Haldeman, H. R.
- Vincent W. Gasser
Haldeman, H. R. (27 October 1926–12 November 1993), President Richard Nixon's chief of staff, President Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, was born Harry Robbins Haldeman in Los Angeles, California, the son of Harry Francis Haldeman, a plumbing, heating, and air conditioning supplier, and Katherine Robbins. His father’s business ventures enabled Haldeman to have a comfortable, upper middle-class upbringing. An Eagle Scout, Haldeman completed high school in 1944 and joined the U.S. Navy Reserve’s V-12 program at Redlands University and the University of Southern California, narrowly missing wartime service. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1948 with a degree in business administration.
Haldeman was a strong supporter of the anti-Communist movement sweeping southern California during the postwar years. As a member of UCLA’s Interfraternity Council, Haldeman had fought to keep student organizations free from Communist influence. Congressman Richard Nixon’s activities on the House Un-American Activities Committee, especially his attempt to push an antisubversion bill through Congress, inspired Haldeman. In 1949 Haldeman married Joanne Horton; their marriage produced four children. That same year he became an account executive with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York City, returning to Los Angeles in 1952 to manage the firm’s branch office. Haldeman exhibited strong organizational ability but, as the office’s stagnating profits showed, lacked the vision to move the office forward.
In 1951 a college classmate introduced Haldeman to then senator Nixon. The meeting was unremarkable, but his interest in Nixon’s political career deepened. In 1952 he volunteered to work on Nixon’s vice presidential campaign and later served as an advance man for the vice president in the 1956 effort. Haldeman’s organizational skills and attention to detail earned him the vice president’s attention. Haldeman also worked on Nixon’s unsuccessful presidential campaign of 1960 and his disastrous 1962 California gubernatorial race and gradually moved into Nixon’s inner circle of advisers.
Unlike those motivated by party loyalty or personal ambition, Haldeman demonstrated a strong personal loyalty to Nixon. Following Nixon’s 1960 defeat, Haldeman helped Nixon prepare his memoir, Six Crises, a defense of his political career. One of the few advisers able to relate to Nixon on a personal level, Haldeman listened to his thoughts and often provided reassurance during the low points of his career.
Resigning from J. Walter Thompson, Haldeman served as campaign chief of staff for Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. He realized that earlier campaigns, which had relied heavily on numerous personal appearances at campaign rallies, had wasted Nixon’s physical energy and destroyed his judgment. Drawing on his experience in advertising and marketing, Haldeman formulated a campaign strategy that maximized media exposure while carefully limiting the candidate’s personal appearances. Although sharing Nixon’s disdain of the media, Haldeman nonetheless believed that it could be manipulated. Haldeman zealously took on the task of limiting access to the candidate. He determined who could see Nixon and what business required his personal attention. Nixon, naturally reclusive, welcomed Haldeman’s effort.
When Nixon took office as president in 1969, Haldeman became White House chief of staff, continuing his role as Nixon’s “gatekeeper.” His control over the president’s schedule and the information directed to the president gave him unprecedented power. Haldeman was also instrumental in Nixon’s effort to bypass the permanent bureaucracy, which was often slow to respond to presidential demands. Employing Haldeman as a shield and a demanding taskmaster, Nixon created a highly centralized administration, which placed much of the responsibility for policy implementation in the hands of the White House staff. Under constant pressure from the crew-cut Haldeman, who described himself as Nixon’s “son of a bitch,” the White House staff sought to respond promptly and without question to any presidential request, often without weighing the political consequences should their actions become known. Beyond official duties, Haldeman continued to serve as a close personal adviser, making himself available day and night to attend to pressing business. As confirmed by his diary, published in 1994, his constant access to the president assured that he was familiar with all issues facing the administration.
The intensely private Haldeman, who preferred working behind the scenes, first gained notoriety for his role in the Watergate scandal when it became a highly publicized political crisis with widely televised Senate hearings during the summer of 1973. Spurning the national media, Haldeman continued to restrict the flow of information from the White House, drawing the wrath of reporters who referred to him as a “Prussian guard.” Eventually Haldeman’s central role in the Watergate cover-up was revealed in Nixon’s secret Oval Office tapes, which, when publicly released, showed that during the critical summer of 1973 and continuing until 1974 he had failed to dissuade Nixon from obstructing the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the break-in. Increasing pressure led Nixon to accept Haldeman’s forced resignation as chief of staff on 30 April 1973. Indicted for his role in the Watergate cover-up, Haldeman was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice in 1975.
After his release from prison in 1978, Haldeman returned to Los Angeles, serving as a business consultant, president of Murdock Hotels, and senior vice president of the Murdock Development Company before retiring in 1987. Remaining an intensely private person in his later years, he died in his home in Santa Barbara, California.
Haldeman’s drive for control of Nixon’s staff and loyalty to the president were crucial in the engineering of the Watergate cover-up. In his memoir, The Ends of Power (1978), Haldeman admitted that the atmosphere of secrecy and loyalty he created within the Nixon White House was largely responsible for this enveloping crisis. However, he denied that he was guilty of any specific crime. Haldeman’s conduct as chief of staff underscores the perils of equating an administration’s survival with the public good. Although conceding that Nixon’s presidency comprised numerous mistakes, he continued to take pride in its positive accomplishments.
The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (1994) reveals Haldeman’s extensive role within the administration. The most complete descriptions of Haldeman appear in Theodore H. White, Breach of Faith (1975) and The Making of the President (1972). See also Dan Rather and Gary Paul Gates, The Palace Guard (1974). For Haldeman’s role in Watergate see Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (1974), and Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (1990).