By NANCY BENAC
They were two men in Manhattan who craved the same thing: validation. One was a brash, young real estate developer looking to put his stamp on New York, the other a disgraced elder statesman bent on repairing his reputation.
That’s how a thirty-something Donald Trump and a seventy-ish Richard Nixon struck up a decade-long, fulsome correspondence in the 1980s that meandered from football and real estate to Vietnam and media strategy.
The letters between once and future presidents, revealed for the first time in an exhibit that opens Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, show the two men engaged in something of an exercise in mutual affirmation. The museum shared the letters exclusively with The Associated Press ahead of the exhibit’s opening.
“I think that you are one of this country’s great men, and it was an honor to spend an evening with you,” Trump writes to Nixon in June 1982, less than eight years after Nixon resigned the presidency during the Watergate scandal. The two had been spotted together at the “21” nightclub and Trump was writing Nixon to thank him for forwarding a photo.
The next fall, it is Nixon chiming in.
“Let me be so presumptuous as to offer a little free advice (which is worth, incidentally, exactly what it costs!),” Nixon writes to Trump. Nixon, who played football in college and never lost his love for the game, then unspools detailed thoughts on how Trump should handle the New Jersey Generals football team that he had recently purchased and would fold by 1986. (Nixon included plenty of shoutouts for the underappreciated linemen, his old position.)
Trump, for his part, is unabashed about one of his aims for the relationship: “One of my great ambitions is to have the Nixons as residents in Trump Tower,” he writes that October.
But after the Nixons toured Trump’s flagship development on Fifth Avenue, the ex-president wrote that his wife “was impressed as I was, but feels at this time she should not undertake the ordeal of a move.” She had suffered a mild stroke that August.
So it went, the patter of “Dear Donald” and “Dear Mr. President.”
Trump said shortly after the 2016 election that he didn’t know Nixon “but he would write me letters. It was very interesting. He always wanted me to run for office.”
What motivated the correspondence between a young man seeking a bright future and an ex-president with a dark past? Nixon expert Luke Nichter, a professor at Texas A&M-Central Texas, says the two men “saw something similar in each other – that toughness, that guts, even being beaten up and coming back.”
At Trump’s age, says Nichter: “I can’t imagine trying to befriend an ex-president. … Somehow, I think they both pulled it off and I think they both served a need for each other.”
Their letters didn’t have far to travel as they crisscrossed Manhattan: Trump wrote from his office in Trump Tower; Nixon from his at Federal Plaza, about four miles away.
The two men bonded over themes that resonate today: a shared distrust of the media, a desire to maximize TV ratings, the idea of using people as “props,” and more.
Writing about the Generals’ broadcast potential, Nixon tells Trump, “The people in the stands, apart from what they pay for their tickets, are indispensable props for the television broadcast which in the future is where the real money lies.”
The two men also commiserated over their shared mistrust of the press. In 1990, Nixon reached out to Trump when the developer’s business deals were tanking and he couldn’t pay his bills, writing: “Dear Donald – I know nothing about the intricacies of your business enterprises but the massive media attack on you puts me in your corner!”
Jim Byron, executive vice president of the Richard Nixon Foundation, said the letters were located during two years of research in library archives that include 46 million pages of material, 300,000 photographs and 2 million feet of film. They are the centerpiece of an exhibit – The Presidents Club: From Adams and Jefferson to Nixon and Trump – that also includes correspondence between five other sets of presidents.
Only one of the Trump-Nixon letters was widely known about previously – a two-sentence December 1987 note that Nixon writes after his wife saw Trump on Phil Donahue’s talk show. Pat Nixon thought Trump did “great,” Nixon writes.
“As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!” Nixon adds.
Trump had the letter framed and on display in his office in Trump Tower. The White House didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump had the letter on display someplace now and declined to provide Trump comment on the newly released letters.
The last letter in the Trump-Nixon series is dated Jan. 26, 1993. Trump writes to Nixon not long after his 80th birthday to thank him for a birthday photo and says, “You are a great man, and I have had and always will have the utmost respect and admiration for you. I am proud to know you.”
Nixon died in April 1994; Trump did not attend the funeral.
Nichter, the historian, says the letters reveal a surprisingly rich personal dimension to the Trump-Nixon relationship and add “one more piece to the puzzle” in figuring them both out.
AP researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
See the letters
The Nixon Library will reopen portions of the property on Thursday, Sept. 24, in conjunction with the exhibit. Visitors will also be able to access the outdoor areas, including the Pat Nixon Rose Gardens, the gift shop, the East Room replica and the memorial site of the president and first lady. The main galleries remain closed.
Visitors will be required to wear a mask inside and outdoors, there will be social distancing, hand sanitizer stations and limitations on capacity.
The library is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Sundays it opens at 11 a.m.
Admission is reduced to $6.
Tickets are also on sale for a virtual interview with Donald Trump, Jr. by Hugh Hewitt to be aired at 1 p.m. on Friday. Cost is $48 and includes an autographed copy of Trump’s latest book.
Source: Orange County Register
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