In late August, Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy took a break from his typical campaign events to make a pit stop at an unusual venue for mainstream Republicans: The Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Speaking before a packed house, Ramaswamy was slated to deliver a speech on foreign policy. But his opening remarks served the more provocative purpose of challenging Nixon’s much-maligned status in the annals of conservative history.
“He is by and away the most underappreciated president of our modern history in this country — probably in all of American history,” said Ramaswamy, without a hint of irony.
Ramaswamy’s homage to America’s most disgraced ex-president perplexed some liberal commentators, for whom Nixon remains the ultimate symbol of conservative criminality. But Ramaswamy is far from alone in rethinking Nixon’s divisive legacy. Among a small but influential group of young conservative activists and intellectuals, “Tricky Dick” is making a quiet — but notable — comeback. Long condemned by both Democrats and Republicans as the “crook” that he infamously swore not to be, Nixon is reemerging in some conservative circles as a paragon of populist power, a noble warrior who was unjustly consigned to the black list of American history.
Across the right-of-center media sphere, examples of Nixonmania abound. Online, popular conservative activists are studying the history of Nixon’s presidency as a “blueprint for counter-revolution” in the 21st century. In the pages of small conservative magazines, readers can meet the “New Nixonians” who are studying up on Nixon’s foreign policy prowess. On TikTok, users can scroll through meme-ified homages to Nixon. And in the weirdest (and most irony laden) corners of the internet, Nixon stans are even swooning over the former president’s swarthy good looks.
“I’ve always been pretty fascinated with him,” said Curt Mills, a conservative journalist and self-professed Nixon fan. (Mills has contributed to POLITICO Magazine.) “I think the Nixon story is really an American story. He really is this guy who is from nowhere, and he’s just absolutely reviled … [but] I do think he has this charisma that’s sort of underrated.”
The Nixon renaissance is being driven in part by young conservatives’ genuine interest in Nixon, whom Mills colorfully described as “our Shakespearean president.” But when pressed about their pro-Nixon views, even his most sincere supporters readily admit that the Nixon-mania isn’t being driven solely — or even primarily — by academic interest in Nixon. Instead, the populist right’s ongoing effort to rehabilitate Nixon, which is unfolding against the backdrop of the 2024 Republican primary, is really about another divisive former Republican president: Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]