Is Donald Trump Anything Like Nelson Rockefeller?

Sam Dangremond
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From Town & Country

Is Donald Trump a latter-day Nelson Rockefeller?

That was at least one of the questions raised at the president-elect's long-awaited press conference yesterday. In his first session with the press since being elected, Trump gestured to the stacks of files he'd brought along and promised that, as president, he would have no conflicts of interest. Later, his attorney stepped up to the podium to elaborate-if not elucidate-how a man at the helm of a vast real estate and licensing concern could lead the country without appearing to enrich himself.

"The business empire built by President-elect Trump over the years is massive, not dissimilar to the fortunes of Nelson Rockefeller when he became vice president," said Sheri Dillon, of the law firm Morgan Lewis. "But at that time, no one was so concerned."

In fact, people were concerned. As Vox points out, a September 1974 article in the New York Times, "Rockefeller Vows Full Cooperation," tells a different story:

Vice President‐designate Nelson A. Rockefeller, arriving for the start, tomorrow morning of his confirmation hearing, said again today that he would be "delighted" to do whatever Congress asked to resolve any potential conflict of interest-including placing his holdings in a blind trust.

Here are a few more things to know about Rockefeller:

1. Like Trump, he was very rich.

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A grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller (with whom he shared a birthday), Nelson was born into a life of privilege. Estimates put the family's personal holdings and trusts at $1.3 billion in 1974, when he became vice-president.

2. Unlike Trump, Rockefeller had both business and public-service experience.

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After graduating from Dartmouth, he worked for organizations connected to his family: Chase National Bank, Creole Petroleum (a subsidiary of Standard Oil), Rockefeller Center (where he began serving as president at the ripe age of 29), and the Museum of Modern Art. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Nelson Rockefeller coordinator of Inter-American Affairs in 1940, and four years later FDR made him assistant secretary of state for American Republic Affairs. He went on to serve as undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and then governor of New York for four four-year terms.

3. He ran for president three times, in 1960, 1964, and 1968.

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"Rocky" became his nickname. He lost each race.

4. He didn't run for vice-president but was appointed to the office.

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Gerald Ford, who was elevated to the presidency after Richard Nixon's resignation following the Watergate scandal, tapped him for the job.

5. Rockefeller's selection was controversial, and it had to be confirmed by the Senate.

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"This myth about the power which my family exercises needs to be brought out into the light," Rockefeller argued at one of his Senate confirmation hearings. "It just does not exist. I've got to tell you, I don't wield economic power." After nearly four months of hearings, a delay largely due to his immense wealth and largesse, Rockefeller was confirmed. He was, however, a lame-duck vice-president, since Ford replaced him on his 1976 re-election ticket.

6. His son Michael disappeared in New Guinea.

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During a 1961 expedition in New Guinea, Nelson's fifth son, Michael Clark Rockefeller, vanished. René Wassing, a Dutch anthropologist in his party, said that Rockefeller told him, "I think I can make it," and swam for shore after their canoe overturned 12 miles from the nearest land. His body was never found and he was declared legally dead in 1964. A 2014 book, Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, alleges Rockefeller was killed and eaten by a cannibalistic Asmat tribe as revenge for a Dutch leader's killing of five Asmats.

7. Nelson also died under mysterious circumstances.

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On Sunday, January 27, 1979, it was reported that Rockefeller had died of a heart attack at the age of 70 at his midtown Manhattan office. It soon emerged that he he not been at his office, but rather at his townhouse, perhaps in flagrante delicto with his 25-year-old assistant, Megan Marshack. "Nelson thought he was coming, but he was going," New York magazine quipped.

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