FOR several months after Richard Nixon took office, the sly rumor went around Washington that, in fact, there were no Republicans in town. They certainly seemed invisible. Nixon himself appeared almost anxious to avoid the capital—weekending at Key Biscayne, summering at San Clemente. To some, his minions seemed scarcely distinguishable from one another, a solid, stolid bloc of Rotarians, Elks, safe Middle-American technicians. "Writing about the Nixon Administration," sighed Humorist Art Buchwald, "is about as exciting as covering the Prudential Life Insurance Co."

Of late, however, Washington has come to life with a...

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