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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Nixon Checked Out on 12/6/73

As impeachment talks edges into the mainstream, it is worth remembering how Nixon handled it.

At Research and Politics, Matthew N. Beckmann has a terrific article titled: "Did Nixon Quit Before He Resigned?"  The abstract:
On August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon formally resigned the presidency; however, folklore hints Nixon informally quit fulfilling his duties well before then. As Watergate became less “a third rate burglary” than “high crimes and misdemeanors,” rumors of President Nixon’s wallowing, wandering, drinking, and mumbling swirled. Yet evidence for such assertions has been thin, and prevailing scholarship offers compelling reasons to believe Nixon’s institutional protocols overrode his individual proclivities. This study offers a new, systematic look at Nixon’s presidency by coding his public events and private interactions with top government officials during every day of his presidency. Contrary to our expectations, the results corroborate the rumors: Richard Nixon effectively quit being president well before he resigned the presidency. In fact, it turns out there was a defining moment when Nixon disengaged from his administration: on December 6, 1973, the day Gerald Ford was confirmed as Vice President.
The article makes ingenious use of the Presidential Daily Diary.  Here is the quoted description from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum:
The Daily Diary of files represents a consolidated record of the President’s activities. The Daily Diary chronicles the activities of the President, from the time he left the private residence until he retired for the day, including personal and private meetings, events, social and speaking engagements, trips, telephone calls, meals, routine tasks, and recreational pursuits. For any given meeting, telephone call, or event, the Daily Diary usually lists the time, location, persons involved (or a reference to an appendix listing individuals present), and type of event.1
 Here is how Professor Beckmann used it:
To extract the relevant details from these extraordinary records, we first distributed the Nixon Library’s Daily Diaries collection among a large team of undergraduate students, with each getting a random selection.2 The RA assigned a particular day would then scour the corresponding Diary to tally the President’s 5-plus-minute contacts—face-to-face or by phone—with the following top government officials: Chief of Staff; National Security Advisor; White House Counsel; White House Press Secretary; Treasury Secretary; Defense Secretary; Secretary of State; Speaker of the House; House Minority Leader; Senate Majority Leader; Senate Minority Leader. The result, then, was original data indicating Richard Nixon’s five-plus-minute contacts with 11 key government officials during each day of his presidency.
And a notable finding:
Drilling deeper, and to our surprise, we detected a specific day on which Richard Nixon effectively disengaged from his administration: December 6, 1973, the day Gerald Ford was sworn in as Vice President.5 Figure 3 displays President Nixon’s total weekly contacts with the aforementioned 11 key officials before and after Jerry Ford’s confirmation. In the 12 weeks before that date, Nixon averaged 8 (standard deviation = 5) contacts per day with top officials; in the 12 weeks after that date, he averaged 1 (standard deviation = 1).6 This does not mean it was Ford’s ascension per se that devastated Nixon; rather, we suspect Ford’s confirmation was merely the last straw—the point when Nixon realized his hopes for surviving Watergate were dashed.