In my latest reading of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Stephen Ambrose speculates about what kind of President Richard Nixon would have been had he won the 1960 Presidential election. Ambrose compares his scenario with how Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson governed, and also with how Nixon himself governed from 1969-1974.
In terms of how Nixon would have compared with Kennedy
and Lyndon Johnson, Ambrose speculates that Nixon would have been much
more aggressive against world Communism. Nixon would have backed up the
Cubans seeking to overthrow Fidel Castro with air cover and sent in
bulldozers to tear down the Berlin Wall, and "Unlike Johnson, he
probably would have carried the [Vietnam] war to the North Vietnamese,
sooner and with greater firepower" (page 623). Ambrose says
that we don't know whether those policies would have worked or not, but,
overall, the potential negative effects that Ambrose mentions do not
strike me as a nightmare scenario: Ambrose says that there would have
been no Cuban missile crisis, but that "the overthrown Castro would have
been a supreme symbol to Communists not only in Cuba but throughout
Latin America" (page 623), and that tearing down the Berlin Wall would
have resulted in "a massive flight of refugees out of East Germany"
(page 623). That's not as bad as how Family Guy envisioned a Nixon Presidency had Nixon won in 1960, in "Road to the Multiverse": Nixon botched up the Cuban Missile Crisis and caused World War III!
how a President Nixon in 1961-1969 would compare with the President
Nixon in 1969-1974, Ambrose speculates that a President Nixon in
1961-1969 would have been better (though, as we shall see, he then
considers an alternative scenario). A President Nixon in 1961
would have inherited the relative peace and prosperity that the
Eisenhower Administration bequeathed to him, whereas Nixon in 1969 got
stagflation, the divisive Vietnam War, and national turmoil (i.e.,
riots, assassinations, drugs, crime, campus demonstrations, etc.), which Ambrose calls "a great deal for the President to be paranoid about" (page 623).
Eisenhower was a fairly honest President whose Administration had few
scandals, and that could have left a President Nixon in 1961 with a good
example to follow. Nixon in 1969, however, was preceded by a
poor example of Presidential conduct, Lyndon Johnson, who "spied on
people, kept secret tape recordings of their conversations, used the FBI
for partisan purposes, treated men around him with contempt, bullied
the legislative branch[,] manipulated his fellow politicians, and
otherwise used every bit of power available to him to achieve his ends"
(page 624). A President Nixon in 1961 would probably have been
advised by such establishment figures as Dwight Eisenhower and Thomas
Dewey, as well as Eisenhower loyalists in the Administration and the
Congress, whereas President Nixon from 1969-1974 drew more from the
counsel of H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, who "had minor jobs in
Nixon's 1960 campaign" (page 624). Had Nixon won in 1960, he wouldn't
have felt bitter that the Presidency had been stolen from him, nor would
he have become alienated from the press during his 1962 run for
Governor, for Ambrose notes that Nixon prior to 1962 had a fairly good
relationship with the press.
But then Ambrose acknowledges that
another scenario could have occurred had Nixon won in 1960. Nixon as
Vice-President was impatient with Eisenhower's conservatism, such as
Eisenhower's restraints on the Presidency and compromises with Congress
and on foreign policy. Nixon himself in 1972 mused on what his
Presidency would have been like had he won in 1960, and Nixon lamented
that "we would have continued the establishment types in office too long
and would not have done the job we should have done as far as the
country was concerned" (Nixon's words, page 625). That being
the case, Ambrose wonders if a President Nixon in 1961-1969 would have
sought out people like Haldeman, Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Charles
Colson, and Spiro Agnew. Ambrose states that "If he had succeeded in
finding them during his first term, and elevating their influence at the
expense of the Eisenhower types, he might well have had a Watergate in
1965" (page 625).
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