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Richard Nixon’s Advice Still Good for Democrats

August 19, 2010

Late in the year 1981, several members of President Ronald Reagan’s political affairs team secretly traveled to New York City to confer with one of the most astute political strategists of the 20th Century: former President Richard M. Nixon.

The purpose of the visit was to get his advice on how to effectively use the White House to its political advantage in the following year’s mid-term congressional elections.

Political Director Ed Rollins recalled that President Nixon had one chief complaint of the Reagan White House – namely that it had no official disciplinarian. Nixon believed that someone needed to be tough enough to put out fires created by President Reagan’s political friends, and to push back on false claims made by the President’s enemies.

The Reagan White House took President Nixon’s advice, and held their losses to a minimum in the 1982 mid-term elections. As things turned out, Democrats picked up 27 seats in the House – while the Senate remained unchanged. It was far from being a Republican wipeout, especially considering the economic conditions of the time.

Unemployment was in double digits (over 10 percent) from September 1982 through June of 1983, and President Reagan’s economic plan had not begun to bring the country out of what was then being called the worst recession since the 1930s.

Today, political observers are predicting a political tsunami for the Democrats in the November mid-term elections with economic conditions comparable to what they were in 1982. Many say it is possible for the Republicans to win enough seats in the House and Senate to take over a majority in both Houses.

These predictions are backed up by recent polling data which shows that voters are leaning toward the Republicans with hopes they may have some answers to get the country back on a positive economic footing.

Still, these are political issues, and it might be time for the Democrats to take the advice of one of their most despised Presidents – former President Nixon. As in 1982, the White House needs political discipline, someone to keep the President’s focus where it should be: on the economy.

Thus far, President Obama has sent mixed signals on a variety of issues, and he has ventured into political areas that he should be avoiding. The latest is the construction of a Muslim mosque near ground zero in New York City.

The President said one thing at a White House ceremony last week (in support of the mosque being located near ground zero), and then saying something different 24 hours later after receiving a firestorm of bad publicity from the original comment.

The people’s confidence in President Obama is wavering, and the White House will have to act fast to avoid a landslide in November. There is a growing perception that the President is in over his head on the job.

Members of his own party are openly criticizing his actions – some because he’s not liberal enough, and others because he’s led the country too far to the left of center.

One of those criticizing the President is Pat Caddell, former pollster to President Jimmy Carter, who believes President Obama has already allowed his administration to drift too far to the left. He sees a “tidal wave” against the Democrats in November, and believes voters are feed up with deficit spending, government intrusion, social policy chaos, and high unemployment.

Caddell says anger against the Obama administration is at “pre-revolutionary” levels, and both the President and his inner-circle have completely ignored the wishes of the American people.

It is true that many Democrat candidates are running away from President Obama, and will not campaign with him, or put themselves in a position to be seen with the President. Some are openly touting their political differences with him, and this too continues to erode the President’s prestige and political capital.

Throughout the country, in swing states such as Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina, Democrats are avoiding any reference or support of President Obama.

While President Nixon remains one of the sorest of subjects for Democrats, the Obama administration may do well to take his advice of 28 years ago to Reagan political operatives.

This White House needs a political disciplinarian, too.