When some 400 loyalists, friends, and family members of Richard Nixon gathered for what would have been his 100th birthday Wednesday night, there was little talk of Watergate—except to defend the 37th president against the "old jackal pack" that they said tormented him with the political scandal.
The party, held at the Mayflower Hotel in the room where Nixon's two inaugural balls once were, was heavy on the nostalgia. The two-term president's old "Nixon Now" campaign song played as guests entered the banquet hall, and the singing of "Happy Birthday" was accompanied by a video clip of Nixon himself playing the song on the piano at the White House.
The evening was filled by speeches from a number of Nixon's loyalists, including his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, his speechwriter (now actor) Ben Stein, and his political aide Fred Malek. But it was his former adviser and now conservative commentator, Pat Buchanan, who came out in staunchest defense of Nixon's legacy.
"As the centennial approached, the phone calls started coming in ... from the offspring of the old jackal pack asking: 'What are your thoughts on Watergate?'" Buchanan told the crowd, referencing the political scandal that led to Nixon's resignation in 1974. "My great regret is that the old man is not here tonight so I can tell him my thoughts on his old tormenters."
Buchanan then paraphrased a quote from the classic the Great Gatsby, saying of Nixon's detractors: "They were a rotten crowd, sir, you're worth the whole damn bunch put together." To raucous applause, the former adviser emphasized: "Nixon, now, more than ever."
Kissinger, who praised Nixon's "courage and vision" to the crowd, told Whispers that the former president "would have been very proud that so many young people were" at the party, because it means the former president's legacy lives on.
Fred Malek, a former aide of Nixon's and the head of the new "Nixon Legacy Campaign," intends to ensure the legacy continues.
The campaign has already raised more than $4.5 million, and intends to raise more, which will go toward the Nixon library in the former president's hometown of Yorba Linda, Calif.
It will also go "to do more to bring the memories and the accomplishments of this great man to the world," according to Malek.
"I thank you for being so loyal to our 37th president," he told the Wednesday crowd, which cheered and applauded.