The disgraced former president, born 100 years ago Wednesday, was a perpetual comeback artist who's still not done being reinvented.
This is what Richard Nixon knew: how quickly the fortunes of men and parties can change.
It was 1964, and the GOP was down for the count -- on the wrong end of the LBJ landslide, a two-to-one minority in the House and Senate, controlling just 17 governorships. "The Republican Party was a house divided, a house in ruins," Pat Buchanan recalled Wednesday. "It was an open question whether it would survive."
Beetle-browed and tousle-haired, Buchanan, the Nixon speechwriter-turned-Republican apostate, was among a modest crowd of aging Nixonland alums who gathered at Washington's Mayflower Hotel on Wednesday, 100 years from the day Nixon was born in a modest clapboard house in Yorba Linda, California. Today, there is a "What Would Nixon Do?" mug for sale at the Nixon Library gift shop. It sells briskly, if not as well as the print of Nixon with Elvis; in this, the GOP's latest dark night of the soul, what Nixon, the ultimate survivor, would do is a topic much on the minds of these hardy, not to say delusional few.
As others bickered after the '64 disaster, Nixon took up the fight, campaigning for his party in 35 states and 40 congressional districts. As 1968 dawned, he outlasted George Romney and Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller in the primaries; he watched as Johnson announced he would not seek reelection and the Democratic Party came apart at the seams. And by November, four short years after his party's obituaries had been so copiously written, Nixon had completed, Buchanan said, "the greatest comeback in political history."