"Everyone knows the peace part," Cox said, rattling off facts at high speed -- the North Vietnamese, the Soviets, the Chinese. But it was the idea of justice, he maintained, that today's GOP would do well to embody: Title IX, affirmative action, worker-safety standards -- all a part of Nixon's legacy. "Look at what he stood for. It came out of his Quaker roots," Cox said. "The Republican Party today needs to reestablish the big tent and define justice from a conservative perspective."
Nixon's younger brother Ed, now 82, who shares his older sibling's unmistakable hairline, eyes, and nose, told me it does no good to always be preaching to the choir. "You've got to turn around and face the congregation if you want to figure out why they don't know how to think!" he said.
If the Nixon gala was suffused with highly selective nostalgia, the denial did not extend to the modern GOP. "It's broken," a portly, bald man named Ray Caldiero told me. "It's in a shambles." When I asked how he knew Nixon, Caldiero said he was a staffer for the Committee to Re-Elect the President. "I was the last witness in the Watergate trial," he offered brightly. "I had to testify against all of my friends."
As the pre-dinner mingling ended and the guests filed into the ballroom, a well-preserved woman could be heard saying to her date, "Oh, honey, there's Henry Kissinger. Let's go say hi." Kissinger -- former Secretary of State, Nobel laureate, accused war criminal -- was serious where Buchanan had been comic, recounting Nixon's successes on the world stage. "I thought I'd never live to see the day where Pat Buchanan would say the things about the Nixon foreign policy that I have just heard," Kissinger remarked in his still-prominent accent, his forehead spotted with age beneath his thick shock of steel-gray hair.
Amid the gauzy reminiscences, the word "Watergate" was spoken just once -- by Buchanan, who ended his remarks with perhaps the aptest tribute to the former president he served: a bitter jab at the press. As the centennial approached, Buchanan said, reporters -- "the offspring of the old jackal pack" -- have asked him to talk about the scandal. In response, Buchanan quoted Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby: "They were a rotten crowd, sir. You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
The ballroom sprang to its feet and burst into applause as Buchanan looked up from the lectern. "Nixon," he declared, "now more than ever!"