On Nov. 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon talked with National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger. The conversation was recorded, of course.
They discussed Ronald Reagan, then governor of California.
The tape has just been transcribed, just in time for its 36th anniversary. The transcript is a political wonk's wet dream. Excerpts:
President Nixon: What’s your evaluation on Reagan after meeting him several times now?
Kissinger: Well, I think he’s a—actually I think he’s a pretty decent guy.
President Nixon: Oh, decent, no question, but his brains?
Kissinger: Well, his brains, are negligible. I—
President Nixon: He’s really pretty shallow, Henry.
Kissinger: He’s shallow. He’s got no . . . he’s an actor. He—When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, “Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can’t you find a few good lines?” [Chuckles.] That’s really an actor’s approach to foreign policy—to substantive—
President Nixon: I’ve said a lot of good things, too, you know damn well.
Kissinger: Well, that too. ... I just listened to his problems. ...
President Nixon: Can you think though, Henry, can you think, though, that Reagan with certain forces running in the direction could be sitting right here?
President Nixon: No, but it could have happened. ...
Kissinger: But (Reagan's) not hostile. He says he’s not—He repeated again, he’s not going to do any opposition. He’s willing to help. He’s eager to help.
President Nixon: Would he take Ambassador to the Court of Saint James? I’m sure he won’t go.
Kissinger: After the election?
President Nixon: Yeah. We’ve offered it to him. He doesn’t want it.
Kissinger: But what does he want?
President Nixon: But see he can’t be in the Cabinet. Well, I don’t know. Christ.
Kissinger: Doesn’t he want to be senator in ‘74? ...
President Nixon: ... No, I don’t think he wants to run for the Senate. No governor of a big state will be happy in the Senate. It’s that easy.
Kissinger: That’s right.
President Nixon: The Senate is a shitty job.
Kissinger: It’s a lousy job.
President Nixon: Well, it’s better than the House, but it’s still crappy.
President Nixon: Unless you’re the leader. ... Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn’t know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area. He’s got to know that on defense—doesn’t he know these battles we fight and fight and fight? Goddamn it, Henry, we’ve been at—
Kissinger: And I told him—he said, “Why don’t you fire the bureaucracy?” I said, “Because there are only so many battles we can fight. We take on the bureaucracy now, they’re going to leak us to death. Name me one thing that we have done that the bureaucracy made us do.”
President Nixon: The bureaucracy has had nothing to do with anything.