Powerful political columnists such as James Reston hailed the "New Nixon", who seemed calm and reasonable, a welcome contrast to the tumultuous LBJ. Nixon won the New Hampshire Republican primary with 80% of the vote . . . then Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in mid-March. A gloom was cast over the Nixon campaign, since the Kennedy dirty tricks with Dick Tuck would resume. H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, Nixon's top campaign advisers, wanted permission from Nixon to find someone, a "Black Advance Man", to return the favor on RFK. And then on 31 March 1968, a political bombshell: LBJ, in a surprise announcement on national television, stated that he would not run for President in 1968.
After the funeral, Wilt Chamberlain, all 7 ft. 1.25 inches of him, asked Nixon if he was going to march with the others to MLK, Jr.'s burial place. Nixon agreed, and joined in the 3.5 mile procession which included Marlon Brando, Robert Kennedy, and Jackie Robinson. Nixon walked about two blocks, and then told Chamberlain that he had to go to the airport . . . Chamberlain then asked if he could get a ride, also wanting out of the procession at that point.
Senator Strom Thurmond (SC), who had switched from a Democrat to a Republican in 1964 (and who would serve in the Senate the longest in US History) had organized a huge bloc of Southern delegates for the Republican National Convention. Thurmond actually had the gall to "audition" the GOP candidates to see if they "deserved" his support, and that of the delegates. Nixon knew he had to deal with the very powerful conservative Senator, but he wasn't going to backtrack on Civil Rights. While Nixon was in a car with Thurmond, Nixon finally asked Thurmond what he wanted. Nixon was extremely relieved to hear that Thurmond wanted Nixon to remain stout against Communism. Thurmond threw his support behind Nixon, believing him to be the most electable option in the Republican Party against the Democrats in 1968.
Then another horrible event occurred on 4 June 1968, when RFK was assassinated after winning the California Democratic primary . . . although he had many legitimate reasons for not attending the funeral, Nixon went anyway . . . if nothing else, to be seen with the other high-profile mourners.
Nixon's choice of Spiro Agnew, the first term Governor of Maryland, as his Vice-Presidential running mate surprised almost everyone. Nixon took particular delight in "stealing" Agnew from Rockefeller (he would soon "steal" Henry Kissinger as well). Nixon understood Agnew's appeal to what he would eventually call the Silent Majority of Americans that were turned-off by the liberal media. Nixon's plan in 1968 was to appeal to the voters that were tired of all the tumult of the late-1960s, who at the time he referred to as the "Silent Center".
George Wallace, who ran as an Independent candidate. With a gleeful snarl, Wallace portrayed himself as the defender of ordinary Americans. Wallace was so keyed-up attacking the Establishment and "Them", that Nixon could portray himself as the much safer, saner candidate, yet Nixon subtly played on voter fears of lawlessness and disorder.
Nixon was indeed much more calm and seasoned, not only compared to Wallace, but also to the 1960 and 1962 Nixon. Even so, Nixon wanted a good "political packager" to smooth over any of his remaining personal/political rough spots. In early-January 1968, Nixon was a guest on the Mike Douglas Show, which aired in the afternoon, and whose main viewers were housewives. It was there that Nixon met the show's producer, Roger Ailes, who would become the mastermind of Nixon's media persona to America (the 1969 bestseller The Selling of the President by Joe McGinniss portrayed Ailes as a Svengali-like figure).
Nixon was smart enough to know that he didn't come across very well on television, and that he needed help. Ailes produced a series of televised "Citizen Forums" for Nixon, who this time had proper makeup, friendly audiences, and an isolated media (they were located in a separate area) . . . the Nixon campaign absolutely loved the forums.
Political spying is as old as politics; campaigns spy on other campaigns. Dirty tricks are also a hallowed-yet-disreputable tradition, and after suffering from a myrad of Kennedy dirty tricks from 1960 and 1962, the Nixon campaign of 1968 decided to declare all-out war against the Democrats, including covert shenanigans.
Ehrlichman was worried that Nixon's bravery with hostile crowds could backfire. After the disastrous Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, Nixon was up 12% over
Hubert Humphrey. Nixon, not even quite a week after the violence and chaos, appeared in a motorcade in downtown Chicago with 400,000 cheering for him. Ironically, Nixon was greeted respectfully by Mayor Daley, who Nixon believed had stolen Illinois and 27 Electoral Votes from him in the Election of 1960.
To Nixon, the nightmare of 1960 was happening all over again; another Presidential Election was being stolen from him. Nixon wasn't going to tolerate it this time, and to him, fighting back with dirty tricks and shenanigans was the only way to respond . . .
Richard Nixon: The Election of 1968 continued . . .