President Richard M. Nixon: Climate of 1968 and the Nomination

About the climate of the country in 1968 when future President Richard M. Nixon made his bid for nomination.

PRESIDENCY

Nomination: As Murray Chotiner, Nixon's former campaign manager, so eloquently put it: "It was clear that Dick was going to be the party nominee in 1968. He had more brownie points than anyone." Some 20 years of active campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates in thousands of cities and towns across the country had made Richard Nixon the favorite of the old-guard professionals who ran the party. His policies were so ambiguous that they offended almost no one. Nixon was, of course, a past master of the art of making a "strong statement" while committing himself to nothing. His pronouncements of the Vietnam War were a case in point:

Never has so much military, economic, and diplomatic power been used as ineffectively as in Vietnam. And if after all of this time and all of this sacrifice and all of this support there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership--not tied to the policies and mistakes of the past. I pledge to you: We will have an honorable end to the war in Vietnam."

Brilliantly designed to attract both the advocates of escalation and the partisans of peace, such statements naturally pleased the victory-hungry Republican leaders. Of course, there were still lingering doubts about Nixon's personality, but the press began commenting incessantly and favorably on the "New Nixon." Gone was the ruthless partisan of the past. In his place stood a mellow, elder statesman, who impressed the nation with the calm wisdom of his foreign policy articles in Reader's Digest.

If Nixon could prove himself in the primaries and overcome his loser's image, the nomination would be his for the asking. His chief opponent in the early stages of the campaign was Michigan Governor George Romney, champion of the party's moderate-liberal wing. Romney soon managed to take himself out of contention when he told an interviewer that he had been formerly "brainwashed" on the Vietnam War. Romney convinced many Americans that he didn't have a brain worth washing. Facing certain defeat at Nixon's hands in the New Hampshire primary, Romney withdrew from the race. In the remaining primaries, no other Republican was willing to challenge Nixon's lavishly financed campaign. As the Whittier Wonder sailed smoothly toward the convention in Miami, it appeared all but certain that he would stage "the greatest comeback since the Resurrection of Jesus."

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