05-12-2016 | Salad Days

The principal item on the agenda in these conversations was Rumsfeld's career. Nixon was engaging in one of his favorite pastimes, dispensing political advice. At the time of their talks both men assumed that eventually Rumsfeld would run for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Illinois. The main question was what jobs or experience would help him win a Senate seat. Nixon encouraged Rumsfeld to do something in foreign policy.

"Believe me, in a big sophisticated state, and yours is a big sophisticated state, it's about the world. It's not about their miserable little subjects," the president told Rumsfeld. He recounted his own experience as a representative from California, becoming active in the House Un-American Affairs Committee and in the investigation of Alger Hiss, so that when he ran for Senate from California in 1950, he was considered a foreign policy "expert" and voters looked up to him.

Rumsfeld agreed that he'd like to be involved in foreign affairs because "that'd give me a credential." Nixon suggested Rumsfeld might consider a job in the Defense Department but warned him away from becoming a secretary of the Army, Navy or Air Force. "The service secretaries, well, they're just warts. I like them as individuals, but they do not do important things."

Nixon also outlined for Rumsfeld which countries and regions of the world might help further the career of an aspiring politician and which wouldn't. "The only things that matter in the world are Japan and China, Russia and Europe," Nixon explained. "Latin America doesn't matter. Long as we've been in it, people don't give one damn about Latin America, Don." Stay away from Africa, too, Nixon warned. As for the middle east, he went on, getting involved there carried too many potential hazards for a politician. "People think it's for the purpose of catering to the Jewish vote," Nixon told Rumsfeld. "And anyway, there's nothing you can do about the middle east."


...Rumsfeld did what could to please the president, and that meant helping out with White House political operations. He worked with Mitchell and Colson, the key figures in Nixon's political apparatus. One secret bit of help Rumsfeld volunteered was to use his old Princeton ties for secret contracts with the Gallup Poll, which Colson believed had "dovish" instincts. "We have decided that we'll try Rumsfeld working with Gallup. He went to school with George Jr. at Princeton," Colson told the president in July 1971. Nixon and Colson were eager to try to influence the results of major pollsters, notably Gallup and Harris, perhaps getting them to phrase their questions or to present their results in a way that was helpful to Nixon. "I mean, if the figures aren't up there, we don't want them to lie about it," Nixon explained to Colson at one point. "They can trim them a little one way or another."

There is no evidence in the Nixon tapes that Rumsfeld tried to sway the outcome of Gallup's polling results. Rumsfeld did, however, manage to glean some advance information about what Gallup's upcoming poll results would show, giving Nixon an edge of a few days to prepare. Rumsfeld appeared to realize that in these contacts he was asking Gallup to go beyond the traditional independent role of a pollster. At a White House session in October 1971, Rumsfeld urged Nixon to keep these contacts with the Gallup Poll top secret:

Rumsfeld: Say, I just want to report, sir, about my conversation with George Gallup.

Nixon: Oh yeah, you went to school with him, didn't you?

Rumsfeld: I did. And I kind of want to be awful careful about telling people around the building that I'm talking to him. Because all he's got in his business is his integrity.

Rumsfeld then informed Nixon that an upcoming Gallup Poll would show that the president's popularity had gone up.

Nixon and Haldeman seemed to believe that these secret contacts through Rumsfeld were paying off in subtle ways. On the even of Nixon's trip to China, Haldeman told the president that the Gallup Poll would be timed in a way that would help Nixon. "I can't believe that Gallup would tell Rumsfeld that he would hold," Nixon exclaimed. "Because Gallup was always, 'Jesus Christ, I call them as I see them.'" Haldeman explained that Gallup wasn't rescheduling the poll itself, but merely altering when the results would be made public. "He would wait and release it next month, after you got back," he explained.

James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, p. 17-19

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