But Rumsfeld did not let go of Vietnam. On the morning of April 7 he pressed Kissinger, in the presence of other White House staff members, for an explanation of why the Administration couldn't move more quickly to bring the war to a close. Afterward Kissinger grumbled to the President that Rumsfeld had never quite said exactly what he wanted Nixon to do. He had never called specifically for Nixon to set a "date certain" for the end of the war (as Nixon's critics were requesting), and had spoken only vaguely of setting a date by which the United States would reduce its presence in Vietnam to a "residual force." It was this challenge at the staff meeting, and Rumsfeld's stance on Vietnam, that prompted Nixon to talk about firing him. The President also worried that Rumsfeld might quit first.
"He's ready to jump the ship," Nixon said at his later meeting with Haldeman and Kissinger.
"No, I don't think he's ready to jump," Haldeman replied. "And I doubt if he ever would, just because [staying on in the Administration] serves his interests more than not. But I don't think he's ever going to be a solid member of the ship." "He's just positioning himself to be close to The Washington Post and The New York Times," Kissinger interjected.
Nixon returned to business. "Well, then let's dump him right after this," he said. "Good God, we're sending him and [the White House adviser Robert] Finch on a two-month holiday to Europe. Shit. For what purpose?"
"To get him out of town," Kissinger said, gently reminding his boss that Rumsfeld's "holiday" in Europe had originally been their idea.
Nixon tried to go back to rehearsing that night's speech, in which he would announce that he planned to withdraw 100,000 Americans from Vietnam by the end of the year, but would also explicitly refuse to set a date for the end of the war. Still, he couldn't put Rumsfeld out of his mind.
"Coming back to the Rumsfeld problem—I'm disappointed in Don, Bob," he told Haldeman a few minutes later. "Understand, I don't want to be disappointed, just because—I don't want somebody who's just with us, God damn it, when things are going good, you know what I mean? If he thinks we're going down the tubes, and he's just going to ride with us, maybe he's going to take a trip to Europe occasionally—then screw him, you know?"
What galled Nixon especially was that Rumsfeld, who was viewed as one of the Administration's most effective public speakers, refused to go out and defend the Nixon Administration to the American people. "He won't step up to anything," Nixon grumbled. "We have given him, time and time again, opportunities to step up, and he will not step up and kick the ball."
Haldeman agreed. "I used to think at one point he was a potential presidential contender, but he isn't," he said.
"He's like Finch," Nixon said. "They both have the charisma for national office, but neither has got the backbone."