I know it is popular to demonize Karl Rove as Bush’s brain, but in fact he is merely the latest in a profession that goes at least as far back as Democrat Amos Kendall, who was Andrew Jackson’s brain. And more directly, Rove’s take no prisoners style can be traced through Lee Atwater, (of “Willie Horton” ad fame) to one Murray Chotiner, who was Nixon’s brain…
Murray Chotiner was probably the last political campaign manager who had a day job. As a political manipulator Murray claimed to have created Earl Warren, who was elected California Governor in 1942. But Murray’s tactics in that campaign so alienated Warren that the Governor refused Murray’s help for his 1946 re-election campaign. The politician Murray is usually credited with “creating” and the one who never broke trust with him was indeed Richard Nixon.
Doctor. John C. Lungren
, personal physician to Richard Nixon, recalled a breakfast lecture he received from Murray Chotiner in 1952. Said Murray, “First, a basic truth – you must define your opponent, never let him define you. If he does you are through, pure and simple. Then you find your opponent’s weakness in his record or conduct – he’s too liberal, he’s soft on defense, he’s too weak on criminals, he’s got character problems – and you move in, hitting harder and harder – with no letup. And you never give voters more than they can handle. They have their own lives. Most people can’t absorb more than two or three issues during a campaign. So limit your themes, focus and refine the issues and drive them home again and again.”
(Healing Richard Nixon: A Doctor’s Memoir: John C. Lungren
Murray was a “cigar chomping wheeler-dealer”, “…a chubby lawyer…(dressed in) monogrammed white-on-white dress shirts and silk ties with jeweled stickpins. The monograms said “MMC” because…he billed himself as Murray M. Chotiner, though, in reality, he lacked a middle name.”
Murray was married four times, hung out with gangsters, and the L.A. Times described him as “…a brilliant, abrasive and passionate political strategist whose campaign instincts were so acute and effective that his opponents feared him as the “Machiavelli of California politics.”
A friend described him as a “…a very aggressive, hard driving fellow… a mechanic, a nuts and bolts man.” And a future Nixon aid described Murray as “…a hardheaded exponent of the campaign philosophy that politics is war.”
Senator Richard Nixon (R-CA) in tears after the 1952 Republican national Convention. On his left is Senator William Knowland (R-CA), nominee for Vice President.
Murray’s first experience in politics came when he worked for Herbert Hoover in 1932. In 1938 he ran himself in the Republican primary for a California Assembly seat and lost. In 1942 came his work for Earl Warren
, and in 1944 Murray was elected president of the California Republican Assembly.
In ’46 he worked for Republican Senator William F. Knowland
, under the slogan, “We Will Not Surrender” without ever identifying to whom the Senator would not surrender to. That same year he advised Richard Nixon’s first run for office against Democrat Congressman Jerry Voorhis. Both Nixon and Knowland won.
Politics was still a “hobby” at this point for Murray. To earn a living he practiced law, sharing an office with his older brother, Jack. Their clients were, according to Murray, “unsavory, to say the least.” Over four years – from 1949 to 1950 – the Chotiner brothers defended 249 mob clients, ranging from local bookmakers to New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello and L.A.’s mob boss Mickey Cohen
. In fact Cohen donated $5,000 to Nixon’s 1946 campaign and provided free space for a “Nixon for Congress” office in one of his buildings.”
There are two pronouncements usually credited to Murray Chotiner. The first is “Chotiner’s Law;” “An incumbent forced to fight in a close primary election almost always loses the general election that follows.” (This was the origin of Ronald Reagen’s 11th Commandment – “Never speak ill of a fellow Republican”). And the second pronouncement was the professional code of conduct which Murray Chotiner lived by: “Victory is all that matters.”
In 1950 Murray took full control of Nixon’s U.S. Senate campaign, labeling his opponent, Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas
, as “The Pink Lady,
” alleging that she was a communist sympathizer – “Pink right down to her underwear,” said Murray.
Helen Gahagan Douglas
was an American actress
. She was the third woman and first Democratic woman elected to Congress
; her election made California one of the first two states (along with Illinois) to elect female members to the House from both parties.
That 1950 race still ranks as one of the most hate-filled in California–and U.S.–political history. Nixon’s charges against Douglas purposely strayed toward character assassination. He questioned her loyalty, her “communist sympathies,” her Jewish husband’s loyalty and her votes in Congress, which were printed in the famous “pink sheet” that matched Douglas’ “yes” votes with those of radical New York Rep. Vito Marcantonio.
