eulogy for Nixon's burial on April 27, 1994, in California. And, he writes, Dole was given that role by Nixon, who apparently thought Dole would hit an emotional home run in talking about his old Republican pal. Here's what Smith says:

"As one who had a hand in drafting Robert Dole's eulogy for Nixon, delivered on April 27, 1994, I will go to my grave convinced that Richard Nixon hoped to influence the 1996 presidential race from his. In point of fact, Dole had been among the eulogists at Pat Nixon's funeral the previous June, as was California governor Pete Wilson. Approximately 33 million Americans watched Nixon's late afternoon burial in the lengthening shadow of his boyhood home. They saw a side of Bob Dole few would have predicted—except Nixon himself. For he knew that Dole's feelings lay just below the surface, much closer than his hardboiled public image suggested. In designating him one of his Yorba Linda eulogists, Nixon anticipated the sob in Dole's voice as he struggled to complete his tribute to the central figure in what the senator that day called the Age of Nixon. So authentic a display of grief was touching to all but the Nixon-haters in the vast audience. Moreover, by exhibiting his feelings so openly, Dole was, in effect, humanized in ways no other speech could have done. Which is exactly what Nixon intended, I believe, as he made his own funeral a showcase for his political heirs. Nixon was always a better campaign manager than candidate."

I recall that speech, being a White House reporter at the time and covering President Clinton's participation in the event.

In the book are some interesting presidential death and burial facts worth noting. The C-SPAN crew put them together for us in a quiz framework:

  1. Which president had such a fear of being buried alive that his will stipulated no burial until at least three days after his death? (Washington)
  2. Which president had his gravesite nearly broken into by body snatchers and was later reburied in a more secure tomb? (Lincoln)
  3. Which president suffered a stroke on the House floor and died two days later in the Capitol? (J. Q. Adams)
  4. Which president was so obsessed by his dead wife's memory that he hung her portrait across from his bed so he would see her at the beginning and end of each day? (Jackson)
  5. Which president, who is still living, has already prepared his burial site? (George H. W. Bush)
  6. Which president was the oldest living president at his death? (Ford: 93 years, 165 days)
  7. Which president was the youngest to die? (Kennedy)
  8. Which presidents are buried at Arlington Cemetery? (Taft and Kennedy)
  9. Which four presidents lived past 90? (John Adams, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford)
  10. Which state has the most presidential gravesites? (Virginia)
    • See a gallery of political caricatures.