US Senator who advised Marcos to quit the Philippines dies aged 96

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US Senator
Senator Paul Laxalt with his close friend and ally President Ronald Reagan.

The former US senator who advised President Marcos to “cut, and cut cleanly” as the dictator’s regime crumbled has died aged 96.

Paul Laxalt, the son of Basque immigrants who rose to political power as a Nevada governor, US senator and close ally to President Reagan, died yesterday (Monday, August 6) at a health care facility in Virginia.

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In 1985, Laxalt became a household name in the Philippines when Reagan sent him on a diplomatic mission to urge Marcos to reform his government amid protests over the assassination of Benigno Aquino in August 1983.

During the People Power Revolt that followed the 1986 election, in which Marcos controversially retained the presidency, Laxalt helped engineer his resignation.

On the fourth day of the uprising, Marcos, barricaded in Malacañang Palace, called Laxalt and asked him if he should resign.

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Laxalt replied: “Mr President, I am not bound by diplomatic restraints. I am talking only for myself. I think you should cut and cut cleanly. I think the time has come.”

A conservative Republican, Laxalt’s career included a brief run for the presidency in 1987. However, he later described the campaign as “the four most miserable months of my life”.

His memoirs told of his youth and rapid rise to political prominence in Nevada, his years as a US senator, Reagan confidante, presidential aspirant and, finally, legal adviser and lobbyist.

Born in Reno and raised in Carson City, Laxalt’s first language was the Basque tongue of his immigrant parents. He later learned English helping out at the family’s small hotel-restaurant on Carson’s main street — a favourite haunt of local politicians. 

After serving with distinction in the Philippines during World War II, Laxalt married Jackie Ross and went to law school. He returned to Carson and practised law with his father-in-law, who later became a federal judge. 

His political career began when he was elected district attorney in 1954. He then went on to be elected lieutenant governor in 1962 and governor in 1966.

“Not bad for a Basque sheepherder’s kid,” he once said.

After one term as governor, Laxalt left politics and joined his family in an ill-fated hotel-casino venture.

Laxalt’s marriage with his first wife, with whom he had raised six children, ended in divorce in 1972. He married Carol Wilson in 1976.

Laxalt returned to politics by winning a US Senate seat in 1974. By the time he retired after two terms in 1987, he was widely regarded as one of the most popular politicians in Nevada’s history.

In Washington, Laxalt was one of Reagan’s most trusted friends, and somebody the president could turn to in times of need.

One of Laxalt’s grandchildren, Adam Laxalt, is the current attorney general in Nevada. In a statement he said his grandfather “never lost sight of who he was or where he came from” and was his “ultimate role model”.

“He was the embodiment of the American dream, a pillar of the greatest generation, and he represented all that is best in American politics,” he said.

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