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In early 1969, the newly elected Richard M. Nixon took one of his first acts as president: he arranged a date for his twenty-three-year-old daughter, Tricia, with George W. Bush. Not only that, he even dispatched a White House jet, at taxpayers’ expense, to pick up young Bush at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, in order to bring him back to Washington.
This would not be the only time that Nixon would bestow special favors upon the Bush family. Six months earlier, as the GOP presidential candidate, he had seriously considered Poppy as a potential running mate, even though the latter was just a freshman congressman. Two years after W.’s date with Tricia, following Poppy’s second unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, Nixon named him his ambassador to the United Nations. And two years later, with President Nixon’s nod, Poppy served a stint as chairman of the Republican Party. It was a quick rise from relative obscurity to the highest level of national politics – and all with Nixon’s help.
Taped conversations reveal that Nixon considered Poppy Bush a lightweight. Nevertheless, he repeatedly pushed Poppy ahead, often over people who were much more qualified. This put the elder Bush on the upper rungs of the ladder to the presidency. In all probability, had Nixon not so favored Poppy, he never would have reached the top. And had Poppy Bush not been president, his son George W. Bush almost certainly would not have either.
In no small way, Richard Nixon helped to create the Bush presidential dynasty.
What disposed Nixon so positively toward the Bushes? A little-known fact, certainly missing from the many splendid biographies of the thirty-seventh president, is the likely role of Poppy Bush’s father, Prescott, in launching Nixon’s own political career.
Beyond that, the depth and complexity of the ongoing relationship between Nixon and the Bushes, a relationship that spanned nearly three de cades, has somehow eluded most historians. An index search of the name Bush in the major Nixon biographies – including even those published after George H. W. Bush rose to the presidency – finds at most a handful of mentions, and in some cases, none at all.
The long overlooked Nixon-Bush story is a tale filled with plots and counterplots, power lust and ego trips, trust and betrayal, strategic alliances and rude revenge. It has a kind of mythic circularity: the elite Bush clan created the “populist” Nixon so that a President Nixon could later play a major role in creating a Bush political dynasty. And finally, the trusted Bushes, having gotten where they wanted, could play a role in Nixon’s fall.
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