On Presidents’ Day 2010, more than five thousand packed the Nixon Library and were welcomed with cherry pie and appearances by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Then at 1:30 pm, RN’s Oval Office Team presented the second Nixon Legacy Forum, The Effective Use Of the President’s Time, a look at RN Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, how the Office of the President operated and why it became the model for successive administrations.
Twenty-two members of the Haldeman family were in the audience including widow Jo Haldeman, their son Hank, daughters Anne and Susan, and their grandchildren. Dwight Chapin, former Deputy Assistant to President Nixon, moderated the panel of key staff including Larry Higby (Special Assistant to the President and Assistant White House Chief of Staff), Steve Bull (Special Assistant to the President) and Ron Walker (Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Presidential Advance). Chapin’s service to RN started as a young field man in the 1962 California gubernatorial race. After the former Vice President’s defeat, he went to work for Haldeman at the J. Walter Thompson advertising company. It was during this time that Haldeman – who served as Campaign Manager in 1962 and Director of Advance in the 1960 Presidential campaign – spearheaded the organization of RN’s comeback.
“These weren’t the wilderness years.” Chapin explained. “These were the strategic planning years.”
As an example, Chapin pointed to a memo that illustrated a new and innovative strategy for winning in 1968. Outlining the need for more effective time management, Haldeman told RN that he could reach more voters through the use of television in one or two key events with substantive messages, buying much needed time for him to rest, reflect and write.
This was a radical concept that totally changed the way campaigns went thereafter.” Larry Higby added. “It became the style for how we started to communicate as a White House.”
Higby, the youngest of the staff, also began his career working for Haldeman on the 1968 campaign while in graduate school at UCLA. At twenty-three years old, he became Assistant White House Chief of Staff.
“My first job was to find a book on how the presidency worked.” We had just ninety days to build a corporation from scratch.”
The Nixon organizational model would be groundbreaking. Previous White Houses implemented the cabinet form of government where decision-making was delegated to cabinet officials. John F. Kennedy, Higby explained, worked freestyle, forming coalitions and committees for the most important policy issues. While President Johnson managed like a legislator and focused heavily on his domestic agenda, a reflection on his over 20 years on Capitol Hill.
By contrast, RN managed like an executive. “H.R. Haldeman was his Chief Operating Officer,” explained Steve Bull. “While Dr. Kissinger was the Vice President of International Affairs and John Erlichman was the President of Domestic Affairs.” It was the Cabinet officers’ job to ultimately execute the positions from the White House.
A retired Marine, Bull’s path to White House was trailed after returning from Vietnam in 1966. He hardly recognized his country as rising crime, social upheaval, and protests against the war were dividing the country. He saw RN as the leader who could bring the country together.
After working on the successful 1968 campaign, Bull joined the White House team as the President’s Special Assistant, managing his day-to-day schedule and moving officials in and out of meetings.
“I was not a confidant.” Bull said. “It was a senior to subordinate position. My job was to run the Oval Office. I was kept around because I was trustworthy. Trust was important.”
Managing RN’s work environment was also important. Bull explained that RN was a private person. He didn’t like meeting with large groups or numerous advisers. He was a contemplative man whose best course was to rely on his own instincts. He needed time to shape his agenda and map out the long term.
He essentially “shaved two days into one,” Chapin said. RN started his day early by reading the daily news summary and meeting with Kissinger, Haldeman, and other White House senior advisers and cabinet officials. During the afternoon, RN would take a short 40 minute “power” nap, change and retreat to his private study in the Executive Office Building, where he would “write out long thoughts, shape his agenda, and constantly be looking ahead,” Higby explained.
As Director of the first Office of Presidential Advance, it was Ron Walker’s job to constantly look ahead. Now the President of the Richard Nixon Foundation, Walker prepared hundreds of foreign and domestic trips for RN including the historic trips to China and Russia in 1972.
After working as a volunteer advanceman during the 1968 Campaign, Walker worked on the transition and the first inaugural. Following inauguration, Chapin invited him to construct the first Office of Presidential Advance.
Not only did Walker create the office, but he also perfected the art first pioneered by Haldeman.
“We wanted to be the mantel of the Presidency,” Walker explained. “When I went into the White House to work for Dwight and Bob, the first thing I thought was important was that I write an advance manual.”
The manual took six months and amounted to 397 pages, constituting what Haldeman initially developed for political campaigns and refining it to advance the President of the United States.
The Nixon White House had “all of those elements necessary to move the President of the United States outside the White House,” Walker said. “We had advance men who knew how to run airport arrivals, how to put motorcades together, how to do press conferences, how to handle the press,” and who were able to effectively “work with Secret Service,” and “the White House Communications Agency.”
On the last day of the 1972 campaign, Walker advanced President Nixon to Greensboro and Spartanburg, South Carolina at midday, flew to a sunset rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico and landed in Ontario, California for a torch light parade of fifty thousand with appearances by John Wayne and the Carpenters.
The next morning at the White House, the President thanked the advance team for their hard work and told them if it not for what they had accomplished he wouldn’t have earned a second term.
To give a sense of their efficiency, RN later told Walker that his team could have took the beaches at Normandy.
Nearly forty years later at the President’s Library in Yorba Linda, the Oval Office Team also performed with masterful efficiency, finishing two minutes ahead of schedule. “The program was to run from 1:30 to 3:30, this program ended at 3:28,” Walker concluded, “that’s called a good advance.”