Why did the Nixon Center throw its never-dull founder and namesake over the side in favor of brand niXon? Because the lower-echelon, non-policy Bob Haldeman operatives now in control of Nixon's foundation demanded it and were willing to give away millions just to diss Nixon's hand-picked center president, Dimitri Simes. That's the upshot of Ben Smith's painstakingly researched article, published today at Politico.
On one side of the argument, Smith writes, were top Nixonians such as Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and James Schlesinger. On the other were the Haldeman acolytes along with veteran Simes-bashers Tricia and Ed Cox (when Simes and I worked together, Ed Cox, now the New York state GOP chairman, liked to call Simes "an aide to an aide"), Cox intimate and former CREEP official Rob Odle (now the Nixon-Haldeman foundation's lawyer), and another Cox water carrier, ex-speechwriter and political consultant Ken Khachigian.
The ruthless tactics of the anti-Simes group are in full view in Politico, including unsubstantiated charges of financial impropriety and worse. Smith reports a hint by Tricia Cox that Simes, a Russian-born U.S. citizen whose parents defended Soviet refuseniks in the Brezhnev era, was influenced by the KGB, foreshadowing a more recent suggestion on the Nixon foundation's blog that another enemy of the Haldeman cohort, Nixon library director Tim Naftali, should go run a museum honoring an actual spy, traitor Alger Hiss.
While no Simes critic identified by Smith manages a coherent critique of the ex-Nixon Center's foreign policy pragmatism, they were mad enough to give the center at least $2 million of the assets of the non-profit Nixon foundation just to force Simes to stop using Nixon's name. At the same time, it appears that the center was getting more and more embarrassed by its association with the Watergate revanchists in Yorba Linda. But especially because the foundation had gone off the rails, I wish the center had fought harder on behalf of the vision Nixon had enthusiastically embraced of a foreign policy institution bearing his name in Washington.
In the wake of the embarrassment suffered by the Haldeman crew because of its failure to block Naftali's Watergate exhibit, is the center second-guessing its decision to abandon Nixon? According to Smith, the foundation and center executed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the payoff deal. It didn't keep the center's blog, "The National Interest," from publishing a post this week accusing Haldeman's operatives of "diminishing Nixon."
Especially ironic are concerns about "the foundation's governance" expressed by Orange County printer Kris Elftmann, a foundation ex-chairman. No one did more than Elftmann to turn Nixon's legacy over to Haldeman's men, including persons involved in Watergate or Watergate-related activities. While Elftmann's concerns about the foundation's governance decisions may be legitimate, the one he probably regrets most was the Haldeman clique's refusal to give him the jumbo-salary foundation "president" job that he sought last fall. When he was rebuffed, he walked out of a board meeting and moved his flag to Simes' shop.