Waiting for the results from Iowa Monday, I found myself thinking of Pat Nixon's coat.
If you recall, Pat Nixon was the tightly-wound wife of Richard Nixon, and her coat...well, I should probably just tell the story,.
In 1952 Nixon was a senator from California—he was famed as a red-baiting hatchet man; think Ted Cruz, but with friends—running for vice president on the Republican ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the election neared, controversy grew over a fund that paid Nixon's considerable political expenses, trying to cover the state of California, his airplane tickets and Christmas cards and such. The fund had $18,000 in it, about $200,000 in today's dollars, a third more than Nixon received as an annual salary for being a United States senator.
A pittance in today's world of SuperPacs.
But enough to raise questions whether Nixon was ethical enough to stay on the ticket. The Republican National Committee bought a half hour of television time and Nixon took to live airwaves, shamelessly pleading for support from viewers, touting his middle class lifestyle:
"We lived rather modestly," he said. "For four years we lived in an apartment in Park Fairfax, in Alexandria, Virginia. The rent was $80 a month."
As for his wife.
"Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat."
The famous ending shifted attention from the thousands businessmen were contributing to underwrite his political career to a particular gift.
One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don't they'll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.The speech was genius and it worked. The gullible public, choked up over a dog, wrote in to the Republican National Committee by the millions demanding that Nixon to be kept on the ticket, and he was.
When Nixon ran for president in 1960, he kept pushing his humble roots. Pat was never to appear in a fur, and he forbade Cadillacs from carrying him in motorcades.
That was not a qualm for John F. Kennedy. He loved Cadillacs. He loved being rich, and had his own private plane, The Caroline, named for his daughter. Kennedy joked that his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had instructed him not to buy one more vote than necessary. "I'm not paying for a landslide," he had his father saying.
Nixon lost to Kennedy, and while I don't want to paint a straight line between then and now, let's just say that if Donald Trump's victory in Iowa shows anything, it shows that our aversion to wealth has worn off. For decades, Trump represented the worst gold-plated excesses of the super-wealthy, its shallowness and lack of serious intent. And now he won the Iowa caucus as a Republican. You wonder what Richard Nixon would make of this. He would be amazed. I sure am.