and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
One can only wonder what Nixon could have become if he had been a Harvard or a Yale Man; instead, Nixon absolutely hated the Eastern Establishment. Nixon’s background in California was Working Class Poor; he had to work outside of school to help his family, and his family situation became more dire during the Great Depression. After graduating from Whittier College (CA), Nixon earned a scholarship at the Duke Law School, and he graduated 3rd in his class while going the extra mile to earn those grades. Nixon then went back to Whittier and practiced law, and soon thereafter married Pat Ryan.
After Pearl Harbor, Nixon moved to Washington, D.C., and was offered a job in the Office of Price Administration. Four months later Nixon enlisted in the U.S. Navy despite having an “out” being a Quaker. Nixon completed officer training school with flying colors and as a lieutenant he was placed in charge of an air transport unit at Guadalcanal. Nixon rose to the rank of lieutenant commander, and then soon afterwards resigned his commission in order to run for Congress.
No one in DC was on a faster track than Nixon, in that he was selected as Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952. But then the attacker was under attack, which resulted in the “Checkers Speech”, where Nixon saved his political career. The television address was Nixon at his sanctimonious best and Eisenhower kept Nixon on the ticket. It was at that point that the Eastern Elite Establishment’s point-of-view of Nixon was cemented, in that they would never accept Nixon as their political or social equal . . . Nixon was their enemy.
When Nixon ran for President in 1960 against JFK, he knew that the “Pink Lady” strategy wouldn’t work since JFK was a war hero. Nixon also couldn’t play the class-resentment card either, again because JFK was a war hero. Nixon’s favorite tactic, portraying his opponent as being soft on Communism was also out since JFK’s anti-Communist bona fides were beyond question. After Nixon’s crushing defeat to JFK, he had no political office on which to fall back, so Nixon made the unprecedented decision to run for a lesser office, and in 1962 he ran for Governor of California. When Nixon lost that race in a landslide, his political bitterness reached the abyss.
Six years after losing the election for governor of California (and telling the press that they wouldn’t have Nixon to “kick around anymore”), Nixon ran unopposed in the New Hampshire Republican primary. No one in US political history had ever quit politics as definitively and bitterly as had Nixon in 1962, but soon Nixon realized that the Republicans didn’t really have anyone else that was electable . . . other than him. But Nixon understood that he had to change his image in order to have a chance at a comeback.
To Nixon, that meant becoming part of the Eastern Establishment, which he loathed. Nixon joined a NYC law firm, and went all-out to ingratiate himself and make, if not friends, acquaintances in the Establishment. In 1967, John Mitchell joined the law firm at which Nixon worked, and soon thereafter Nixon started to build what would become his campaign organization. Nixon decided to keep H.R. Haldeman close, since he had impressed Nixon in his 1962 gubernatorial campaign, and Rose Mary Woods was still with Nixon, a long-time secretary and friend-of-the-family.
Nixon asked the party’s power-brokers if he could formally nominate Goldwater at the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and he was allowed the honor as the GOP’s most recent nominee. To many, Nixon’s behavior was erratic, but Nixon’s plan was to rebuild his standing in the party, and to strategically place himself in the center between the conservative and liberal wings of the party.
The Republican National Convention in 1964 was perhaps the nastiest in the history of the GOP, with Rockefeller’s challenge seriously damaging Goldwater’s political standing nationwide. After the convention, Nixon became a major supporter of Goldwater during the campaign, even though Nixon knew Goldwater didn’t have a chance against President Lyndon Johnson. Nixon spoke on behalf of Goldwater over 150 times, and Nixon campaigned for as many Republican candidates as he could. After LBJ crushed Goldwater, the Republican Party was in disarray, with many believing its days as a viable challenger to the Democrats were over for good. Nixon used his growing influence to get the Republican National Committee to have a moderate as its chairperson, and the only Republican of any stature in the center of the GOP was Nixon. For Nixon to hold the center, he would have to spin in any direction at a moment’s notice.
The stiff and inflexible Nixon that had lost two major elections was now the smooth and confident “New Nixon”, who spoke without notes. Nixon wanted LBJ to attack him, using the strategy of starting his remarks on Vietnam in support of LBJ, but then he would offer advice on how to better prosecute the war. Nixon was trying to bring LBJ to a boil, but LBJ wouldn’t take the bait . . . yet. As the strife of the late-1960s escalated, Nixon knew he had a new issue that worked in his favor: law and order. Nixon kept mentioning in his speeches that it was LBJ’s fault that US society had descended into chaos.
Nixon understood that if the Vietnam War ended, his bid for the GOP nomination and the Presidency was doomed, and Nixon held his breath in 1966 while LBJ was in Asia. Nixon brought Patrick Buchanan on board, wanting and needing a conservative perspective, and Nixon also included an economic advisor by the name of Alan Greenspan.
The Republicans gained 47 seats in the House of Representatives, and Ronald Reagan (every bit conservative as Goldwater), was elected Governor of California. The Democrats still controlled the Senate, but they appeared to be losing their grip on power in D.C. Meanwhile, Nixon remained alone in the center of the Republican Party, which had been his strategy all along.
In order to avoid worrying about campaign finances, Nixon added Maurice Stans to his campaign, and Haldeman brought in John Ehrlichmann. The “New Nixon” was confident, relaxed, mature, and a statesman, steady and well-rested, never appearing to be trying too hard . . . and the “New Nixon” even had a sense of humor (the “New Nixon” appeared to be very much like JFK in 1960). On 2 February 1968, Nixon formally announced his candidacy for the Presidency in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Addendum: Nixon and the 1968 New Hampshire Primary . . .