Whatever else you think of G. Gordon Liddy, the bungling Watergate mastermind who died this week, he was certainly a memorable character. As I wrote in an obituary of him that appeared on the front page of The Washington Post, even Richard Nixon thought he was "a little nuts." "I mean, he just isn't well-screwed on, is he," the president complained a week after the June 1972 break-in that sealed Liddy's place in history.
Liddy features prominently in my new book about Nixon and Watergate, King Richard: An American Tragedy, to be published on May 25 by Knopf. I describe how Liddy's combination of macho, can-do ruthlessness and ends-justify-the-means philosophy made him a natural fit for the Nixon era White House. Liddy may have been an unguided missile, but he was set in motion by a president who was determined to exact revenge on his political enemies.
I was reminded of Liddy on January 6 when pro-Trump supporters invaded the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden. Like his latter-day imitators, Liddy believed that he was engaged in a war with the enemies of America--a category that included opponents of the Vietnam war, long-haired hippies and students, and their sympathizers in the Democratic party. From there, it became a short step to convince himself that he had a moral responsibility to do everything in his power to preserve his version of American greatness, whether or not his actions were legal.
Liddy was a rogue, but an entertaining rogue. Despite all his considerable sins and faults, he wrote one of the best of the Watergate books. Titled Will, it sold more than a million copies. Even Bob Woodward, who certainly has no political sympathy for Liddy, praised the book for its honesty, describing its contents as "an embarrassment of riches" for Watergate aficianados. I acknowledge Liddy's book as an important source for King Richard, along with the extraordinary tapes bequeathed to us by Nixon.
As a radio host who delighted in outraging the left, Liddy paved the way for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and even Donald Trump. He reveled in his celebrity, posing for photographs beside a succession of flashy sports cars with the personalized tag, H20GATE. He was the man the liberals loved to hate. RIP An American Original.
Michael Dobbs is the author of seven books, including the best-selling One Minute to Midnight. His latest book, King Richard, is about Nixon and Watergate.