by openly criticizing the administration’s policies in Vietnam, saying that the president should show more sensitivity to the concerns of student protestors. Nixon had turned to Mitchell to do his dirty work and get rid of Hickel, but Hickel refused, and Nixon had to carry out the unpleasant mission himself.
He may not have had very firm principles about domestic policy, but Nixon wasn’t benighted, either. The result, however he got there, was—with the exception of race—a relatively progressive record on domestic issues. He accepted the idea that the federal government could be put to use to help the citizens. He was the last Republican president to do so.
Mr. Foreign Policy
Nixon was far more interested in foreign policy, where a president could make decisions with less interference from the congress—until the latter stages of the Vietnam War, that is—and where he could have the greater impact, for good or for ill. As President, Nixon eagerly embraced the role of international statesman. After losing the presidential and California gubernatorial elections he had traveled abroad and met foreign leaders—not all of whom were enthusiastic to meet a man who had lost two successive elections. But Nixon wasn’t easily embarrassed. Then, one of the first things Nixon did upon becoming President was to take a trip to Europe in February, meeting with heads of state. He was partial to Charles de Gaulle, who had taken the time to meet with him during his wanderings, and who implanted in him the idea of détente, a lessening of tensions with the Soviet Union. While biding his time before he ran for president again, Nixon wrote about this and also about the need to open up dealings with China. His openings to the Soviet Union and China were historic achievements. His policy on the Vietnam War remained controversial beyond his lifetime and is likely to remain so: the heart of the issue was whether he and Henry Kissinger carried on the war for an additional five years for a peace agreement very close to one they could have had that much earlier. He also engaged in serious arms control efforts as he pursued détente with the Soviet Union. Nixon’s record looked better the longer he was out of office and occasionally produced waves of nostalgia.
And now the former president would burnish his credentials by a number of foreign trips; he also wrote and spoke, his speeches mainly about foreign leaders he had known. In early 1976, he returned to China, the place of his greatest triumph, where he issued foreign policy pronouncements as if he were still president, or thought he was. His trips, and apparent confusion about his role, weren’t necessarily appreciated by Republicans who were engaged in their own attempts to lead the nation, or the numerous party members who wanted Nixon to just go away.
The China trip, coming as it did during the 1976 contest for the Repub- lican nomination, displeased Ford, who was seeking a real election to the office Nixon had put him in, and was facing a strong nomination challenge