Nixon’s campaign strategist, Murray Chotiner, explained his campaign philosophy this way: “The purpose of an election is not to defeat your opponent, but to destroy him [or her].”
Jewish Mobster Mickey Cohen
threw another fund raiser for Nixon that year. Mickey later recalled, “Everyone from around here that was on the ‘pad’ naturally had to go. It was all gamblers from Vegas. There wasn’t a legitimate person in the room.”
While introducing Nixon, Mickey announced the doors had been locked and no one could leave until $75,000 had been collected. Cohen also claimed that his support for Nixon had been ordered by “”…the proper persons from back East. ”
It is assumed Mickey meant gangster kingpin Myer Lansky, but then Mickey often lied.It was Murray’s advice that lead Nixon to accept the vice-presidential post from Eisenhower in 1951. And when, during the campaign, Nixon was accused of influence peddling, it was Murray who tore up Nixon’s resignation telegram to Ike, and pushed him to make his famous Checkers Speech
; “We did get something, a gift,”
“It was a little cockier spaniel dog…and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers….and I just want to say this,…we are going to keep it.”
Needless to say, even though Nixon never fully answered the questions about his favors for friends, the speech saved his career and propelled him into the vice-Presidency.
Murray was there when Kennedy defeated Nixon in 1960, and when Nixon failed to win the Governorship of California in 1962. In 1968, when Nixon won the Presidency by a narrow margin, Murray was still there again, if now behind the scenes. In May of 1972, when ‘The Plumbers’
were arrested planting “bugs” inside the Democratic Party National Headquarters in the Watergate complex, Murray Chotiner had an office directly above them.
After Congress investigated Chotiner in 1956, suspecting he was using his connections to Nixon for influence peddling
to benefit his private legal clients, the vice president and his former campaign manager temporarily parted ways.
Chotiner described the Watergate break-in
that occurred during Nixon’s 1972 campaign and that eventually brought down the Nixon administration as “stupid,” and when a newspaper accused him of organizing it, he sued for libel and won a substantial settlement.
He remained an informal adviser to Nixon.
As the crises grew and began to engulf Richard Nixon’s Presidency, on January 23, 1974, Chotiner was involved in a suspicious automobile accident with a government vehicle on Virginia State Route 123
in McLean, Virginia, by the home of Massachusetts
Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy
, who heard the collision and called for an ambulance.
Chotiner had only suffered a broken leg, and appeared to be recovering very well. The evening before he was due to be discharged from the hospital, he started gasping uncontrollably, and X-rays revealed a blood clot near the lungs. Treatment was unsuccessful and he died of a pulmonary embolism
at the Washington Hospital Center
in Washington, D.C.
Gerald R. Warren, Nixon’s deputy press secretary, stated that President Nixon was “deeply saddened” by the news. Nixon’s office released the following statement on February 3rd, 1974; “I am profoundly saddened by the death of Murray Chotiner. For more than a quarter of a century, he was an ally in political battles, a valued counselor, and a trusted colleague. But above all, Murray Chotiner was my friend. His friendship never wavered; in periods of adversity it grew stronger. While some recoil from the label “politician,” Murray was rightly proud of it because he was a professional who had the respect and admiration of those who worked with him…he will forever have my gratitude” The President attended his funeral, and emotionally told Nancy Chotiner that her husband was a “great guy.”
But what was Murray doing in front of Edward Kennedy’s House? Had they just had a meeting or what? Those coincidences don’t exist when it comes to gentleman running the upper echelons of the politics of the United States Government. That was no Sunday drive!
Chotiner is buried at National Memorial Park in Falls Church, Virginia. The adage known as “Chotiner’s Law” is named for the former Nixon adviser. It holds that if an incumbent is seriously challenged in a primary election, he will be unable to recover and will lose the general election. Chotiner’s Law has held true in every presidential election since his death.
Chotiner was known to his friends as “the perfect political technician” and to his foes as “the complete political hatchet man, but often said that he had done nothing in politics that he was not proud of. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak summed up Chotiner:
Chotiner was in many ways the most interesting personality in Nixon’s political camp: aggressive, egocentric, a professional among amateurs, brilliant, overbearing, ruthless, engaging, habitually guilty of overkill, constantly enlarging his area of operation. Painted in sinister colors by the press, he was both a public relations problem for Nixon and an invaluable campaign strategist.
Effective at noon on August 8, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as President. I suspect that Murray Chotiner would have called him a quitter, a liar, murderer, and cheat.