Where Nixon found peace
By John Kominicki
We forget that Nixon was a New Yorker back then, having fled east in 1963 to put his political failures behind him. There had been the difficult loss to JFK in 1960, of course, but he’d also been drubbed in the 1962Californiagovernor’s race, announcing afterward that we “wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
In New York, the lawyers of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander agreed to make him senior partner and put his name ahead of theirs, and Nixon bought an apartment on Fifth Avenue, a few floors down from Nelson Rockefeller.
There were almost immediate signs that Nixon might actually relish just a few kicks more. By March 1964, he was off toAsia, including stops inSouth VietnamandJapan, then a speech advocating attacks on the Viet Cong inLaos. A major piece onChinafor “Foreign Policy” magazine followed, then in came Pat Buchanan as speech writer, the fiery young conservative sharing an office with Nixon’s longtime secretary, Rose Mary Woods.
In 1966, Nixon campaigned tirelessly for Republican congressional candidates, covering more than 80 districts in 35 states. In a late 1967 poll of his closest friends and advisers, there was only one “no” on whether he should make another White House run. It came from his wife, Pat.
Nixon declared in January, just as the Tet Offensive kicked off in Vietnam. At home, it would prove to be a wrenching season of despair, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, race riots, campus protests and the bloody confrontations at the Democratic National Convention inChicago.
On the Democratic side, Hubert H. Humphrey would triumph over the last men left standing, Eugene McCarthy and George Wallace. For Nixon, the primaries would require rolling over George Romney, then Rockefeller – they had taken to using separate doors on Fifth Avenue – and, finally, the dangerous latecomer, Ronald Reagan.
By mid-July, Nixon believed he had the delegates needed for a first-round win. The convention, inMiami Beach, was set to start Aug. 5. Nixon booked the cottage at Gurney’s and settled in to write his acceptance speech.
“I remember the chaos,” said Phyllis Lomitola, whose uncle bought Gurney’s in 1955 and which she still helps run. “His entourage was spread out all over town, so there was lots of coming and going, and there was security everywhere.”
And yes, she said, he ate in the dining room with the rest of the guests.
As then, the Skipper’s cottage offers privacy and postcard Atlantic views. In the afternoons, the ocean is as flat as aNew Englandlake, but it builds to crashing surf as the evening tide rolls in. Early mornings, the view is whited-out with fog, strands of which drift by your face like smoke from a charcoal Weber.
It’s an easy tramp down to the beach, where neighbor Edward Albee, the playwright, spied the future president, navy-suited and backed by towel-toting bodyguards, trudging the fine local sands.
While Nixon would become a frequent future visitor to Montauk – Dick Cavett once found him lunching in the sun at Gosman’s … wearing a black raincoat – the record suggests this was his first visit.
You can easily imagine Nixon on the patio here, in wingtips certainly, armed with notes from Buchanan and a stack of the daily polls, surrounded by his signature yellow legal pads, stitching together the sound bites needed to bring the convention crowd to its feet and voters to the polls in the fall.Vietnamwas top of the list.
“Month after month, and then year after year, I’ve watched with a heavy heart as my deepest suspicions about this war’s conception have been confirmed,” the candidate wrote.
“I believe that it remains possible to salvage an acceptable outcome to this long and misguided war. But it will not be easy. For the fact is that there are no good options left in this war.
“Throughout American history, there have been moments that call on us to meet the challenges of an uncertain world, and pay whatever price is required to secure our freedom. They are the soul-trying times our forebearers spoke of, when the ease of complacency and self-interest must give way to the more difficult task of rendering judgment on what is best for the nation and for posterity, and then acting on that judgment, making the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to uphold our most deeply held values and ideals.”