In the midst of so many references to Richard Nixon’s rebirth as Donald Trump, it seemed altogether more fitting to revive the late Ray Bliss’ memory in the newly published biography, “Mr. Chairman” by political specialists William Hershey and John Green. Hershey covered politics in Washington and Columbus for the Beacon Journal. Green is the director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron. Both are well-grounded in Bliss’s long career in the political whirlpool that eventually landed him in the chair of the Republican National Committee. They introduced the book at a program at the Tangier.
Bliss held on to the position until 1969 when Nixon, in one of his unaccountable fits, forced him to resign and return to Akron in despair. It didn’t help Nixon a bit to serve his own interests inasmuch as he was later burrowed out of the Oval Office in 1974 in the face of impeachment over the Watergate scandal.
Bliss was virtually an outlier in the canyons of national politics. Taciturn to the point of shyness, finicky about details down to proper placing of spoons and forks at important party dinners, a party builder with strong commitment to the country.
He was a textbook example that one didn’t have to be a monstrous presence to win elections and he worked the polls, a sense of public needs, and other behind-the-scene devices to win without offensive measures.
At Republican nominating conventions, which offered countless opportunities to be seen as well as heard, he quietly sized up the flow of state delegations and managed to convince them that there was no solid reason to strip Gerald Ford of the presidency for Ronald Reagan.
“I had nothing against Reagan,” pragmatist Bliss told me, “but we already had a decent Republican president and there was no reason to kick him out.”
(When I once wrote in my column that he was “avuncular’ he called to tell me that he asked his secretary if that was good or bad.
“She said it meant ‘uncle’ and was OK. I was relieved.”)
His obituary brought together leaders of both parties to acclaim him as a great chairman and human being. Rep. John Seiberling, a solid hometown liberal, said Bliss was a “true professional and he was a person who always conducted his affairs honorably. I’ve never known him to advocate or support sleazy politics.”
As I listened to Hershey’s and Green’s comments about this remarkable man, I could only wonder how Bliss would have reacted to the rise of Trump in the former party of Lincoln.
No, not wonder. I am sure he would have forced a painful smile and moved on to the next question.
Thanks, guys. We all needed a political lift.