ALWAYS THE VICTIM, Richard Nixon believed that he had been the target of ""dirty tricks'' in past elections. As he prepared to run for a second term in the White House in 1972, Nixon planned to strike first. ""You know we were ratted on in the '62 campaign [his failed race for governor of California],'' Nixon told chief of staff H. R. Haldeman on April 15, 1971. ""But we never found out who it was, did we? . . . Now we're doing what they were doing to us.'' It's hard to imagine that any other candidate, no matter how nefarious, would sound as lowdown as the unvarnished Nixon does plotting against his enemies on newly transcribed White House tapes.
Federal agencies, Nixon believes, should be used as weapons of political revenge. He wants the IRS to ""go after a couple of media people . . . Dan Schorr [then of CBS], Mary McGrory [then of The Washington Star] . . .'' and the immigration service to investigate ""the wetback thing'' at the Los Angeles Times. ""Otis Chandler,'' Nixon says, naming the paper's publisher, ""I want him checked out with regard to his gardener. I understand he's a wetback.'' On Sept. 13, 1971, Nixon orders Haldeman to have the tax men go after prominent Democratic campaign donors. ""Please get me the names of the Jews. You know,'' says Nixon, ""the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats . . . Could we please investigate some of those c---suckers?'' He wants the IRS to target the leading Democratic contenders for '72. ""Are we looking into [Edmund] Muskie's returns?'' he prods. ""Hubert [Humphrey]? . . . Who knows about the Kennedys? Shouldn't they be investigated?'' He also wants to explore Muskie's private life, and is disappointed when aide John Ehrlichman tells Nixon that Muskie is ""very cloistered, very frumpish.'' Nixon settles on sending out a massive mailing in Florida, reminding voters that Muskie supports busing and opposes the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover.
Teddy Kennedy seems a more promising target for personal mudslinging. Nixon wants to exploit the youngest Kennedy brother's 1969 car accident at Chappaquiddick. The president--whose political opponents once mockingly asked, ""Would you buy a used car from this man?''--wants an advertisement made up that shows a picture of Kennedy with the caption ""Would you ride in a car with this man?''