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Richard Nixon’s incredibly sexist advice for Hillary Clinton in 1992

The Clintons campaign in New Hampshire in 1992.
The Clintons campaign in New Hampshire in 1992.
Cynthia Johnson/Liaison
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

When Bill Clinton was first running for president in 1992, Richard Nixon had some advice for his wife Hillary: don't seem so smart or strong.

"If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent, it makes the husband look like a wimp," Nixon told the New York Times that February.

Nixon said his advice wasn't based on his personal views, but on an electoral strategy to appeal to voters. Yet he framed it in quite a memorable way, as the story's author, Maureen Dowd, recounted:

Mr. Nixon praised Barbara Bush as a model of a wife who has her own opinions without upstaging her husband, and suggested that many Americans are still put off by a male politician who does not seem to be as strong as his wife. The former President allowed that, unfortunately, some voters agree with Cardinal de Richelieu, who said, "Intellect in a woman is unbecoming."

Of course, there's a backstory here. Early in her career, the young Hillary Rodham had worked on the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment investigation into Nixon. In her memoirs, Hillary also speculated that Nixon was trying to undercut Bill's potential strength as a candidate, writing, "This man never does anything without a purpose."

And though Nixon died early in year two of the Clinton presidency, he did pay one memorable visit to the White House before then, at the president's invitation — and Hillary Clinton was there to greet him.

This time, Nixon sought common ground. "You know, I tried to fix the health care system more than twenty years ago. It has to be done sometime," he said, according to Hillary's memoir, Living History.

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