You haven’t seen many American politicians modeling themselves after Richard Nixon in the past, well, 45 years or so. Most folks in politics have a sense that things didn’t work out so well for Tricky Dick in the end, what with the impeachment, resignation and all.
Well, Paul Manafort isn’t most folks. He’s the wily, establishment operative Donald Trump hired to run his campaign. And he thinks Nixon’s the One.
At a panel in Cleveland on Monday, Manafort said Donald Trump’s acceptance speech would follow the grand tradition of Nixon’s 1968 convention. “If you go back and read,” Mr. Manafort said, “that speech is pretty much on line with a lot of the issues that are going on today.”
Given how directly Melania Trump copied Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, it seems like a good idea to take Manafort at his word and go back to Nixon’s speech in Miami on Aug. 8, 1968.
Frankly, I’m not sure what Manafort was talking about exactly. As a whole, Nixon’s positions, policies and rhetoric would put him completely off the Republican spectrum to the left, generally on the right of the Democratic mainstream.
Never mind the details. “The ’60s were bad, really bad,” Trump recently said about Nixon’s appeal. “And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”
Manafort and Trump are conjuring Richard Nixon, the law-and-order candidate. So maybe they’ll resurrect (i.e. plagiarize) this passage from Nixon’s acceptance speech:
Time is running out for the merchants of crime and corruption in American society.
The wave of crime is not going to be the wave of the future in the United States of America.
We shall re-establish freedom from fear in America so that America can take the lead in re-establishing freedom from fear in the world.
And to those who say that law and order is the code word for racism, there and here is a reply:
Our goal is justice for every American. If we are to have respect for law in America, we must have laws that deserve respect.
That isn’t nearly tough enough for Trump. It almost sounds politically correct.
Maybe Trump and his speechwriters will crib this:
And let us build bridges, my friends, build bridges to human dignity across that gulf that separates black America from white America.
Black Americans, no more than white Americans, they do not want more government programs which perpetuate dependency.
They don't want to be a colony in a nation.
Trump would probably think it was classy of Nixon to assure black Americans he wasn’t trying to put them in a separate colony.
Nixon also talked about what he hoped his legacy would be in words Trump would appreciate. “I see a day when the President of the United States is respected and his office is honored because it is worthy of respect and worthy of honor,” Nixon said. Trump surely can relate to that.
Nixon ended his acceptance this way:
My fellow Americans, the long dark night for America is about to end.
The time has come for us to leave the valley of despair and climb the mountain so that we may see the glory of the dawn -- a new day for America, and a new dawn for peace and freedom in the world.
Again, that is kind wimpy and soft for Trump. Maybe his writers can translate it into something like this:
My fellow Americans, America is a disaster. To be perfectly honest, I’m the only guy that can fix it.
The time has some to stop losing and to starting winning. We’re going to win so big. You’re going to thank me.
It’s possible, of course, that Manafort is thinking of some of Nixon’s later speeches, like this classic from 1973:
I made my mistakes, but in all of my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service — I earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got.
But Trump says that all the time anyway.
It will be interesting to hear the echoes of Richard Nixon in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night.
If it goes well, Paul Manafort might go down in the annals of famous presidential operatives, like John Erlichman, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and John Dean.