and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
Nixon also knew that Southern delegates preferred Reagan over him, and Reagan did his absolute best to take advantage. Two days before nominating and balloting would begin at the convention, Reagan formally announced his candidacy for President. Nixon, Reagan, and Rockefeller knew that if even one state’s delegation switched from Nixon to Reagan, that action might be enough to deny Nixon the nomination on the first ballot. Reagan kept stating, as did Rockefeller, that it would be better for the Republican Party to have an open convention instead of a coronation for Nixon.
Senator Strom Thurmond (SC) went to Nixon’s penthouse with a demand that Nixon honor his promise to meet with all Southern delegations. Thurmond also wanted Nixon to support states rights in terms of school integration, and that Nixon must select an acceptable Vice-Presidential candidate . . . Nixon was no longer above the fray. Nixon had the Southern delegations come to him as if he was already President, and afterwards those delegations felt more confident about Nixon. Then Thurmond made the rounds with the Southern delegations bragging about how much influence he had with Nixon, especially w/ the VP. Thurmond even hinted that Nixon gave him veto power for VP candidates, and that political lie actually helped Nixon with the Southern delegations. Thurmond’s actions also stalled the gathering momentum of both Reagan and Rockefeller.
What really cost Rockefeller was that he had lost the support of Governor Spiro Agnew (Maryland). Months earlier Rockefeller had teased liberal Republicans that he would announce his candidacy, and then in a press conference, Rockefeller stated he was not running. To Agnew, that unexpected turnabout felt like political betrayal, and Rockefeller hadn’t expressed appreciation for Agnew’s support. Had Maryland’s delegation pledged themselves to Rockefeller, that would have perhaps changed the dynamic against Nixon. By then, Nixon had started calling Agnew for advice and information, which was something Agnew really appreciated (and something Rockefeller had never done).
ABC couldn’t afford gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Republican National Convention, so the network had a ninety minute nightly recap of the day’s events. The highest rated segment of ABC’s nightly broadcast was a debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. It was the genesis of today’s political jousting and shouting between conservatives and liberals, and it started because ABC didn’t have enough money compared to CBS and NBC. Buckley v. Gore was the birth of televised premeditated confrontation in the political arena, bought and paid for by the networks.
Rockefeller realized too late that if he would have treated Governor George Romney (MI) and Agnew with more respect, their delegations (and others) would have gone his way. Nixon had played the game perfectly, and it had been a disastrous night for the liberal wing of the Republican Party . . . very soon after the convention, the Republican Party would turn away from its liberal wing for good.
Nixon crossed the threshold of 667 delegates when all 30 of Wisconsin’s delegates voted for him. The totals after the first ballot were Nixon 692, Rockefeller 277, and Reagan 182; only 26 ballots separated Nixon from falling short on the first ballot (in 1964, Goldwater had 200+ more delegates than Nixon). The result was unusually close given the late entries of Reagan and Rockefeller, but when one considered where Nixon stood in 1962, his victory was a remarkable accomplishment.
Despite convention chair Gerald Ford’s insistence on parliamentary procedure, Reagan wanted the honor of requesting a second ballot acclamation for Nixon and insisting on party unity, which he did, and the delegates went wild in response. But the second ballot wasn’t unanimous since there were many delegates that simply couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Nixon (Rockefeller had 93 delegates, and Reagan 2). Nixon told the media that he won the nomination without making any binding deals and that he was free to name his own VP.
Thurmond stated that all three lower tier candidates were acceptable, and the power-brokers left the room, but they would soon be surprised. At 8:30 am, Nixon met with Ford, Senator John Tower (TX), Senator Everett Dirksen (Ill), and others, and again Lindsay and Reagan were the choices suggested to Nixon, and that group had to go to the second tier, except their list of secondary candidates was different from Thurmond’s group. Nixon used both meetings as smokescreens. The power-brokers believed that they were strengthening the ticket with their VP selection, but Nixon knew that was not the reality. Nixon had poll information that told him that most any running mate would cost him votes in the general election, which was a result of the “New Nixon being very vague and opaque.
The conservatives under Reagan got in line quickly to support Agnew, as did Thurmond, but the liberals resisted at fought back with a floor fight, which was really about the future of the Republican Party. The goal of the liberal wing was to deny Agnew a first ballot victory which would, in theory, force Nixon to withdraw Agnew’s name. Mayor John Lindsay was at the center of the maelstrom, and while the Nixon men had convinced him to nominate Agnew, Lindsay was wavering in that he thought he had enough support to go for the VP nomination. But after being advised by his own men that if he did so, he would be committing political suicide, Lindsay played ball with Nixon, especially after Nixon said that NYC could purchase the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the federal government at a very low price. Lindsay was literally the last liberal Republican that spoke from the podium on behalf of the Republican Party, and when Lindsay was done nominating Agnew, the liberal wing of the Republican Party was also done.