Lois Lundberg likes to tell people she doesn’t make waves—an astonishing statement for someone who considers herself one of President Richard Nixon’s friends and advisers. From early 1977 to late 1984, Lundberg chaired one of the most conservative political bodies in the nation, the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee. As such, she was tight with all the GOP nutballs—Bob Dornan, John Schmitz and Jimmy Utt, as well as Nixon himself.
How close was she to Nixon and his family? “I was one of only 300 people invited to Pat Nixon’s funeral,” boasted Lundberg during an April 10 speech before two dozen members of the Orange County chapter of Young Republicans.
That experience, as well as her party activism dating back to 1950, is the subject of her self-published book The Big Orange. Promoted as both the definitive history of OC Republican politics as well as a practical field guide for local GOP politicos, the book is pure whitewash—a fawning hagiography of some of the county’s most racist, homophobic and notorious Republican officials.
The book isn’t very long—yes, it’s 258 pages, but the exceedingly large type seems a concession to its elderly audience. Or to children. It includes 73 photos, virtually all of which feature Lundberg next to some elected official in a reception line. Lundberg says she had to go through 1,000 similar photos to locate these. Our condolences.
Until recently, the book was available only at Republican Party headquarters and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda. The Big Orange is a perfect fit for both. It isn’t so much ignorant of history as deliberately blind. Lundberg alleges that “so much of the Watergate episode was blown out of proportion that experts on the law now say that no impeachment [of Nixon] would have ever occurred,” writes Lundberg. That’s just one of many statements in the book with absolutely no foundation in reality.
It’s easier to forgive Lundberg her opinion that politicians like Dornan and Utt weren’t nuts, just “colorful.” There is no hint in the book that Dornan spent months railing against the nuns and undocumented immigrants who, in his twisted mind, cost him his congressional seat in 1996. (Lundberg claims “there was proof of irregularities” but doesn’t provide any examples of it or explain why it was insufficient to get Democrat Loretta Sanchez’s victory tossed out.)
As for Utt, Lundberg calls him “beloved” and completely representative of the county. Few readers—especially young students—would know this is the same congressman who in 1963 warned that “a large contingent of barefooted Africans” was training with the U.N. in Georgia to take over the United States.
And, of course, there is Nixon. She describes how Nixon once stayed after a fund-raising event “until 12:30 [a.m.]” to sign programs for contributors. “Clearly, this is not the man the press writes about,” Lundberg told the Young Republicans. “His biggest mistake was surrounding himself with amoral men.”
Lundberg might have observed what mothers all over America know: like attracts like. Nixon lied to the American people repeatedly. Nixon was a raving anti-Semite. Nixon ordered the dropping of hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs on Cambodia, a nation that wasn’t at war with the U.S. Note to Lundberg: Richard Nixon was by far the most amoral man to sit in the Oval Office.
Lundberg not only admires Nixon but also shares with him a painfully obvious persecution complex. After decrying Republican elitism—”Everybody thinks we look down our noses at people and it’s just not true,” she said—Lundberg told the Young Republicans that Sanchez has had an extramarital affair. “Loretta makes me sick,” she spat.
About the only valuable thing in the book is her account of the formation of the infamous Lincoln Club, the cabal of powerful Orange County Republican kingmakers. In great detail, The Big Orange lays out the crass hopes of the rich guys who founded the county’s preeminent fund-raising arm for ultra-right-wing candidates. In an undated letter from the early 1960s (excerpted for the first time by Lundberg), Lincoln Club founding president Arnold Beckman wrote that members of the group “must command respect in the community and should be adequately known so that their opinions will have an influence among a sizeable portion of the community. They should have a stake in the community so that any financial contribution they make will be more than a civic contribution; it will be a prudent business investment.”
The Republican Party has come a long way since Beckman’s Lincoln Club ran the county. Some things have changed: the party is deeply divided between social conservatives and moderates, and Democrats are making inroads, especially in North County. But Lundberg’s book is evidence that there’s still a little of the caveman in Orange County politics. Despite the book’s grievously flawed version of history, Orange County Superintendent of Schools William M. Habermehl vowed recently to add The Big Orange to all the county’s junior high and high school libraries.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.