Richard Nixon likes to play the role of political analyst. This was evident once again in his TV interview with Barbara Walters. Of President Carter, Mr. Nixon gave this quick assessment. "Very intelligent. Hard working. Decent." Then he added the zinger: "But an ineffective President."
Nixon said that John Anderson was "very intelligent" but that he "suffers from the arrogance of moral superiority."
He let Kennedy off quite lightly. He said that Kennedy's greatest weakness was not Chappaquiddick but that he "comes through very hot and rasping on television" -- in contrast with John Kennedy, who was "very cool" on TV.
Nixon's appraisal of Ronald Reagan turned our to be quite surprising.
To Barbara Walters Mr. Nixon had only complimentary words about Reagan, describing him as "intelligent, strong, much younger than his years would indicate." Nixon then said Reagan would win the GOP nomination, and he seemed quite happy about that prospect.
Yet in early August, 1978, in an interview with this reporter at San Clemente , Mr. Nixon indicated he wasn't that high on Mr. Reagan. He said that Reagan impresses people as being very thoughtful and knowledgeable simply because there is something very "reasonable" about the way he says things.
Mr. Nixon then suggested that Reagan was the opposite of Goldwater -- that many people thought Goldwater was superficial but that he actually had a lot of depth, while they thought Reagan was a man of intelligence but that there wasn't that much beneath the surface.
Although Nixon didn't say so precisely, he left little doubt that his favorite for the presidency at that time was John Connally.
Miss Walters pressed Nixon on Reagan. Didn't he have anything negative to say about him? "No," said Nixon. "He hasn't been president yet."
As Nixon himself seems to understand, his endorsement of a candidate might politically hurt rather than help him.
But the wuestion arises after the Walters interview: Had Nixon taken a new look at Reagan and, as a result, upgraded him on the intelligence count? Or was Nixon now hoping to warm up a relationship with the man who might be the next president?
In the 1978 Monitor interview, Mr. Nixon was still withholding judgement on President Carter who, at the time, was far down in the polls. The very worst thing that can be said about a president. Nixon said, is that he is "doing the best he can." What this really means, he added, is that people do not think he is up to the job.
But Mr. Nixon then went on to say that he thought the President might make a comeback. And Mr. Carter did just that, shortly thereafter, at the Camp David summit talks on the Middle East.
Nixon said then, as he does now, that inflation was the big issue and that the President would have to gain a hold on inflation or be defeated.
One area that Miss Walters didn't touch on was Mr. Nixon's relationship with the press when he was President. In the 1978 interview Nixon brought the matter up, referring first to the press and President Carter.
"I must say," he commented, "that all you fellows do is throw those softball questions at Carter. Now when I was President you always gave me those tough questions." Then Nixon looked up, grinned, and with raised finger said emphatically. "But I love those tough questions."
Miss Walters certainly didn't omit the tough questions. She asked Nixon about the people who felt he had let them down, who "were angry" about his current wealth and his generous government pensions. "I can understand their anger," Nixon said. "That's it?" Miss Walters asked. "Yes," Nixon said, "that's the answer."
At one point Miss Walters asked Mr. Nixon about his reputation for being cold and remote. "Why are you interviewing me then?" Nixon responded. At the end Miss WAlters asked if Nixon would burn the Watergate tapes if he had it to do over again: "Yes," said Nixon, "they were private conversations, subject to misinterpretation, as we have seen."
Once again Mr. Nixon made it clear that he intends to fight his way back to some kind of respectability in the eyes of the public -- if possible. Paraphrasing Douglas MacArthur, Nixon said of his intentions: "Old politicians usually die, but they never fade away."