Ronald Reagan to Richard Nixon on Watergate: 'This Too Shall Pass'

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The Nixon Presidential Library released the last set of Nixon tapes on Wednesday, and they contain a call from Ronald Reagan to then-President Richard Nixon, assuring him that his Watergate speech was good, and that "This too shall pass." The call was made on April 30, 1973 and, of course, Watergate did not pass. It consumed Nixon's presidency.

The tapes promise to offer new, fascinating material for Nixon nerds: Topics covered include Vietnam, energy, Watergate, and a meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Scroll through the library's PDFs of topics covered, and you see things like "Republican Congressmen’s morale" and "President’s response - Comfort, discouragement" and "Ethnic."

Before the Reagan call, Nixon had given a speech announcing the resignation of his aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, who played key roles in the Watergate scandal. "My heart is with you and I know what this must have been," Reagan, then governor of California, told Nixon. "For what it's worth, I'm still beh-…" Reagan stopped himself short, then continued, "You can count on us, we're still behind you out here, and I want you to know you are in our prayers."

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You can hear the famously awkward Nixon struggle to make small talk with the not-awkward Reagan — on the time difference with California, on Nancy Reagan's physical beauty ("How did you ever marry such a pretty girl? MY GOD!"), how miserable Sacramento is. It's amusing to hear the GOP's Prince of Darkness seek reassurance from the party's Prince of Light. "You thought it was the right speech did you?" Nixon asked. "I did, very much so, yes," Reagan responded. Referring Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Reagan said, "I know how difficult it was, and i know what it must be with the fellows having to do what they did--" Nixon cut him off: "That's right, they had to get out." At the end of the conversation, Reagan says, "This too shall pass." "Everything passes," Nixon replies.

Another future Republican president called Nixon to show his support: George H. W. Bush. "I really was proud of you and by golly, I know it was tough," Bush said. To me it came through clearly and forcefully and conveyed the depth of feeling you must have had agonizing over John and Bob..." Nixon says, "Now George, the main thing is, we" — and here the audio isn't clear, so Nixon could be saying "she," but it's an -ee sound — "had nothing to do with this goddamned thing. We're gonna go on."

Again, we can hear Nixon seeking reassurance that people really like him. The president asks if a dinner will go on the next month. Bush says yes. Nixon says he might drop by — but the people have to love him. "Now this may help us. This may help us. And if it does, I'm gonna come by and they all gotta cheer. You understand?" Bush says that will be "no problem... The people are with you and I feel it strongly tonight." Nixon liked that. The press might not love him, but the American people would stick with him.

"The folks understand it. The folks didn't understand the Checkers speech but the people did... I mean, the commentators didn't. And the commentators didn't understand Cambodia, but the people did. The commentators didn't understand me, but the people did. Aha! To hell with the commentators."


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.