COLLEGE PARK, Md. – President Nixon (search) apparently didn't think much of Ronald Reagan (search), calling his fellow California Republican "strange" and an "uncomfortable man to be around," according to White House tapes released Wednesday.
The comments are included in 240 hours of Nixon White House tape recordings from July through October 1972 that were released by the National Archives. Nixon is heard discussing his re-election campaign against Democratic nominee George McGovern, ways to end the Vietnam War (search) and the Watergate scandal (search) that eventually brought down his administration.
Talking politics with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman at Camp David in August 1972, Nixon switched the conversation to two Republican governors: Reagan and New York's Nelson Rockefeller. Both unsuccessfully sought the 1968 Republican presidential nomination that Nixon received.
Nixon described Rockefeller as "sort of bouncy and upbeat" while Reagan "just isn't pleasant to be around."
"No, he isn't," Haldeman said.
"I don't know. Maybe he's different with others," Nixon said.
"No, no I don't think so," Haldeman said.
"He's just an uncomfortable man to be around -- strange," Nixon said.
Nixon historian Stanley Kutler said it's odd to hear Nixon speaking disparagingly about someone else's personality.
"The irony will not be lost on people," said Kutler, author of two books on Nixon and an emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin. "The apparent thing is, Reagan is the affable one. Nixon was anything but affable. He was surly, vindictive, suspicious."
When Reagan was elected president in 1980, he sought Nixon's advice, according to Lou Cannon's 1991 book, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime." Nixon offered some Cabinet suggestions and told Reagan to start his presidency by focusing on the economy over foreign affairs.
Later, Nixon said Reagan's economic policies were unduly harsh and cautioned against giving him too much credit for winning the Cold War. "Communism would have collapsed anyway," he told Monica Crowley, a Nixon aide in his last years, according to her 1996 book, "Nixon Off the Record."
Some of the most striking comments on the tapes are from domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman, who says Washington blacks should be encouraged to resettle in other communities.
"There's no sense of family structure," he said. "They sleep around and all that kind of thing. That's the problem for the decade, as I see it. We have to break up that concentration, get those people out into society somehow.
"I'm about at the point where I think they ought to be all stuck in boxcars and sent out around, one family to each town," he said.
Both comments came after Ehrlichman and Nixon talked about a neighborhood cleanup program in the nation's capital that had gotten significant publicity. Ehrlichman said the neighborhoods were just as dirty six months later, which he blamed on the residents, mostly black, who lived in the city. "They live like pigs," he said.
Nixon let most of Ehrlichman's comments go by without commenting. At one point, he spoke about "forced integration of housing" but the context is unclear because the rest of the sentence is unintelligible.
Nixon installed a secret taping system in the White House. Some of those tapes later showed a White House cover-up in connection with the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building. The release of those tapes, which Nixon fought all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually led him to resign in 1974 rather than face almost-certain impeachment and conviction.
Also on the tapes, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said they wanted to get some sort of peace agreement with the North Vietnamese before Election Day 1972.
"The advantage of trying to settle now, even if you're 10 points ahead [in the polls], is you ensure a hell of a landslide, and you might win the House and increase strength in the Senate," Nixon told Kissinger in September 1972.
"The question is, 'How can we maneuver it so it can look like a settlement by Election Day, but the process is still open?'" Kissinger said. "This could finish the destruction of McGovern."
Kissinger later announced "peace is at hand" in October, but an agreement was not signed until the following January, after another U.S.-led bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
The National Archives has released 10 batches of Nixon recordings totaling 2,109 hours since 1980. In all, there are about 3,700 hours of Nixon White House tapes.