NEW YORK — If you believe the media reports, former President Richard Nixon suffered a stroke in 1994 and died days later at age 81. He is buried in his native Yorba Linda, California, silent as the country marks the 40th anniversary of his resignation.
But the many obsessives among the 7,000-plus followers of the Twitter account @Dick_Nixon couldn’t be blamed for sharing the president’s suspicion of reporters.
On Twitter, “Nixon” has never been more alive, sounding off on everything from Tampa to Russians to the Academy Awards, lashing out at old enemies and sizing up such possible presidential contenders as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“He is a smart fellow. But he should stop swinging at pitches he can’t hit yet,” reads a recent tweet.
The @Dick_Nixon feed is neither tribute nor parody but an uncanny reincarnation that has some Washington insiders and political junkies marveling that someone could so well capture the phrasing, savvy, tenacity, profanity and world view of our 37th president.
“He has his voice and his mentality down cold. And he also makes me laugh,” says Elizabeth Drew, an author and journalist whose Watergate-era book, “Washington Journal,” was reissued in May.
“I never got to meet Nixon, so this is the next best thing for me,” says author and journalist Robert Draper, who has written books about Congress and the George W. Bush administration and is the grandson of Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
Admirers have speculated that the account manager is a politician, a journalist or even a member of the Nixon family. But Twitter “Nixon” is, apparently, 33-year-old playwright and New York resident Justin Sherin, born years after the president left office. Drew has met him and befriended him. John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain, said that he had spoken with Sherin. Both Drew and Weaver are among his followers.
During a recent interview at a bar in Grand Central Station, Sherin said that he had long been fascinated by Nixon and his “weird” and “convoluted” way of expressing himself. In 2008, he began tweeting excerpts from Nixon’s taped White House conversations. Around four years later, he decided to bring the former president into the 21st century, combining historical and original material.
“I try very hard either to use something that he did say in a similar context or that I could argue he would have said when faced with such a situation,” says the clean-cut, round-eyed Sherin, whose plays include “Mickey Mouse Is Dead,” a 2006 off-Broadway production about McCarthy-era blacklisting at the Walt Disney studios.
The former president and his wife, Pat (also dead, or so we’ve been told), reside on Twitter, as they did on Earth, in Saddle River, New Jersey. The president makes occasional trips to Washington and vacations in Key Biscayne. Some messages are initialed by former White House press secretary Ron Ziegler, who supposedly joined the afterlife in 2003.
Nixon on Twitter is impressed with Hillary Clinton (“She is cold, cold, tough as hell. That is the good side”) and dismayed by President Barack Obama. (“The current president strikes me as a fellow who is reading from a book written by a lot of Ivy Leaguers who’ve never been to Moscow”). He is grateful for his supporters, seething that he doesn’t have a deal for his latest book, “Realism,” and mindful of his eternal rivals, the Kennedys
“Teddy had the best political skills out of any of them. Jack would rather be in the pool, Bobby burned witches,” he tweeted.
On the Nixon feed, you get the calculating Nixon (“The ecology thing is crap for clowns. But there’s votes in it”). You get Nixon on gays (“Our granddaughter is an actress. So many people in that line are gay. We go to the plays, shake their hands. They seem happy”).
And you even get Nixon on American cities (“Have you been to Tampa? My God. Nothing but Cubans and houses of prostitution).”
“He seems to know everything there is about Nixon,” Weaver says of Sherin. “He also has the president’s keen political analytical skills, and he has that streak within Nixon that undid the president.”
The newest Nixon is understandably preoccupied with the current anniversary. (Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.) He has blunt words for his former aide and whistleblower, John Dean (“He knows how to lie. Why do you think we judged him effective?”) and for the newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal, The Washington Post — now owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos — and star reporter Bob Woodward.
“Woodward still gets a check from the Post, you know,” Nixon observed. “I was not aware that Bezos enjoys paying fellows who don’t work.”
Call him names, if you will. The president only gets angry with those he respects.
Just don’t call him finished.
“All these bastards saying how young they are,” he tweeted last month. “We’re still here, by God. We’ll outlive you all.”